Atlantic Cities

Timeline of the Day: Is Siem Reap Asia's Next Gay Mecca?

Timeline of the Day: Is Siem Reap Asia's Next Gay Mecca?
Reuters

Once, Cambodia's gay culture took place largely out of the public eye. As Global Post writes:

Gay life throughout Cambodia played out under a tree after nightfall. Or perhaps in the darkest corner of a public pool’s changing room. In much of the country, it still does. "Maybe it’s by the river, maybe it’s in the park," said Sopheara You, who is 38, Cambodian and openly gay. "Everyone knows the secret places."

Not so in Siem Reap, the country's fastest-growing city, where visitors comes to see the famous 12th-century temple complex known as Angkor Wat. As the story reports:

Once a dingy outpost, the town has built cachet as an emerging travel hot spot for gay men. And the influx of a Western-style gay scene, replete with cocktail bars and all-male bathhouses, is beginning to nudge the local gay scene out of the shadows of a society where Buddhist open-mindedness is tempered by societal concerns about marriage and reproduction.

Here's a quick timeline of how that scene has evolved over the last ten years:

2001: According to Global Post, "there were 1.1 million visitors to Cambodia and no gay bars."
2004: The country's first gay bar, Linga Bar, opened in Siem Reap. That same year, Cambodia's king released a message proclaiming, "I’m not gay, but I respect the rights of gays and lesbians." His son (now Cambodia's reigning monarch) is "a style-conscious bachelor and former ballet instructor in Paris. His mother has explained diplomatically that her son 'loves women as his sisters' and is not expected to marry," according to Global Post.
2007:The country's prime minister abandoned his adopted teenage daughter because she paired up with another women. The reason? He said he worried the girls would bomb his home.
2010: More than twenty gay-themed hotels, bars and saunas fill the city.

However, no one expects Seim Reap to turn into Bangkok. As Dean Williams, a former radio journalist, current owner of a Siem Reap cocktail bar owner told Global Post:

Siem Reap’s not about jamming yourself into pink hot pants and dancing all night, under a mirror ball, out of your mind on ecstasy ... tourists here get up at 5 a.m. to see sunrises at the temples. So I don’t think it will ever turn into Pattaya.

Keywords: Siem, Reap

Amanda Erickson is a senior associate editor at The Atlantic Cities. All posts »

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