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The awe-inspiring 12th-century ruins of Angkor Wat, constructed as the Khmer Empire's vision of heaven on earth, is Cambodia's must-see attraction. But after the history lessons, settle into Sihanoukville for some R&R the popular southern resort town on the Bay of Thailand has beautiful beaches and a low-key gay scene -- if you know where to look.
Be aware that Cambodia is still a very conservative culture. Men have close physical relationships with each other (that sometimes lead to sex), but they do not necessarily equate that with being gay; don't jump to conclusions when you see men holding hands or walking with arms linked. Kissing in public, no matter what the sexual orientation of the people involved, is deeply frowned upon.
Mekong Bus makes the four-hour trip to Sihanoukville, Cambodia's largest seaside town, from the capital city of Phenom Penh twice a day (about $7). A taxi takes three to 3.5 hours and runs $45-$60 depending on the driver and your negotiating skills. An airport is scheduled to open in Sihanoukville, but the date has not yet been announced.
Gay-owned and -operated DevaRaja Villa has 15 air-conditioned rooms decorated with Asian art from the region, free WiFi, and a full restaurant/bar serving fresh seafood and pasta dishes. The hotel is set in a tropical garden filled with coconut, mango, jackfruit, and papaya trees, a three-minute walk from the beach. Rates range from $30 for a Villa single to $55 for a double Sea View room. Clientele is a gay/straight mix.
Popular Ku Kai (Serendipity Beach Rd., near the Golden Lions) serves super-fresh sashimi, tempura prawns, and other Japanese favorites. It's key to arrive before 7:30 p.m. to ensure there's any sashimi left. Angelo's (23 Tola Street, +855 (0) 92 73 86 51) combines Greek, Thai, and American favorites. The BBQ ribs are a good pick. Le Jardin Aux Hibiscus, located in the guesthouse of the same name, translates local ingredients into French-inspired favorites like filet of beef with shallots and a grapefruit salad.
The gay scene in Sihanoukville is much quieter than Phenom Penh's. Many of the boys who like to "play" with men -- as they call it -- can be found at the beach bars and at the local discos. It's easy to meet local guys by just hanging around and being open and friendly. Many waiters and barmen are anxious to meet and talk to foreigners.
The Blue Storm (Ekareach St., downtown) disco's crowd skews straight but it's still a very mixed bunch with many good-looking young guys and foreigners. As in most dance clubs, all the boys dance with each other and many perform some pretty erotic moves with each other on the floor. New kid of the block Amazone draws a very local crowd that also throws some gay into its straight mix.
Ochhueteal Beach and Serendipity Beach comprise a 1.2-mile stretch of white sand lined with funky little beach bars and restaurants. Grab a beach bed or chair and enjoy a coconut shake while boy watching. Many of the little beach shacks serve food also.
Quiet Otres Beach has fewer people and beach shack businesses. The crystal clear water and white sands are world class. A bit farther up the beach there are some secluded spots where you can kick back with not another person in sight.
DevaRaja Villa has a gay tour guide who conducts daylong excursions that include swimming, lunch on the beach at Ream National Park, and trips to the nearby Wat Leu (temple) and beautiful Kbal Chhay Waterfalls.
California native Alan Perry now lives in Cambodia and is the owner of the DevaRaja Villa in Sihanoukville.