Drag shows in Phnom Penh

What we say: 3.5 stars

Visitors here sometimes expect a risque night life scene similar to that found in cities in Thailand, but Phnom Penh is emphatically not Bangkok. There are sensitivities and taboos that may seem curious in a city known for its hostess bars, even though those hostesses are more likely to play Connect 4 than demonstrate table tennis skills. Fortunately, this sense of delicacy doesn’t extend to the good, homely entertainment of drag shows, and there are now several places around town where you can enjoy sequinned shenanigans. It’s worth noting, at least in Phnom Penh, that drag performances often require you to suspend disbelief and revel in the home-made costumes and heroic efforts of keeping up with the songs. It may not be slick, but it sure is fun!

Up close and personal at the Blue Chilli

Up close and personal at the Blue Chilli.

The original drag bar since 2008, Blue Chilli is still a firm favourite with expats and Khmers. It’s packed every Friday and Saturday night for the 23:00 show, with the acts lip-synching and dancing precariously on the bar in shoes I wouldn’t be able to stand up in. Remembering the age-old motto of “Never look a drag queen in the eye”, the pavement outside is cooler, less squashed and out of reach for audience participation.

"My eyelashes will go oooooo-uhnnnnnnn."

Close by, Rainbow Bar is a shophouse transformed into a performance space, with a small stage and the requisite sparkly curtain. The acts here tend to focus a little more on dance routines, and the Beyonce and Nikki Minaj impersonators are interspersed with pretty boy K-pop wannabes. There’s a show every Thursday, Friday, Saturday and Sunday, but you may still want to arrive early to get a seat, as they’re often taken before the 22:00 show start time. If you do end up on the stools outside, there’s a handy large screen TV for you to catch every wig and wiggle.

So many options, only one caption ...

So many options, only one caption ...

The new kid on the block (actually a couple of blocks away, closer to the riverside) is 2 Colours, aiming for a cocktail lounge ambiance. The Thursday drag show features many of the same girls as the Blue Chilli, so it’s a good alternative if you’re not around for the weekend. By happy coincidence, Shameless!! — an “exuberant wild night of entertainment” at Pontoon — is also on Thursday, with a cross dressing cabaret floor show at 01:00.

Blue Chilli
# 36 St 178, Phnom Penh
T: (012) 566 353

Rainbow Bar
#73 St 172, Phnom Penh
T: (097) 741 4187

2 Colours
#225 St 13, Phnom Penh
T: (017) 374724; (089) 870939

#80 St 172 near Rue Pasteur (St 51), Phnom Penh
T: (010) 030 0400; (016) 779 966

About the author
Abigail has been stoned by villagers in India, become an honorary Kenyan tribeswoman, sweet talked border guards and had close encounters with black mambas. Her motto is: “Live to tell the tale.”
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