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Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - Celebrating with the men and women of Linga

Celebrating with the men and women of Linga

I could have had a place on Pub Street when I first opened but I’m so glad that I’m here

THE crowds spilled out onto The Passage in Siem Reap last Saturday night for a special performance of the Linga Bar’s lauded weekly drag show.

Seventeen young Khmer men, in elaborate headpieces and sparkling dresses, twirled and shimmered to the sounds of songs such as Moulin Rouge’s “Diamonds are a Girl’s Best Friend”.

But the grand finale was very different. The performers launched into a rendition of “Happy Birthday” and a mini parade through the bar before presenting a sparkler-strewn cake to Martin Dishman, the owner of Linga Bar, which claims to be Cambodia’s first gay-owned bar.

The special Saturday night performance was to celebrate Linga’s sixth birthday, which officially took place last Friday, and many friends and strangers, both gay and straight, were on hand to join in the celebrations. In its six years of operations, the Linga Bar has become an integral, if not central, part of the gay scene in Siem Reap, though not to the exclusion of anyone who simply enjoys a stylishly designed bar, good cocktails and a fun atmosphere.

The Linga bar’s drag show, hailed on websites and publications far and wide, including The New York Times, is a glittering showcase of gay cultural abandonment.

Dishman talked about the evolution of the show. “We were only going to do it for six weeks at the start, but it was such a success. Now I think it’s one of the best performances in the region, better than Bangkok even.”

Witness to the vast change that Siem Reap has undergone since the tourist explosion, Dishman is nothing if not a happy man. “I just feel… so satisfied,” he said on the evening of the celebration. “Everything has been so good here.”

Linga also benefits from the fact that customers can not only mingle inside the bar but also in The Passage, as the alleyway outside is called. On some nights the entire strip becomes one big party.

“I could have had a place on Pub Street when I first opened six years ago,” said Dishman, “but I’m so glad that I’m here. The atmosphere is completely different. And even though I may have fewer customers, I think they’re happier customers. And that makes me happy.”

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