At 5pm on Diamond Island, the quay opposite Naga World with beer gardens and terraces is teeming with young men.
At the very far end of the shopping strip stands what seems to be the replica of a busy American ice-cream shop from a 1950’s movie.
The neon signs twinkle, passers-by flock in through ice cold AC. People exchange looks. The quest for an ice-cream cone and much-awaited face-to-face contact with an online acquaintance has started.
Koh Pich has become a thriving centre of gay life in Phnom Penh. Young Khmer men arrange to meet via Facebook and get to know each other inside the shop and outside – in groups chit-chatting and mingling on mopeds nearby.
Scooters keep converging, joining other groups of young people. Silky looks, swagger and top-of-the-line mopeds are key for tonight’s best catch.
“We first get in touch on Facebook. We meet here then we see,” says Thyna Lee, a 21-year-old university student.
“I’m here for hot guys!” explains Vannara Perng, 25.
“But we are not gay! Don’t say that I am gay… I don’t know actually,” another says evasively, shying away.
David Mey, 19 and student majoring in hotel management and tourism gives a more concrete explanation of what happens here.
“We meet on Grind’r (an iPhone social app used by men to make contact for gay sex). We come here and check each other out. If we’re down for it, then...,” he says, his words trailing off suggestively.
Most of these young adults live with their parents, says Phanith Rith, openly gay and comfortable.
“They are still in the closet. At least, authorities are fine with us. Hanging out here is totally legal and we don’t experience gay-bashing”.
After 9pm, the crowd disperses and regenerates the next day at the same time and for the same purpose: socialising and more, if they hit it off.
To contact the reporter on this story: Sylvain Gharbi at [email protected]