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Sihanoukville: Portrait Of A Girlie Town

The tropical enclaves of youth long lost.

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There is a kind of place in this world that could only be called the girlie town. They tend to be located near a beach in the tropics within countries that have very liberal visa policies. For the most part, they are shores for predominately old, predominately white, predominately male foreigners to wash up on to live like they’re 18 again. Basically, they’re seedy, dilapidated college towns for men over 50.

A girlie town is different from a red light district. While there is a considerable about of one-offs happening here, they are generally quasi-retirement towns where the men live for extended amounts of time and sustain mutually beneficial, economically based relationships with “girlfriends” a fraction of their age, their families, and the broader community.

I’m talking about places like Sosua, Phuket, or Sihanoukville, where I happen to be now. These places always look the same, regardless if they are in the Caribbean, Latin America, or Southeast Asia. There is the same beach, the same bars, the same girls, the same guys, the same social and economic dynamics. The same stories.

The exchange that gives these places their existence is straight forward: the man provides the girl with spending money, gifts, status, and, often, economic support for their families, and the girl provides the man with sex and, perhaps more importantly, attention.

It’s a way for old men to relive their youth. They come down to these towns in the tropics and hang out with a group of their peers, they have nothing to do all day, they have no real responsibilities, they live on monthly allowances from their respective governments or retirement checks, young women are interested in them, the booze flows and the party doesn’t stop. They come here to be young one last time, to burn up in a fleeting blaze of hedonism rather than rotting away as an ignored nobody, bored as shit in Kalamazoo. For most, this is the last stop, and they live like it.

It is loneliness, disappointment, and boredom that fuels these places; the pursuit of sex is just the framework that holds it all together. The men basically all have the same story: failed marriages, estranged kids, retired or pink slipped from work. Some come to paradise for a different take on life, to live for themselves alone, and to symbolically exert something approaching vengeance on the women, the kids, the work, and the government that sucked away their lives.

Who are these guys?

They are the wallpaper that lines the social backgrounds of our cities and towns. They fixed our cars, repaired our electrical wiring, built our buildings, delivered our mail, ran our restaurants, edited our newspapers, did our accounting, fathered our friends. It’s easy look at these guys as though they are outliers, pervs, degenerates, but they’re usually just regular guys who ran out of anything to live for in their home countries — so they escaped.

They wash up in the tropics and talk about how the losers back home don’t know what they’re missing. They claim that they would need to be dragged kicking and screaming to ever go back there. They chant their own myth like a mantra. They wake up each morning next to a person who’s only there for the chit, go to the bar to drink with friends as callous and battered as they are, and are always just one tick away from pissing off the wrong local.

Life is good.

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Filed under: Cambodia, Love/ Relationships/ Sex

About the Author:

I am the founder and editor of Vagabond Journey. I’ve been traveling the world since 1999, through 91 countries. I am the author of the book, Ghost Cities of China and have written for The Guardian, Forbes, Bloomberg, The Diplomat, the South China Morning Post, and other publications. has written 3715 posts on Vagabond Journey. Contact the author.

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VBJ is currently in: New York City

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