Cambodia’s beer girls, mostly working in local restaurants and bars, will approach you almost before you’ve sat down. Each representing a brand of beer, they rely on commissions based on the amount they manage to sell, and will keep opening bottles or cans and topping up your glass, hoping to get you to drink more. You don’t pay them for the beer, as the cost is calculated at the end by counting up the empties. Although it is not part of the deal, some beer girls may drink and chat with men to up their consumption, but that’s as far as it goes. In some Western establishments, beer girls may also help serve food.

Although things are more relaxed than they used to be, “decent” Cambodian women tend neither go to bars nor drink alcohol, so, while beer girls are somewhat looked down upon, the taxi girls who frequent the karaoke parlours and nightclubs are beyond the pale. Usually from very poor families, they have a role akin to that of hostess, dance partner and sometimes call girl rolled into one. If you invite them to join you at your table or dance with you, the charge will be added to your bill at the end of the evening, as will the cost of their drinks.

The abuse that taxi girls receive is a serious issue, and a number of NGOs in Cambodia – daughtersofcambodia.org, for example – have been set up to offer women alternative incomes in the form of spa and beautician training, handicrafts and the like.

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