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Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - Denise Heywood On the town

Denise Heywood On the town

We joined the turbo-prop set and flew down to Sihanoukville for the weekend on

Royal Air Cambodge. Although the road is reportedly bustling and well protected,

the plane is so convenient with a 7:50 am departure. Our windswept arrival at

Pochentong on a moto was less jet-set, so it was with joy that we discovered the

new Aiport Restaurant.

Smart check-in counters and luggage carousels

aside, it's a decent restaurant which signifies that the new airport has really

taken off. Within its cool, pristine interior, you can survey the hoi polloi

outside through a tinted bay window, while sipping fresh-brewed coffee and

eating almond and honey Danish pastries baked at Le Shop, and tropical fruit

salad. Don't worry about missing your last view of swaying palm trees. The

owners, Canadian-Cambodian couple Allan and Sabonne Kao, have thoughtfully

brought one inside and set it up in the middle. The is seating for 160 people

and at the back they have arranged soft blue sofas where weary airline pilots

can recline and irate customers whose flights have been canceled can calm

down.

The menu has traditional Cambodian dishes and western fast food.

Your last taste of Cambodia might be Your Place Burger, comforting for travelers

who could not be further from your place, or theirs, a hamburger in light bun

with French fries. Your best bet might be The Book Maker ($3), a juicy steak

sandwich with French fries. Mrs. Kao's specialty is crispy chicken, prepared in

batter and fried lightly.

The short flight and long laze on the beach

work up an appetite and on Saturday night everyone descends on the Koh Pos

restaurant. This simple, seafront wooden restaurant, its verandah lit by

vertical fluorescent tubes, was laden with so many diners that we had to queue

for a table. It's a wonder that out of the modest wooden kitchen at the back,

food of such quantity and quality emerges. But the owner, Mr. Teng Mech,

greeting the crowds with disarming shyness, is helped by his wife and several of

his six children, including his son Pheap, 24, and daughters, Moa, 27, and Teav,

20. The fish almost leap straight from the sea to the table, stopping briefly to

be sautéed in an array of herbs, garlic and spices. To start, there are

delicious steamed shrimp ($3), so gigantic they hang off the plate. The shell

fall away and the plump flesh, tasting of the sea, is unbelievably succulent.

Dipping them in lime juice and pepper just adds a tang. There are small, crunchy

prawns fried in a pepper and soy sauce ($3). Fish with savory sauce turned out

to be a huge white fish baked in a flavorful sweet and sour sauce. ($2). The

grilled fish was plain and uninteresting, with too many small bones in it ($2).

Banh Chhev, traditional bean sprout pancakes, thin and moist, with crispy edges,

cost 1,500 riels. They come with a veritable garden of a salad, full of cabbage,

lettuce and strange leaves such as the bitter reang, which comes from a shrub,

and sbay reung, a kind of marigold with edible leaves, (the flower is used in

temples), and fresh herbs such as mint, basil and parsley, on which to munch

contentedly while listening to the waves pounding on the shore.

On Sunday

a good place for lunch is Sam's restaurant, on a hill overlooking the last beach

before the port. Englishman Vic, an ex UN volunteer, gives a friendly welcome,

gives a friendly welcome, also renting rooms for $ 4.00 while Sam, who is

Cambodian, cooks. She grilled a generous-sized elephant fish until it was tender

then smothered it with glass noodles, fresh parsley, chopped spring onion and

slices of lime ($2). The light, delicate taste of this white fish, of which the

tender flesh fell away from the bone, is enhanced by grilling, and the smooth

texture of the noodles without any sauce makes a perfect combination. Green

tomato salad accompanied it. Vic handed out green bananas "for the road" as we

headed back down the hill.

Fortified for that Sunday walk, we strode

briskly back to Ochateal Beach for a vigorous swim. The Seaside Hotel there has

pretty rooms to rent ($20-$40), with satellite tv and hot baths, and a large

terrace for watching sunsets. Next door at the Eagle's Nest Colin Jerram rents

rooms ($15-$18). He serves a splendid Aussie breakfast. There's just time on

Monday morning to indulge in bacon, sausage and eggs, cereal and unlimited

coffee ($3.50). before jumping on the 9:30 am flight back to the city. There was

one last glimpse of the limpid, azure sea as the Russian Antinov looped round

the bay, then playtime was over

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