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On The Town

W E danced the night away at Fantazia, a new discotheque near the Olympic stadium. We were transfixed by the dancing disc jockey, John Dixon, 20, from Brisbane. He gives the phrase 'snake hips' new resonance. In between pounding disco beats we learned that he is employed at the Australian embassy in the morning, works out in the gym all afternoon, teaches swimming at the day's end, then in the evening starts warming up for dancing. He keeps going all night. Asked when he found time to sleep, he declared: "You only sleep when you're bored."

We stifled a yawn and realized that, when the strobe lights and Hollywood fog had faded, Fantazia's decor is somewhat plain. Its most glittering aspects are the huge diamond and gold knuckle-dusters worn by the owner, Willie Ferrari (Willie G to his friends). Sporting heavy gold bracelets, neck chains and earrings, Willie hails from Los Angeles. So does his partner, Jorge Palacios, similarly adorned. They originate from Latin America. Their white teeth gleamed in the ultraviolet light and we felt they brought a cosmopolitan glamour to our capital. Entrance free. Soft drinks $1, beer $2.

When we feel less energetic, we find the best place to relax is upstairs at Déja Vu. Lounging on cushions or reclining in the high-backed chairs, we love listening to Albinoni adagios while enjoying quiche lorraine ($3.50), vegetarian pasta ($3.50) and, best of all, Mediterranean platter ($4.50) with humous, babaganoush, falafel and pitta bread. The eggs benedict ($4.50) at brunch are special too.

Asked about his cookery background, English chef Anthony Alderson, from Surrey, replied: "I learned it in my mother's kitchen." Maybe that's why we feel so at home.

Gentle Hatha, 25, the attentive but unobtrusive waiter, who has worked at Deja Vu since it opened nearly two years ago, also puts us at ease.

An ornate chess set on a table prompted a chess wizard we know to describe it as more a work of art than a functioning set. "The pieces are too grand in relation to the size of the board," he explained, examining the queen which is an apsara.

In Cambodia, he said, they play ancient chess in the Indian fashion, which originated thousands of years ago (of which Hun Sen, apparently, is an aficionado). The queen, under these rules, can jump only one square in one move. In contemporary chess, the rules of which were fixed some 500 years ago, the queen is the most powerful piece in the game and can traverse the entire board in one move. Chess, wrote a French orientalist, is not simply a game but a representation of the universe.

We were still pondering this when we admired the work of an all-women NGO, Khemara. They exhibited their handicrafts, together with those of Wat Than Pagoda, at the Cambodiana pool terrace. Khemara, started by Sochua Mu Lieper, produce silk bags, clothes, bedspreads and gifts.

At Wat Than, Maryknoll train land mine-disabled people to create beautiful silk portfolios, picture frames, tablecloths and clothes, which make perfect Christmas presents. "We have received an order from America," said Patti Curran from San Francisco, who has worked with Maryknoll for six months. Their carpenters make custom made furniture too.

The opening of the exhibition was upstaged by a gorgeous green and red parrot which looked remarkably similar to one which, until recently, visited our garden every day. Tied by a very short leash to his perch, he squawked indignantly at guests scoffing the delicious canapés produced by the Cambodiana. Finally, in a flurry of feathers, he managed to overturn a dish of them and fixed us with a triumphant eye.

We felt liberated when we sped out of town down Route One towards an unexpected find: L'Imprévu. Just seven kilometers away, this new restaurant with a swimming pool, decked out with umbrellas and easy chairs, also has 13 delightful wooden bungalows where you can stay, with 11 more under construction.

The 4,500 square meter site, filled with flowers, trees and butterflies, was developed and built by Christian Belloy and his wife Francoise. Christian used to restore old farmhouses in France. The whole family left their native Nice two years ago and settled here. Their son and daughter, Olivier and Valerie, help them run it. This is the perfect escape for jaded Phnom Penhois, wary of venturing further into the countryside.

As we dined, the twittering of birds was replaced by the trilling of mobile phones when a crowd of business people flocked in. But after lunch they migrated back to the city and peace settled once more. Food is simple and unpretentious. We ate salade nicoise ($3.50), and salade russe ($2.00), enhanced by chilled Kir ($2). Pasta dishes are $4. They plan to do fish grills. Bicycles will be available to cycle by the riverside. Bungalows cost $15 for two on weeknights, $28 weekends, including swimming and breakfast. Pool only: $3 weekdays, $5 weekends.

Happiness and pizzas seem to be synonymous in this town. We found Happy Neth's Pizza's pizza perfect. The four cheese one is creamy and tasty, and comes in three sizes, $5, $10, $15, and the everything pizza is, well, everything, $5, $10, $15. Feta cheese salad with delicious French dressing, $2. Garlic bread, $1. Street 110. Call 60443 for free delivery.

From 21-23 December, there will be three days of Khmer theatre, organised by the Ministry of Culture and the Cultural Service of the French Embassy.

At Wat Phnom there will be traditional music. At Vial Mean (in front of the Museum) and the Chatomuk theatre there will be performances of Yike and Khol theatre.

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