Siem Reap, as with many parts of the world, is becoming a town of pet lovers, with many expats bringing their fluffy friends to work. Grasshopper Adventures has a sprightly dog trotting about the place, a poodle named Vuitton. Two pugs, Agent Lagerfeld and Contessa Chanel, up until recently resided at Hotel 1961, and my own humble office has Robbie, who labours under the impression that he is the world’s greatest guard dog, and attempts to nip the heels of anyone he doesn’t know, causing a great ruckus whenever an innocent stranger bumbles in asking if we are the post office, which happens at least once a month.
So with all this canine love going on, perhaps it’s time for Siem Reap to jump on the animal-themed café bandwagon, joining the likes of Lady Dinah’s Cat Emporium, London’s first, newly-opened cat café, or indeed the place I recently visited in Bangkok, the slightly peculiarly named True Love Café in the leafy hipster enclave of Ari, home to 17 Siberian huskies, the idea being that customers can pet the animals in between dining.
Now, I am an animal lover. I am also a tea and cake lover. So when I discovered there was a place where I could combine my two passions, I was beyond excited. Add to the mix the fact that the husky is my all-time favourite dog, and – frankly – wild hound dogs couldn’t keep me away.
So, dragging my bemused better half halfway across the city, we set off to find the canine caff, finally locating it down a network of small residential streets. Upon entering, we are told to replace our shoes with elasticated, plastic-bag foot covers and to sanitise our mitts before going out into the large enclosure, a sort of fenced-off yard backing onto the café.
Naturally I rush straight in and, it’s a little – well – odd. We are the only ‘falangs’ there bar one, with hordes of excitable Thais slowly chasing a few huskies around the yard. The pooches are let out in groups of three or four and punters sit or wander among the largely disinterested animals, apart from one strange fellow (the other falang, naturally) who seemed intent on catching each one and burying his face in its fur to snap a selfie on his iPhone. Hmm. It feels a little like we’re all competing for doggie attention, so eventually I retreat to the table section where I can watch the goings-on.
True Love Café was originally a dog breeders outfit, until the owner hit upon the innovative idea of combining it with an eatery. The dogs seem happy and healthy, and a member of staff informs me that they are kept in air-conditioned kennels being used as they are to colder climates, But the café does have something of a ‘petting zoo’ feel to it.
Eventually, the pack is taken away and replaced with a new trio of mutts. This time, inexplicably, a decidedly non-husky character is among them, some sort of Maltese terrier-shi tzu fluff-ball mix, who toddles around amongst his larger pals. Still, he’s cute so who cares.
As the petting session draws to a close, we are invited to stand at one end of the enclosure next to some gates which lead to the building housing the kennels. As my fellow dog lovers get their cameras ready, I’m just wondering what all the fuss is about when all 17 dogs come charging down from the other end of the yard, in a feeding-time frenzy. They stampede into the kennels and devour food as if they’ve never seen a meal before, then they are gone. So long, furry friends.
Back in Siem Reap, I wonder if we could ever have a True Love Café of our own, but it’s difficult to imagine locals taking to the idea quite as enthusiastically, and – worryingly – it’s easy to imagine some people misconstruing the term ‘dog café.’
Perhaps, for the moment, I’ll have to content myself with Robbie the office dog, currently snoozing at my feet.