Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - Denise Heywood

Denise Heywood

Denise Heywood

A ustralian champagne flowed during Melbourne Cup Day on Nov 1 at the Ettamogah Pub. Betting started early for the horserace as more than 100 ex-pats overflowed on to Sihanouk Boulevard during the morning, sporting festive hats and blowing trumpets. Shoppers from Lucky Market next door joined the fray.

The Ettamogah has been celebrating sports events via its large television set since it opened its doors on Aug 1. Australian partners Manny Kargas, 50, who formerly worked with Care, and Alan Drew, an importer-exporter, describe it as a bar to relax in and drink the coldest beer in town. "This is a bar with a bit of food, where you come to meet your mates," declared Manny.

It doesn't matter if your mates are not Australian. "We get lots of English and Irish," confirmed Manny, "and Khmers who have lived abroad and come back. The Kiwi blokes are always great value too."

The television takes pride of place over the bar, and a few chairs and tables spill out on to the street where Manny serves chicken, fish and steak. Food comes unpretentiously in baskets rather than on plates. "We're a basic Aussie fish and chip shop," he explained, although the chips, thinly cut and fried to light, crispy perfection, are gaining a reputation as the best in Phnom Penh.

"We import Australian meat but use local fish," he said. Dishes average $2.50, and beers include Angkor, VB, Fosters and Tiger.

The bar, unpronounceable after the second glass of champagne, is named after the famous Ettamogah Hotel in New South Wales on the Victoria border, immortalized in cartoon.

Ettamogah is open for breakfast from 7am. "We close when the last person leaves, voluntarily or forcibly," chuckled Manny.

We left voluntarily in the afternoon after the magnificent Arab racehorse, Jeune, had won the cup. We joined other inebriated revellers drifting along Sihanouk Blvd claiming they had to get back to their offices. Manny could not remember who had had the biggest win on Jeune. But Englishman Barry Rogers, from Enterprise Oil, claimed to have lost the most. "I got a hot tip for Jeune, but went and put $20 on the sweepstake," he said. "I'm not a gambling man. I'll stick to oil in the future."

Meanwhile, another pavement cafe which has become popular is the Chiang Mai on Samdech Sothearos Blvd. It is in a row of five pavement cafes with a convivial atmosphere. The raucous traffic diminishes by evening and customers can enjoy excellent Pad Thai, noodles with prawns ($2.50), and Tom Yum Kung Nang, spicy hot and sour prawn soup ($5), and Kao Tang Nha Tang, crispy rice served with minced pork or shrimp ($2), to the accompaniment of rock music.

There is a sociable bar with tall wicker stools, and further inside there are cushions and eight floor-level tables for relaxed dining, Thai style. Elegant manageress Madame Nui said that Thai and Japanese customers choose these while Westerners, finding them too far to get down to, opt for the tables.

Madame Nui, 33, who is from Surat Thani, in southern Thailand, named her restaurant Chiang Mai only because the northern Thai city is well known. She worked at the Floating Hotel and Royal Phnom Penh before deciding she had enough experience to open her own place, together with two partners. Chiang Mai opens at 11am and, like Ettamogah, closes whenever the last person leaves. "I don't say now I want to close," said Madame Nui with a beautiful smile. Drinks range from beer to wine. The Happy Hour goes from 4pm to 7pm, after which it's easier to get down to the cushions.

The Cambodiana poolside was the scene of more festivities on Nov 9. The Ministry of Tourism hosted a bounteous buffet dinner to celebrate the opening of Pochentong's new airport lounge, timed to coincide with Independence Day. It included a raffle and performances of traditional music and dance. "It's not quite the right setting for classical dance," admitted Nouth Narang, who had made one of the welcoming speeches. Nobody had fallen in the pool when we left, but the night was young.

On to the Cyclo Bar, the band Froz'n Fire is playing, while on Saturday nights there are theme nights. Past ones have incuded Lambada, Saturday Night Fever and Caribbean salsa.

Jazz lovers will be interested in a concert at the French Cultural Centre on Street 184. "Jazz and everything and everything ..." is the title of the performances by a group of young Cambodian musicians who won prizes in the Music Festival earlier this year. They will be singing and interpreting classic jazz lyrics, on Nov 25 at 6pm, Nov 26 at 5pm and Nov 27 at 4pm. Entrance is $5, students 2,000 riel.

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