In a coffee shop surrounded by greenery, a pretty young lady smiles as she cuddles an iguana. Perhaps feeling the love through the soft touch of her fingers, the brown reptile closes its eyes and stays still, its mouth slightly ajar as if enjoying the attention it receives.
It is just another day at the Reptile Cafe, where one can enjoy a cup of coffee or popular beverages, and spend the time to enjoy and explore almost 20 different species of animals.
Most of the animals at the café are reptiles though. They include iguanas, turtles, four species of snakes such as pythons, arachnids like spiders and scorpions, rodents such as mice, insects like the red giant cockroach and locusts, and colourful birds such as parrots.
The café opened about four months ago, and its owner Chea Raty says the creatures were all brought in from Thailand.
“I have a friend living at Poi Pet, who handles all the legal requirements for me to bring in the different species of creatures that I have in my café,” he says.
However, the cute iguana is the real star at the Reptile Café. This tropical species, which is native to South America has become a favourite pet over the years.
Raty, first encountered an iguana on television and became very interested in it. He says the reptile’s appearance may look a little scary at first to the uninitiated. But its really a very gentle creature.
“Three years ago, I started raising this iguana, which I got from Thailand, and soon I began to fall in love with it. Not many people realise that it’s a vegetarian too,” he says.
Raty, 32, hails from Banteay Meanchey province and is an IT graduate. He used to own a business selling computer spare parts, but it failed.
“I don’t believe in giving up, so I opened this café with its unique concept to attract customers. “I started forming the idea to open Reptile Café and stock it with a variety of reptiles and other living creatures that customers can get to know and take pictures with.
“My café has received a lot of attention due to its natural decorations. Customers can relax, eat and learn about the different species we have. They can also take selfies with the iguana, which is our top star,” Raty says.
Beverage prices at the Reptile Café are also reasonable and start from 5,500 riel to 8,500 riel ($1.30-$2.10). More importantly, the café’s “green” concept helps to sooth the creatures there. And besides, none of them needs to be kept in air-conditioned surroundings.
As an animal lover, Raty wants city folks to get up close and personal with the creatures he has. Hence, he says opening a cafe like his is not just about having a unique concept to attract customers.
“You must love nature and all that it offers, including the creatures at my cafe. I want to share my passion with patrons so that they too can come to love animals,” he says.
As for his customers, Raty says: “Their smiles say it all. Many of my regulars have come to love the creatures I have. The feeling is something only animal lovers can appreciate,” he says.
After four months of operating Reptile Café, Raty says that he has noticed a change in people. First timers and those who had no affinity for animals were initially a little reserved around them. “But now I see a change, and people have begun to take an interest in them.
“This is especially so for young people. Even foreigners bring their children to visit and interact with the creatures I have. They can even get help from my staff to touch and cuddle some of them,” he says.
With so many different species of reptiles, rodents and insects, Raty says he learned how to look after them from the internet. He even trained his staff to care for them too and spends between 6,000-7,000 riel a day on pet food for each species he has.
Turning straight down from street 167 in Toul Tum Pung II, Reptile Cafe is located on a dead-end between street 450 and 173.
Raty says the hard to find location is an obstacle for his business to grow, but despite this, he has his regulars.
Better yet, he has been approached by some people who expressed their interest to cooperate and expand his café at a better location with higher pedestrian traffic.
“Having people call and express interest to collaborate with me is just fantastic. I am considering the potential for such ventures and if it happens, I hope many more people will come to love animals and know about my café too,” he says.
Reptile Café is open from 8am to 8 pm. Contact Number: 096 888 6887.