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MY PHNOM PENH

Nicolaus ‘Nico’ Mesterharm: Meta House founder
Nicolaus ‘Nico’ Mesterharm: Meta House founder

MY PHNOM PENH

Nico Mesterharm, the founder of German-Cambodian cultural centre Meta House, has lived in Phnom Penh for the past 14 years. This week he told Will Jackson about some of his favourite things to do in the city when he has a rare moment to himself

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Sundowner Spots
My favourite place for a sundowner would always be a boat trip because of the way the sun sets in Phnom Penh. We frequently hire boats for us and our friends for about $20 per hour, but you can also just jump on an average tourist boat for $2 or $3. It’s the best view of Phnom Penh you can get – so quiet and so nice. Another nice spot, but
without the cocktails, is the Olympic Stadium. Bring your own beer and sit on top of the stadium where you can watch people doing aerobics, and at the same time see a city in transition because of all the development around there.

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Late night pizza
Martini Bar is like a garden restaurant with a bar and a tiny nightclub inside. I haven’t been there for maybe two years. The audience was never really so – not really a decent audience. It’s one of these places – it was possibly never really fashionable but, back in the days when I came in the early 2000s, it was the number one male hangout place where you would usually end up when people guided you around the city. They would say you have to see it and have a drink there. Well, there is a good reason to go to Martini, and it’s not to pick up a girl but actually to have a pizza after midnight. It’s always been very good – and a good excuse to go there. These days we still order from them often because they deliver until 2am or 3am. We always get pizza pepperoni and it’s still very good.

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Artist studios
It’s always good to meet artists in their studio and a few artists do that in Phnom Penh. It’s a lot more interesting that just going to a gallery. Painter and sculptor Chhim Sothy has a studio not so far from the Central Market that people can visit if they make an appointment. Other artists are open to let people in their studios too. Not so many have big studios, but one is Sopheap Pich (above), the sculptor who has built a huge studio about 40 minutes outside the city which is a treat to visit. It’s really something
special. He builds these huge sculptures out of rattan, and his studio is combined with a showroom that looks like a big warehouse set on two hectares of former rice fields.

To arrange a visit to a studio contact Mesterharm on [email protected].

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Documentary
One of the best documentaries about contemporary Cambodia would be A River Changes Course by Kalyanee Mam because it’s about young people and Cambodia today. For sure, there’s a lot about climate change and environmental issues, but it’s about the new Cambodia, about young Cambodians and what they have to do and how they have to struggle, and for this reason alone I think it’s important. I can understand younger Cambodians getting frustrated that the only things that people know about Cambodia is the Khmer Rouge and Angkor Wat, and A River Changes Course shows a different aspect.

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Street Food
I’m a big fan of lot cha – you know, those small fried noodles – and there’s a famous lot cha restaurant near the National Museum, on Street 178 on the corner with Sothearos, that would be my number one recommendation for Cambodian street food. I’ve been going there once or twice a month since 2002. It’s always busy. There’s always a bunch of motorbikes parked out the front. The good thing is it never changes. It’s just egg, these noodles and a little bit of beef. Pretty straightforward. Very fresh. It’s not very different to any of the lok cha you buy in the street but, in times when this town is gentrifying, it’s great to have these traditional places still there.

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