MY PHNOM PENH:Robert Carmichael Journalist and author

South African Robert Carmichael, 46, has been in Cambodia for over a decade.
South African Robert Carmichael, 46, has been in Cambodia for over a decade.

MY PHNOM PENH:Robert Carmichael Journalist and author

The Willow Hotel Quiz

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I never bothered with quizzes when I lived in Cape Town or London, which surprises me because I’ve always been keen on general knowledge and on learning new things.

But I’ve got into it here in Phnom Penh, and the Willow Hotel’s weekly Wednesday night quiz has become something of an institution for me. It’s a great way to break up the week and a chance to catch up with people that I’d otherwise not see nearly as often.

We’ve a pretty good team of seven – our regulars are a mix of journalists, lawyers and consultants from a range of countries, ages and backgrounds and, as you’d expect with a general knowledge quiz, that variety helps.

I guess 100 or so people turn up each week to pit their wits against the excellent quiz-mistress Abigail – rule number 1: no cheating. The quiz is never easy, but it’s always fun and that’s usually helped along by red wine.

Monument Books

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Books have always been key to my life. I’ve always read a lot. I wish I could retain more of what I read, but that’s a problem everyone has I guess. I’ve always loved physical books. I go to Monument at least once a fortnight, if not once a week.

I’ll have a look at what’s come in, what’s new. Particularly the nonfiction selection. I also order in books – I just ordered in The People’s Republic of Amnesia by Louisa Lim.

As my wife will tell you, I can’t go past a bookstore without popping in. I can spend hours in a bookstore.

When I was in Hungary (my wife is Hungarian), I found the perfect combination: a book shop that sells wine in the same place – that’s perfection in a retail outlet. There’s a magic about books. There really is.

The Shop

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I’ve been going to The Shop nearly every morning since 2010. I get there at 7:30 or 8am, stay for an hour, have breakfast, have a coffee, read the papers.

This is how uniform my life is: I have the same breakfast every time. They now call it Rob’s breakfast. It’s toast, half an avocado and smoked salmon.

They come separately and I put them together: part of the creative aspect of my life. That’s a standard morning, that and two espressos.

It’s how I start the day. Whenever I have friends coming from overseas, we always go there. You go to a place for that long and everyone knows who you are.

There is nice crowd of other regulars who go there as well. John Vink, a photographer who shoots for Magnum, he’s always there. It’s a nice community.

View of the Mekong

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I love the view looking down on the Mekong from the riverside. It’s got a mystery, like a magic to it. Even on the hottest days, there’s a bit of an evening breeze that picks up and it’s just nice to be out on one of the world’s great rivers.

It’s a wide open space. No buildings, a sense that you could go down there and find an adventure. It’s heading down to Vietnam and the end of the Mekong runs to the sea. It’s just flat and open, big sky.

I come from Cape Town, which has spectacular natural beauty: the mountain, the ocean, the vineyards … and yet that view of the Mekong is still one of my favourites.

You’re right in the middle of the city and it just opens up. Sometimes you have these storms coming in from Vietnam and you have these black clouds and lightning strikes coming up underneath as they come closer, that sort of thing – I love it.

Bassac Lane

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I used to go to Cantina a lot but of course now that’s closed and the search has been on – where else to go? The place I go to the most is Bassac Lane.

I like it because of the variety and it’s a little alleyway, like a slice of the real Phnom Penh, which you don’t see that much of, especially driving around on a motorbike.

It’s quite nice to be getting more into authentic Phnom Penh. You’ve got families there and all the rest. So I quite like that. I also like the fact that each bar is quite different.

They have different themes, different layouts, like The Library bar, with all the books, jazz and Delta blues music. And plus my book’s on the shelf. That must be how Hemingway felt.


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