Economic doom and gloom hasn't deterred Thai-based businessman Joseph Polito from continuing his plans to open a Siem Reap version of his Bangkok haven for high-fliers, Nest.
Bangkok's Nest is perched on the rooftop of Le Fenix hotel and has been described in the Bangkok glossies as a "Hollywood style pre-party (or after-party) outdoor hangout for Bangkok loungers ... with slouch-friendly furnishings, soft beats and sultry evening breezes".
Siem Reap's Nest will be a tad more grounded, as it will not be a rooftop venue. Instead it will be housed in smart new premises that are under construction on busy Sivatha Boulevard.
Polito is also well known to long-term Siem Reap expats - he was the general manager at Hotel de la Paix, before the era of the current GM, Nick Dowling. Polito told Scene he optimistically hopes to open the US$400,000 nightspot by mid-February.
"We had an opportunity to open in Siem Reap with a local businessman who liked our concept. He had a great site available, and since I know Siem Reap well, I felt there was a good existing market and opportunity in the city," he said.
"Nest Angkor is larger and in many ways will be an improvement to Bangkok."
Another cool bar with a more subdued upscale ambience that opened just before Christmas is Central Cafe, which occupies the site of the former Ivy Guesthouse 1. This is majority-owned by Angkor What? Bar proprietor Alex Sutherland and managed by Zoe Trout.
Siem Reap high-fliers will also be attracted to the new Abacus bar and restaurant, which finally opened on December 23. The former Abacus, opposite the Angkor Market, was a funky expat haven, but the new Abacus has gone upmarket with very slick and elegant surroundings, not to mention air-con. The other big change at the new Abacus is that proprietor Renaud Fichet has embarked on a partnership with chef Pascal Schmit.
Schmit is also well known in Siem Reap - he was a chef at La Residence d'Angkor before moving to the former Pansea Hotel in Yangon.
After six months he returned to Siem Reap to partner up with Fichet in the swank new restaurant on a side road off National Road 6, occupying the site of the former Myanmar-owned restaurant Amarapura.
HEART KID THRIVING
Peter Chhun, president and founder of the US organisation Hearts Without Boundaries, reports that baby Vy Soksamnang, aka Lucky Friday, the second Cambodian child to fly to the US in little over a year to have hole-in-the-heart surgery, has survived the operation and is thriving.
A fundraiser was held for the baby in Long Beach, California, on his first birthday on December 21.
The following day Lucky and his entourage arrived at the X-ray department at Rady Children's Hospital in San Diego. After an echocardiogram, Dr Paul Grossfeld told the family, "Everything looks perfect. The echo looks good. No more medications are needed. No more signs of fluid building up. After six months, Lucky will be able to do normal activities".
"After six months, I think Lucky will be ready to play in the NFL ...or should I say Cambodian football." The boy is scheduled to return to Cambodia next month.
Sofitel Hotel's Phokeethra Country Club golf course greens manager Maximilian Kaendler is celebrating the recent smooth running of the Cambodia Open 2008 golf tournament by leaving the job, and the country, for a protracted period in February.
He's taking a "few months" leave from the job to return to his homeland, Switzerland, to finish the final four months of his university degree in hospitality and tourism.
He told Scene, "I decided it's time to finish off the course and February is a good time for me to go. The golf course is up and running smoothly, and it's low season".
But Phokeethra Country Club golf course is about to face stiff competition from the city's third golf course, The Siem Reap Lake Resort Golf Club, being developed by KTC Leisure Co Ltd, part of Korea's KTC company which operates KTC Cable Co Ltd in Cambodia.
The new club, which will have 18 holes and a swank clubhouse, and opens on January 19.
Presumably Korean golfers will patronise this club, which could be a worry for Phokeethra because 80 percent of its clientele is Korean.
On the plus side, it could open the course to more Japanese players.
At the end of last September, two Australians, Les Stott, CEO of the Siem Reap NGO Kampuchea House (Australia) Inc, and a 17-year-old Australian student, Tom Wilkins, rode from Siem Reap to Stung Treng to raise money for the Kampuchea House orphanage. For five days, the two battled the heat, which peaked at 40 degrees on each day.
Apart from sunburn and tiredness, the result of their effort was US$25,000 donated by supporters in Melbourne. Of this, $5,000 was earmarked for the Angkor Hospital for Children.
On December 26, in a semi-formal ceremony in the grounds of the hospital, a cheque for the money was presented to the medical director. Coincidentally, the cost for the running of the hospital for a day is around $5,000, so this cheque enabled all of the operations, treatments, visits, X-rays and other daily costs to be covered for that day.
Planning for the 2009 ride is already under way, and Les Stott said he hopes another sizable cheque can be presented to aid the welfare of the children of Siem Reap.
Coco Garden's Venga Mogan.
A welcome addition to Siem Reap's music scene is one-man-band Bob Dylan aficionado Venga Mogan, who moved to Siem Reap from Singapore last August and late last year took over the little-known Coco Garden Restaurant and Bar on National Road 6.
He now performs most nights at Coco, but has also popped up at other venues around town, including a slot at the farewell night for the 2008 Cambodian Open golf tournament at Sofitel Hotel.
His Siem Reap plans are ambitious, and he hopes to turn the Coco bar into a concert venue sometime this year.
He was somewhat of a cult figure in the Singapore music scene, where he performed for almost 20 years, and along the way sang goodbye to his former career as plumber and pipe fitter.
But his passion and his obsession is for Bob Dylan - Dylan songs make up a great part of his repertoire and his eyes tend to glaze over at the mere mention of the legendary troubadour.
Mogan was actually booked as the warm-up act for Bob Dylan's concert in Singapore in 1996, but was "un-booked" after Dylan's management heard his material and realised he was a Dylan sound-alike.
But all was not lost - he was given a complimentary ticket near the front stalls and was able to gaze reverentially at his hero.
The Sothea, a luxury boutique hotel that was originally scheduled to open in Siem Reap in December, will now "definitely" open on Valentine's Day, Saturday, February 14.
The hotel has 39 suites, ranging from 40 to 130 square metres, and the Keo Restaurant will feature live piano music daily. Guests will also be treated to "themed afternoon teas" at The Sothea Terrace.
The general manager is Sarah Moya, and this is very much a homecoming for her.
She worked at Century Angkor Hotel from 2003 to 2006, first as director of sales and marketing, and then as acting general manager for 18 months. Now she returns triumphant, as one of the region's few female fully-fledged hotel general managers.
The Sothea is one of a slew of five-star boutique hotels slated for launch in Siem Reap to exploit the new high-end hotel trend for small, intimate, but lavish, digs for discerning travellers who eschew the multi-storey big-dollar big-ticket chains.
This has prompted the emergence of global boutique hotel chains, as typified by Sothea's own company, the Preferred Boutique "collection", a division of the Preferred Hotel Group. The emphasis at The Sothea seems to be subtle elegance, and in keeping with this, the hotel employs butlers, headed by David Calvert, a graduate of the Australian Butler School. The hotel blog says, "The Sothea is the only accommodation in Cambodia that offers personalized Butler Service in each suite. David is also the only accredited butler in Cambodia."