Siem Reap has a wide spectrum of watering holes. From expat haunts and backpacker havens, there’s the novel, the gaudy, the simple, the stylish and everything in-between. Or so we thought. But one wily Reaper has tapped into a new idea for a bar, one which begs the question, “How did nobody think of this before?”
The Tuk Tuk Bar, is exactly that, a tuk tuk and a bar. Fully functional and fully stocked, the up-cycled vehicle still has its moto attached. But also attached are bar stools, a convertible roof, and at least three dozen bottles of booze.
Mao Hong Kry is the man behind the innovation. “This bar is one of my dreams,” he says. “I always thought one day I’d have a bar of my own. It’s taken time, but it’s finally getting there.”
Hong says he’s been working in bars six years. Having worked at Angkor Night Market and at Naga World in Phnom Penh, he honed his unique skills as a bar showman, and set the tone for the bottle-spinning still lauded at the night market today. Hong says, as a server, he was first attracted to the job of barman for the sharp shirt and braces combos, but it was his love of juggling that eventually got him the gig.
“I was always throwing the bottles and people started to call me Tom Cruise. At first I didn’t know what they meant, I went on YouTube, saw Cocktail and that was my inspiration.”
Hong spent all his spare time in net cafés watching videos and working on his routines daily. It is this passion for barmanship that made Hong eager to go out on his own. “I saved up a small amount of money working and I love Siem Reap and wanted to come home and set up. But I looked everywhere and I didn’t have enough saved.”
It was then that Hong met Daniel, a German engineer who was working on a mobile party bar. Hong explains that the concept didn’t go down well with authorities, but he reckoned if he had the tuk tuk at a stationary location, the idea could work.
Hong says his gamble paid off. He rented the Soksan Road premises, built some bamboo seating and linked up with Daniel, who remodelled the tuk tuk, creating the retractable roof, bar stools and shelving. Despite being away from Pub St, his location, in backpacker mecca close to Garden Village guest house means there’s a steady flow of customers drawn in by the re-commissioned tuk tuk parked outside.
“There’s no low season and no high season, it’s busy every night here,” Hong says.
While Hong is delighted with the success of his month-old venture, it’s only one element of a bigger picture which will see him combine the business with his love of theatrics. “The concept is to use the bar during the day as a bar school, to pass on my skills. We are building a team at the moment and working on a program, starting to set up a bartender connection around town.”
Novelty boozer or budding bar academy? Either way this is one young entrepreneur who’s on to a winner.