Before I Kill You, Mr Bond . . .

1 Feb

The crocodile pit at Snake House, Sihanoukville, Cambodia

There’s something of the Wild West about Sihanoukville, Cambodia. A sort of post-Soviet Wild West, where Hummers park off Soviet Avenue, portraits of two kings and the Queen adorn the brutalist concrete of Independence Square, candy-coloured cod-Buddhism is just a step up the hill, the crime rate is the highest in Cambodia, backpacker guesthouses and low-rent girlie bars fight over hillside space, and, oh god, did I mention the snakes?

The elegant Nikolai, who owns the Snake House restaurant, the Airport disco and an exquisite and extremely expensive island, is responsible for the snake thing.

Cambodia is home to ten of the world’s most dangerous snakes, disconcerting information given the medical care is some of the worst in the world north of the Sahara.

Tourists die quite frequently, having gone out to the jungle in flip-flops and shorts, sans guide, disregarding four decades worth of unexploded ordnance and aforementioned wildlife to take a little walk on the wild side.

Because if the guesthouse plays Bob Marley, what could possibly go wrong?

Nikolai, apparently, is the only man in the entire country who has a clue what to do when pit vipers/king cobras/krait take askance to one’s presence. Handy if you’re in Sihanoukville. Less so elsewhere.

One recommendation is to pour boiling water on the bite. In theory this coagulates the venom and slows its progress through the system.

Then pray, I guess.

A trained vet, Nikolai arrived from Moscow with a vision. A restaurant full of snakes.

It would be fair to say his taste in decor tends to the Bond villain. Snake House has snakes living in the table-tops, a chained crocodile lolling amid exotic palms, and colonial bamboo furnishings under a hessian roof.

Chained crocodile at Snake House restaurant, Sihanoukville, Cambodia

Will go like the clappers once off the chain

Eating Cambodian mushrooms pickled Russian style while vipers and cobras dart and squirm in one’s peripheral vision is definitely an experience.

Yet Snake House has grown beyond commerce, beyond passion and into a brilliant obsession.

What was once a single, relatively restrained line of scary creatures behind glass on astroturf is now a maze of ferns and cages, giving onto a frankly baronial moat populated by a small army of crocodiles, cages full of tropical birds, fish, sea turtles, terrapins . . .

Perhaps most surreal of all are the cute little bunny rabbits shaded by banana plants. Petting zoo in the making? Or dinner for the crocs? Time will tell, I guess.

Nikolai’s primary vehicle is an Aston Martin with a skeleton riding shotgun. He also, word has it, owns a Porsche, an original MacLaren, and a few other nippy little runabouts. (The Hummers belong to his managers.)

Finding that local roads rather removed not only the point but also the suspension from his fleet, Nikolai prevailed on the powers that be, AKA the Cambodian People’s Party, to open the disused airfield so he and his friends can race his vehicles.

Z in the cockpit of an Antonov plane at Airport discotheque, Sihanoukville, Cambodia

Z appreciates the man's decorative genius.

Perhaps in homage to this, Nikolai called his second venture Airport. He flew in an Antonov-24 transport from Russia, suspended it in concrete, built a hangar over the top, slapped a few trucks in for good measure, and lo!, Sihanoukville’s finest beachfront discotheque was born.

Complete with someone’s great-grandmother to pick every single stray leaf off the lovingly landscaped beach with a rake.

Only in Cambodia? Possibly.

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One Response to “Before I Kill You, Mr Bond . . .”

  1. Anne-Marie at 5:52 pm #

    Brilliantly written – and very scary. Have enjoyed all your posts and am signing up for alerts when there’s a new one. Cambodia is clearly a lot less sanitised than Thailand!

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