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Asia travel

The women who love snake selfies: Cambodia reptile cafe is changing reputations

First there were cat cafes, and now Phnom Penh has a reptile cafe – and to the owner’s surprise, his colourful lizards, iguanas and snakes are a hit with women customers

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 09 September, 2018, 1:02pm
UPDATED : Tuesday, 11 September, 2018, 3:55pm

For anyone terrified of an albino python, an orange corn snake or a scaly, bearded iguana, Chea Raty says getting up close and personal at Phnom Penh’s first reptile-themed cafe is the only remedy.

Taking off from the cat cafes already popular in the Cambodian capital, Chea Raty launched his business to change the skin-crawling reputation of lizards and snakes and convince haters that they are misunderstood.

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As customers sip on their lattes and hang out with the reptiles, “they will love them like I do”, the 32-year-old says while stroking the scaly neck wattle of an iguana.

The walls of his cafe are lined with lit-up glass tanks containing snakes of various lengths and colours, while a bright macaw screeches in the corner.

Some visitors look hesitantly at the cages, others are bolder in their embrace of the creatures.

There’s no entry fee, so visitors can order a coffee and request a sit-down with a serpentine friend from one of the tanks.

An iced tea for a young customer instantly becomes a cool object for a yellow-and-cream ball python to twist its body around.

A woman giggles as an albino python creeps from her shoulder and wraps behind her head.

Nearby, a bearded dragon iguana perches on a table while a man gently pets it.

Customer Y Navim was wary at first of a corn snake, an orange-coloured serpent that kills its prey through constriction. But it was soon resting on her palm as she sipped her coffee.

“This cafe is quite unique,” says the 22-year-old. “I’ve never seen some of these reptiles before. They are beautiful and scary.”

To critics who say the animals should be left alone in the wild, Chea Raty says his human-bred creatures “cannot survive there”.

All of his cafe creatures are imported from Thailand. Business is still slow due to the common fears of snakes and lizards.

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But women, Chea Raty says, are providing an unexpected boost.

“They put the pythons around their neck, take selfies, and they are happy.”