Mar 21 2011
The sign on the outside says Maxine’s, but the local expats that love it call it Snow’s or Snowy’s, after the charismatic Australian owner, Ian “Snow” Woodford. Last Friday Woodford was told that he would have to clear out, and this weekend is set to be the last in the long, storied history of a bar that is considered a Phnom Penh institution and whose owner is something close to a local celebrity.
Snow’s is a short trek across the Japanese Bridge on Chrouy Changva Peninsula. The tumble-down wooden house with a porch that hangs precariously out over the water is known for its stunning views of the sunsets over the Tonle Sap. The interior is decorated with artwork from local artists and Woodford himself, who makes paintings by covering traditional Khmer images with coloured and metallic dots, a technique called pointillism. The ceiling is hung with hundreds of brass bells and the face of Buddha looks out from every wall.
“We would have been here six years on Khmer New Year. We were the one Western place on this side of the river, the one red dot,” Woodford told me, obviously saddened by the situation. Snow’s is one of more than a hundred houses that are being cleared as part of a riverside beautification project that apparently began months ago with the addition of a number of large billboards facing Sisowath Quay. There are plans to put a garden where Snow’s and the many family homes now stand. “I knew it was going to happen,” Woodford said, “but not so fast. There are no games with these guys. When they say go, you go.”
A visit to Snow’s means getting to talk to Woodford and hearing his stories of days gone by. Woodford came to Cambodia in 1993, as a contractor for the UN. His job was to move 150 UNTAC Land Cruisers through Khmer Rouge occupied territory, a dangerous job that involved delicate negotiations, bribery and drinking homebrew with Khmer Rouge soldiers. When Matt Dillon came to Cambodia to film City of Ghosts, Woodford was cast in a small but memorable role as a quirky patron at a brothel. Hearing Woodford’s stories is as easy as sitting down next to him — he’s quick to pull out his dog-eared scrapbook where he’s collected photos and memories of his time in Cambodia and show it to all interested parties.
But the end of Snow’s has come, and this weekend will be its last. Woodford is looking for another location but for now, Saturday night is the planned final bash. Rumour has it that the Cambodia contingent of El Dealbreakers will be playing (although said rumours have yet to be confirmed). Regardless, “it’s going to be quite a blowout,” Woodford promises.
Maxine’s / Snow’s
71 Tonle Sap Road, Chruoy Changva Peninsula, Phnom Penh
T: (012) 200 617.
Travelfish.org always pays its way. No exceptions.