PHNOM PENH (PHNOM PENH POST/ASIA NEWS NETWORK) - In a coffee shop surrounded by greenery, a pretty young lady smiles as she cuddles an iguana. Perhaps feeling the love through the soft touch of her fingers, the brown reptile closes its eyes and stays still, its mouth slightly ajar as if enjoying the attention it receives.
It is just another day at the Reptile Cafe, where one can enjoy a cup of coffee or popular beverages, and spend the time to enjoy and explore almost 20 different species of animals.
Most of the animals at the cafe are reptiles though. They include iguanas, turtles, four species of snakes such as pythons, arachnids like spiders and scorpions, rodents such as mice, insects like the red giant cockroach and locusts, and colourful birds such as parrots.
The cafe opened about four months ago, and its owner Chea Raty says the creatures were all brought in from Thailand.
"I have a friend living at Poi Pet, who handles all the legal requirements for me to bring in the different species of creatures that I have in my cafe," he says.
However, the cute iguana is the real star at the Reptile Cafe. This tropical species, which is native to South America has become a favourite pet over the years.
Mr Raty, first encountered an iguana on television and became very interested in it. He says the reptile's appearance may look a little scary at first to the uninitiated. But its really a very gentle creature.
"Three years ago, I started raising this iguana, which I got from Thailand, and soon I began to fall in love with it. Not many people realise that it's a vegetarian too," he says.
Mr Raty, 32, hails from Banteay Meanchey province and is an IT graduate. He used to own a business selling computer spare parts, but it failed.
"I don't believe in giving up, so I opened this cafe with its unique concept to attract customers.
"I started forming the idea to open Reptile Cafe and stock it with a variety of reptiles and other living creatures that customers can get to know and take pictures with.
"My cafe has received a lot of attention due to its natural decorations. Customers can relax, eat and learn about the different species we have. They can also take selfies with the iguana, which is our top star," Mr Raty says.
Beverage prices at the Reptile Cafe are also reasonable and start from 5,500 riel to 8,500 riel (S$1.84-S$2.85). More importantly, the cafe's "green" concept helps to sooth the creatures there. And besides, none of them needs to be kept in air-conditioned surroundings.
As an animal lover, Mr Raty wants city folks to get up close and personal with the creatures he has. Hence, he says opening a cafe like his is not just about having a unique concept to attract customers.
"You must love nature and all that it offers, including the creatures at my cafe. I want to share my passion with patrons so that they too can come to love animals," he says.