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As Cambodia clamors to develop, a favorite bar is left in the dust

Snow's got noticed overseas as well, featured on National Geographic and by celebrity chef Anthony Bourdain.

In 1997 battles in Phnom Penh erupted and firefights cleared the streets. But Snow stayed, even when it took days for him to cross the city due to unrest.

During some of the heaviest fighting, he watched soldiers march down Sihanouk Boulevard, a main thoroughfare leading to Independence Monument. "You could hear gunfire and it was madness," he said in his clipped Aussie accent. "You didn't know what was going to happen next."

Expats left in droves, businesses pulled out, embassies cut staff, but Snow stayed at a time when it was still common for soldiers to get drunk and fire off AK-47s at beer gardens.

By 2001, things had cooled down a bit. He auditioned for the role of an angry brothel customer in the film "City of Ghosts" and got the part. In his role he screams that he must take a prostitute to Battambang province for beauty school, a performance that still gets him recognized.

At the time of the filming, he was working at a school, painting art in an Aboriginal style he witnessed back in Australia that involves using small dots to create images. He used that technique to depict traditional Khmer images, and ultimately decided to open Snow's to sell more of his art and support his daughter for whom the bar was officially named. Maxine's mother and his partner, Sreyny, passed away in 2003.

While Snow said he appreciated the changes in Phnom Penh since his arrival — the reduction of violence, more restaurants — he acknowledged that the same trends had cost him his bar.

He has a temporary location in mind, but it's much smaller concrete building and the view is partly blocked by a giant-size billboard that advertises for a Russian-owned mobile phone company.

"It's the total Cambodia experience, you have these experiences in Cambodia, and usually the final one is when you lose your business to someone else. You know?" Snow said.

"It's a kick in the head, you know what I mean? It happens to a lot of people in Cambodia."