the toa Blog
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The toa blog - January 21, 2006
Tourists. Dumb things tourists do that really annoy guesthouse/hotel owners. And if you see yourself reflected here, particularly numbers one and three, please get yourself sorted before continuing your travels any further.
1.) Multiple bookings. A lot of smaller establishments, and we're one of them, take unsecured bookings. No pre-payments, no credit cards, no bank transfers, nothing. Just the customer's word that they will stay with us arriving at a specified time, booking for a specified number of days. Most of the time the system works fine, the customer honors their commitment, we honor ours. On occasion, and this happened twice this past week, a customer unbeknownst to anyone but themselves will make a booking at two, three, even four establishments all of which agree to pick-up the customer from wherever, bus, airport, etc. So lo and behold half an hour before the customer is expected to materialize at the airport, three drivers from three different guesthouses find themselves all holding signs with the same customer name on it. The result, two drivers are going back empty-handed and two guesthouses are going to find themselves with empty rooms for which they may have already turned other people down. I'm sure there's a reason for it, doubt it's a good one.
2.) Last minute contact. Though not a heinous crime such as the previous item, as the inconvenience here falls not on the guesthouse but on the customer, it still boggles my mind that people send an e-mail at 10, even 11 pm along the lines of "I'm arriving at the airport tomorrow morning at 8:30 a.m. Can I get a room? Can you pick me up?" Or even better, sent at the same late hour : "Can I get a pick-up from the Poipet border tomorrow." Hmm, like how I'm going to get in touch with you and explain to you how to find the car? Or my favorite, got this about eight months ago, "I'm at the Bangkok airport boarding a flight in thirty minutes, can someone pick me up at the Siem Reap airport?" Of course we try to accommodate these last minute requests, but more often than not, by the time we see the e-mail, it's too late.
3.) Using the toilets as a garbage receptacle. Every one of our rooms has two garbage bins, one in the room, another in the bathroom. We have signs in every bathroom asking customers not to flush anything down the toilet that isn't natural. Granted, toilet paper our system can handle, though the less the better. So, what did we find a few months ago when we had a septic problem? No shortage of condoms and tampons, which we kind of expected, but how about empty cigarette packs? Empty potato chip bags? The mind boggles...
Anyway, that's my rant for the day.
Thanks for your kind attention.
The toa blog - January 20, 2006
It was supposed to be a break...
So on Jan 13 the family set out for Bangkok just to get away from the round-the-clock attention a gusthouse in high season requires. There was a slight lull in bookings, sort of the calm before the Chinese New Year storm, so it seemed as good of a time as there would be to make a one-week break for it. Of course we didn't count on some rapid baby developments and instead of spending a week of r & r it's been a week of chasing an eight-month-old baby around all day and wondering how in the world we can even eat dinner. Hehehehe... parenthood.
Anyway, let's get caught up on some things...
Things are going slow on toa right now, largely due to time constraints but also I am planning on making quite a few changes in the next few months both in design and functionality here. Stay tuned. The Overland section will get its next update after we return to Siem Reap on Monday and the Siem Reap guide is up for the same as well. I have a real backlog of Readers Submissions' as well as some Travelers' Reports for the Overland section which I expect to attend to tomorrow as the missus is going off to the in-laws for the day (and probably the night as well) with the baby leaving me alone to attend to things. Then I'm going out and getting drunk silly.
As we did travel Siem Reap to Bangkok on January 13, I do have a few comments to make:
The road construction - the real road construction - has sort of begun. I saw several surveying teams and several storage lots have been set up along the road and some heavy machinery was already in place. Looks like it's finally happening.
On a more negative note, here's a re-print of something I posted Jan 14 on the Lonely Planet Thorntree:
I do only hope that this is a very temporary change, perhaps so temporary that by the time I return Monday things will be looking better. We'll see.
Siam Paragon re(visited)
Did manage to check out the new Siam Paragon Mall. Unless I was in the market for a Ferrari or a top-end stereo system (and perhaps someday I will) I don't think I'll be gracing the hallways of this mall too often. On a positive note there is another outlet of Kinokuniya Books - the best (in my opinion) English-language bookstore in Thailand, and the largest Asia Books yet (...still Asia Books is still Asia Books). Plenty of good food options on the ground floor and a good food court, but the prices are a bit higher here as well.
The Siam Ocean World, supposed to be the best aquarium in, I don't know, Asia? Is, in my opinion, the best aquarium in the Pathumwan district of Bangkok... at 250 baht or so it would have been okay, but at 450 baht per person, no, I don't think it's worth it.
The toa blog - January 11, 2006
The toa Cambodia Year in Review
Once again, toa looks back at 2005 and examines the major stories, the minor stories, the not quite stories, and a few stories that weren't but might have been better for all if they were.
JANUARY: Fearing the worst for the economy, US quotas on garment exports expire on New Year's Day. Two weeks later the US announces they were "only kidding". Opposition figures stage a demonstration and the government announces a national holiday, "Garment Day".
Bird flu concerns re-emerge when a Kampot resident succumbs to the illness in a Vietnam hospital. Opposition figures blame the Vietnamese and stage a demonstration. The government announces a national holiday, "Bird Day". Approximately two hundred cases of the bubonic and pneumonic plague worldwide this month fail to make headlines.
FEBRUARY: Cambodia makes international headlines when an "outbreak" of bird flu is reported on the 7th day of the month. Two hundred more cases of the plague go unreported worldwide and approximately 50,000 people die from slips and falls in their homes.
toa joins in the concern over bird flu and offers the following precautions:
MARCH: Panic sets in when Cambodia records its second bird flu victim. Two hundred more worldwide cases of the plague go unreported and 10,000 people worldwide are killed by faulty household electrical appliances.
APRIL: Protest erupts when a contract awarding the operation of the Killing Fields at Choeung Ek is awarded to a Japanese firm. The government responds by forming a national holiday, "Genocide Remembrance Day". When informed that such a holiday already exists, confused government officials consult their calendars and see that such a day does indeed exist but considering that the country already celebrates two King's Birthday holidays, well why not celebrate two "Genocide Remembrance Day" holidays.
In traditional holiday fashion, the Khmer New Year is celebrated with full fervor by energetic but clueless teenagers who delight in flinging plastic bags of water at anything that moves even if it kills somebody. The government announces a new national holiday for April 17 "Khmer New Year Senseless Killing Remembrance Day". Teenagers in Sisophon and Battambang extend their water throwing festivities for an extra day hoping to add to the toll.
Jackie Chan visits Cambodia on April 21. While touring western Cambodia to raise land mine awareness, teenagers in Sisophon and Battambang throw waterbags at him. The government announces "Jackie Chan Remembrance Day" and teenagers add four more days to their water throwing festivities.
President Airlines announces scheduled flights between Siem Reap and Poipet. Flights from Poipet require check-in at a local casino. As a promotion the ailing airline announces a "Double or nothing departure tax bingo" scheme.
In an effort to raise revenues at the Angkor Archaeological Park, Heritage Police are temporarily removed from their duties of temple protection and assigned the important task of evicting all cows found within park grounds not in possession of a valid Angkor ticket.
MAY: Tensions heat up between Thailand and Cambodia over the long-disputed control of Preah Vihear temple. Suggestions simply to shut off access from Thailand and maintain a proper road from Cambodia fall on deaf ears as no one seems capable of building any road that would connect Cambodia with Thailand regardless of whether anyone could use it as a border crossing or not. The government considers a national holiday "Preah Vihear Day" but backs away from the plan when suggestions are made that maybe someone would have to build a proper access road and perhaps actually take care of the place. Observers wonder why Thailand doesn't once and for all accept the World Court's ruling and give it up already and why then, if the temple is such a national treasure to Cambodia, can't they at least make a minimal effort to take care of it, as well as build and maintain a road to it so people can actually visit the temple... from Cambodia??? It boggles the mind.
The annual Plowing Ceremony is a particularly joyous occasion as the Royal cows are supplemented with hundreds of Apsara cows recently expelled from the Angkor Archaeological Park for failing to be in possession of a ticket.
Having failed to raise any funds by requiring cows to purchase Angkor tickets, the Apsara Authority decide to publish a guidebook to Cambodia, which is primarily an investment guide, in English only, weighing about a kilo, and apparently targeting... backpackers and tourgroups from Japan and Korea? The book is offered at the entry gate as "Free for $3". The plan lasts not even a week. In commemoration, the government announces "Apsara Authority Guidebook Remembrance Day". Teenagers in Sisophon and Battambang celebrate by throwing books at motorcyclists. Four are killed. The celebration is considered a success.
JUNE: Members of a gang known as the Four Morons of the Apoplexy earn a spot on World's Dumbest Criminals and only by the mere fact they survive the ordeal disqualify themselves from Darwin Awards, hold a classroom of kindergarten and pre-school children hostage at the Siem Reap International School for the better part of the day. In all seriousness, it was a plan without a plan to seek revenge on a former employer that made the events of Dog Day Afternoon appear to be a finely-executed heist but with the tragic result of the loss of life of one two-year-old expatriate boy.
Failing to generate any revenue from "Free for $3" guidebooks, the Apsara Authority decide to require foreign tourists to wear special plastic shoes when visiting the temples. The scheme calls for a mandatory purchase price of $3. When it's suggested that Cambodian feet are probably no less damaging to the temples than foreign feet, the plan is temporarily shelved until someone can come up with a more logical approach that might suggest a greater concern for the temples than for the finances of the Apsara Authority. The government announces a new holiday "Plastic Shoe Day" and teenagers in Sisophon and Battambang celebrate by throwing shoes at motorcyclists. Six are killed. The celebration is considered a success.
PM Hun Sen does his part for traffic safety by declaring it illegal to have sex and drive at the same time. The government announces a new national holiday, "Driving Sex Day". Teenagers in Sisophon and Battambang throw condoms at passing motorists. None are killed, many are thrilled.
Image conscious authorities in Siem Reap seeking to promote tourism launch a campaign requiring all motodrivers in the Old Market area to approach every foreigner with offers for drugs and ladies.
JULY: Deciding that there were too many problems for tourists trying to obtain onward transport from Poipet, the local government forms their own transport company and puts all taxi drivers under their control. While the scheme, once they zapped the bugs out of it, does simplify transport, it comes with a price. Taxis to Siem Reap, once costing $25 to $30 for foreigners now cost $45 with $10 of it going to the government and $5 to the "helpers" at the station. Phnom Penh responds by celebrating "National Taxi Day". Teenagers in Sisophon and Battambang hurl mangos at passing taxis.
President Airlines drops down the gurgler, claiming they'll be back in November, but we know better. It's January now... guess where President Airlines is? Right, still in the gurgler.
Apsara Authority, with a pasture of ticketless cows, stacks of undistributed guidebooks, and a storage shed full of plastic shoes, hatches a new idea : battery-powered bicycles for tourists, rented at $4 a day. It takes a few months, but this plan actually flies and by the end of the year distribution points sprout up throughout Siem Reap and charging stations are set up around the park.
Hun Sen and China PM Wen Jiabao sign a bunch of agreements bringing $400 million in aid and grants to Cambodia. Opposition figures and like-minded overseas followers found on internet discussion forums fail to notice and continue their tired old rants against Vietnamese control of Cambodia. While sitting at their keyboards or attending opposition rallies against evil yuons, Chinese flags begin to appear on government office buildings. Still, no one notices. Later in the week, a miniature version of the Great Wall appears across Preah Vihear province. Again, everyone is too busy attending rallies in Svay Rieng province and shouting protests at Vietnam to notice. The following week ticketing rights to Angkor Wat are sold to a company believed to have Chinese origins and investors. Still, no one notices. The following week the government announces a new national holiday "China Day". No one notices. Teenagers in Sisophon and Battambang throw Vietnamese products at passing motorcyclists. No one notices the items were actually made in China.
AUGUST: Coming as a surprise to no one as it was a case of when, not if, a patron is shot and killed inside the popular Phnom Penh nightspot, the Heart of Darkness. When asked how the gun got into the club, a security guard on duty states that he saw the gun but when he told the patron he can't bring it inside, the patron said, "yes I can" and that was that. Authorities pin the shooting on mysterious Coconut Gang member, Sam Douen.
Seeking additional revenue to feed their ticketless cows and pay the storage fees on guidebooks, shoes, and bicycles, the Apsara Authority takes over Koh Ker and promptly evicts any cow that can't produce a ticket.
A group of leading Phnom Penh businessmen discuss plans
to form a national airline. A website is made, schedules drawn up, and
logos created. Well, maybe not yet, but that's all most Cambodia airlines
SEPTEMBER: Phnom Penh police request to a visiting group of Chinese police to donate closed-circuit cameras for Phnom Penh streets. Opposition figures and supporters accuse the Vietnamese of spying on Cambodian citizens.
Siem Reap police, far better at business than the Apsara Authority and their ticketless cows, unload their downtown station worth $7 million for a plot of land near the airport. Not very convenient for the average citizen, but a brilliant earner for the department. The Apsara Authority declares the deal invalid citing zoning regulations they claim to have the right to enforce. The police respond by fining the Apsara Authority for allowing cows to roam the streets without a permit.
The Pizza Company, an internatioanl fast-food chain opens a branch in Phnom Penh. The government responds by announcing a new national holiday "Pizza Day". Teenagers in Sisophon and Battambang throw pizzas at passing motorists.
OCTOBER: A candidate for World's Dumbest and Most Tasteless Business Ventures, officials shut down a Phnom Penh restaurant that seeked to recreate the Khmer Rouge dining experience. Watery gruel for $6. Torture and starvation extra.
PM HuCENSOREDigns a border agreemeCENSOREDnam and threatCENSOREDagrees witCENSORED.
Hysteria in Kampot province when an expat is found to be promoting Cambodia as a suicide destination and apparently recruits one customer. Suggestions that the proprietor test-drive his own products go nowhere, but then again no other tactic works either. Apparently, no one discusses the obvious... deportation. The government announces a new national holiday, "Suicide Day". Teenagers in Sisophon and Battambang prone to hurling projectiles at motorists are encouraged to join the festivities.
Bird flu concerns heat up when Chicken Little comes down with the virus and dies.
NOVEMBER: Air Asia begins discount flights between Phnom Penh and Kuala Lumpur and Bangkok, and Siem Reap and Kuala Lumpur. Woo-hoo is all I can say!
The government announces it is negotiating with a Chinese firm to build a $280 million, 145-meter high dam in Kampot province. Overnight, the dam is approved and built and no one notices because the opposition has everyone attending a protest in Ratanakiri province over a Vietnamese beaver found building a dam of three trees on the Srepok River just two hundred meters across the border.
Announcing the procurement of new funding (what happened to the old funding?), a ceremony is held west of Siem Reap in recognition of the new construction project to finally build a proper road to the border. Billboards are erected and everyone goes home. Officials, seen shaking hands and patting themselves on the back, are overheard proclaiming the event a success and that in 2008 we should get some new funding and have another ceremony to announce the new construction of the road. Well, it worked in 2002... The government announces a new national holiday, "New Road Funding Day". Teenagers in Sisophon and Battambang are laid out on the new road and run over by motorcyclists. The day is considered a supreme success.
DECEMBER: The government decides that ripping-off tourists as soon as they arrive in your country is not good for image or business and clamps down hard on visa overcharges at land crossings and overseas consulates. Well, woo-hoo! again.
The World's Dumbest Criminals, the gang known as the Four Morons of the Apoplexy, are sentenced to up to life in prison for turning an act of revenge into an international incident, not to mention senselessly killing a two-year-old boy. May they rot in a cell forever and a day.
The new US Embassy ($60 million of US taxpayer money) is finished and open for business. Oddly, yours truly lands an invite to the January 18 opening, I don't know, inauguration gala? celebration? acid test? That last one would be kinda cool. Pranksters, anyone?
The government announces that in 2006 there will 259 national holidays, 105 weekends, and 1 National Work Day.
The toa blog - January 4, 2006
Blog on hold
Due to a combination of things - one, I am ridiculously busy both with my guesthouse as well as attending to some long neglected issues with the rest of this website, the Blog will be on hold for awhile. Sometime in the next week I'll get the annual toa Cambodia Year in Review on-line, but otherwise barring any major groundbreaking stories begging commentary, contributions to the Blog will be sparse throughout January. Happy New Year and all that.
Recent Updates on toa
February 16: Updated the Guide to Siem Reap and Angkor.
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