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Previous updates...

Year in review, year to come, avoiding conflict, moving houses

Cambodian Cultural Village, Chong Khneas, myths, misconceptions

Siem Reap curfew, motodop licensing, bauk, transport, bars

Siem Reap awnings, Pub Street, Peace of Art, Tonle Sap, Battambang, Mekong

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Election results, air news, safety, crime, police, McAngkor, dark Heart

Every Cambodia Update: August 2001 to the present

.Cambodia Update

February 2004

1.) Cambodia and Thailand: One year later
2.) Chicken Little and the falling sky
3.) How to cause a panic
4.) Dollars and sense
5.) Doing a good job
6.) Robbery season
7.) Poipet
8.) Free time
9.) Skyscrapers in Phnom Penh
10.) Internet phones
11.) Good intentions
12.) Cambodian Cultural Village
13.) Website of the month
14.) Business opportunities
15.) Perspective
Shameless self-promotion section


Cambodia and Thailand: One year later

It's been a year since that silly riot in Phnom Penh which saw a few hundred imbeciles inflict $50 million USD damage upon the Thai embassy and Thai-owned businesses, bringing an early end to the 2003 tourist season and setting back already fragile Thai-Cambodian relations.

The riots were sparked because a Thai actress didn't say Angkor Wat belonged to Thailand. Huh? Yes, that's right, didn't say. In deference to the regulars here, I'll direct newcomers to my columns of February 2003 and March 2003 and editorials of March 9 and March 14 for all the background information.

While on the surface it's a good chuckle to say that the riots occurred because a Thai actress didn't say Angkor Wat belonged to Thailand, to be fair, there's a lot more to it than that. As we're now one year down the road and relationships on a non-state level aren't really any better I'm going to chart some new ground this month and tackle two new topics. The first topic is do Cambodians hate Thais and if so why? And secondly, in analyzing the points of contention between the two countries, what constructive steps could be taken to improve the relationship between these two nations?

On January 29, an article appeared in the Bangkok Post entitled "Cambodians say they still 'hate' Thais". This story was accompanied by four additional pieces on relations between the two countries attempting to look at the problems, see what has been done to improve them, and what could be done to improve them further. The pieces were written by Thais and I have to say in all fairness the stories did show bias and one-dimensionality in their coverage. In subsequent days several letters in opposition to the stories were published by the Bangkok Post including one from Ung Sean, the Cambodian Ambassador to Thailand. Internet discussion forums on Cambodia, which in my opinion, are generally worthless for intelligent discussion on any controversial topic that has to do with Cambodia, also saw plenty of comments posted in opposition to the story. Uncharacteristically of these discussion boards, there were however at least some rather valid points raised that went beyond the usual, "We hate the Thais. We hate the Vietnamese. Hun Sen, Sokimex, Canadia Bank are all Vietnamese puppets," etc etc - all of which I find to be utterly nauseating and lacking in any kind of meaningful insight.

Biases on the part of the Thai media aside, let's address this question:

Do Cambodians hate Thais?

My own experience is that in many cases, the answer is regrettably 'yes'. And I have heard many Khmers tell me this straight to my face. Why is this?

I've outlined six issues of contention between the two countries, spun my take on them and offered steps that both sides could take to eradicate the existing animosity.

1.) "Angkor Wat belongs to Thailand"

I've never actually heard a Thai say this nor have I ever met a Thai who really believed that Angkor Wat was anything but Cambodian. The issue is not the temple but the land it sits on. Following the fall of the Angkor empire, the land that encompasses what are now Siem Reap, Battambang, Banteay Meanchey, and Oddar Meanchey provinces was under Thai control. During the French protectorate this land was returned to Cambodia control, or French control to be more precise, as part of the complex series of treaties and negotiations that kept European colonial rule out of Thailand. This is a sore point for Thais, but by and large whatever venom Thais spew over this, it is usually directed at the west for forcing them to make these deals and is not directed at the Cambodians. The land was briefly returned to Thai control during World War II as a deal between France and the occupying Japanese forces. In 1947 the land was again returned to Cambodian control and the borders have stayed put ever since.

Given the circumstances that Thailand lost dominion over this land there are Thais who do feel that this land ought still to be part of Thailand. Nonetheless, I don't believe that this is a majority-held opinion on the part of the Thais.

History is full of border shifts and land swaps. Empires expand, empires contract. Are the Italians asking for the return of the Roman empire lands? Are the Turks demanding a return of the Ottoman empire lands. And the Mongols? The Brits, well maybe not the Brits..., the Japanese? And most importantly... are the Cambodians asking for dominion over the lower Isaan region of Thailand, which during the height of the Angkor empire, was under their control? I have not once ever heard a Khmer suggest that lower Isaan should be given over to Cambodia. I think then, the least Thais can do is give up once and for all on northwest Cambodia. But I would also ask Cambodians to consider that this sentiment is not shared by all Thais and to this day, likely only by a minority of Thais.

2.) Preah Vihear belongs to Thailand.

This historic temple (Phra Viharn to the Thais) sits atop the Dangrek mountain straddling the border between the two countries. Following the seizure of this temple by the Thai military in 1954, Cambodia took the case to the International Court of Justice in the Hague in 1959. In 1962 the decision was made to give the temple to Cambodia based on border agreements made in the Franco-Siamese Treaty of 1904. This is another sore point with Thais who again, tend to blame western interference in internal disputes for the loss of this temple.

A brief summary of the case may be read here.

While I don't believe that dominion over northwest Cambodia remains of particular interest to Thais, I will say that a majority of Thais do not agree with the Court's decision on Preah Vihear and do still believe that the temple belongs to Thailand. And on this point I side 100% with the Cambodians. Preah Vihear is a Cambodian temple and belongs to Cambodia. Period.

For years, the Thais have enjoyed exclusive access to this temple and have been the ones to profit from it. Although Cambodia did finally put in a road, they've been unable to maintain the road or the access to the temple and have thus been unable to derive much benefit from this temple despite the huge opening ceremony of last January 15, 2003.

Every court case has a winner and a loser. This case was over forty years ago. The temple is Cambodian and no one other than the Thais disagrees with this point. In the ensuing forty years, Thais have enjoyed better access to the temple and have been able to exploit the financial benefits from it by controlling tourism. Isn't that what the Thais wanted anyway? They admit it's a Khmer temple, so why do they have to own it, too? Let it go. The court made a decision and made the right decision.

3.) The fall of the Khmer Rouge and the need for refugee camps

When the Khmer Rouge fell in 1979 waves of refugees trudged through hell and back to make their way to the Thai border and hopefully to safety and freedom from advancing troops who had every intention of killing them. Those who were lucky enough to reach the border generally found themselves in one of three situations with the Thai soldiers stationed there. One, they were turned back to face certain death. Two, they were killed by the Thai soldiers. Or three, if they were women, they may first have been raped and then either sent back or killed. And then only under intense international pressure did Thailand allow the refugees through and camps were set up.

There's no denying that this is a tragedy of history and understandably remains a sore point with many Khmers today. However, it's not fair to say that your average Thai agrees with the actions of a handful of soldiers or with the Thai government's slow response in allowing refugee camps on their soil.

I'm an American citizen and am often at odds with polices of my government and I will be the first to agree that my government has committed numerous atrocities of its own. And I get very angry if someone, aware that I'm an American, expects me to take responsibility for these actions or even expects me to agree with them.

Hence, while what happened in 1979 may be hard to forgive, it's very unfair to hate an entire nation for the actions of a few soldiers and one government.

And what about the USA? Khmers don't seem to hate America these days, but what did America do from 1969? Hmm, carpet-bombing, invasion, installation of an incompetent and corrupt dictator, several hundred thousand civilians killed, cleared the way for the Khmer Rouge's rise to power. So if you hate Thais for what they did in 1979 why then don't you hate Americans for what they did from 1969 to 1974?

4.) Thais want to control Cambodia and exploit its people

For the past decade, Thailand has been one of the biggest foreign investors in Cambodia. Complaints have been made by Khmers that the Thais seek only to exploit the country and profit from it at any expense. Well, what about the Malaysians, the Chinese, the French, the Brits, the Americans, and any number of other nationalities represented by the expatriate population both in big business and in small? They are all in Cambodia to make money.

And as for allegations of employee mistreatment? And how about garment workers in Taiwanese-owned factories, or the French restaurant owner that works his staff sixty hours a week without overtime or benefit and then decides one month not to pay their salaries? I'm not going to say that there haven't been bad Thai employers in Cambodia, but they are not the only exploiters. If you hate the Thais for their economic presence in Cambodia, then hate all foreigners. Business is business and when foreigners set up business in Cambodia they expect to make money.

I will concede that allegations of employee mistreatment have fallen heavier on the shoulders of Thai-owned businesses as opposed to western-owned businesses, which, with a few exceptions not withstanding, have a reputation in Cambodia for treating their local staff pretty well. This would indicate that the Cambodians may have some ground to stand on with this complaint. And on that note, in the name of improving relations I ask Thai employers to go the extra mile in taking care of their Khmer staff. It works wonders for westerners. Try it.

On the subject of economic dominance I would also like to ask the Thais to consider how they feel about larger, more powerful nations such as the United States and whether they harbor some fear of being taken over and swallowed up by these economic giants? Because that's how a lot of Cambodians feel about Thailand. As Thais fear the west, Cambodians fear Thailand. My own take is all of these fears are completely unfounded. But as unfounded as they may be, the fears are there and they have to be acknowledged until that time they are allayed.

5.) Thais look down on Cambodians

Well, yes, they do. And rich Thais look down on poor Thais. And rich Khmers look down on poor Khmers. This is Asia. These are very class-conscious societies and being of higher status, richer, more influential, whatever, is often taken as license to look down on those below you. Is this right? Well, I don't think so, but I'm not Asian.

The best way to change these attitudes is that more Thais visit Cambodia. And to that end, Cambodians try their best to welcome Thais <C'mon, I know you can do it>. I've met many Thais who have visited Cambodia, some even since the riots, and if there is one opinion they all share it's that they realize in very short time that Cambodia is not bad as they had believed.

Only time and greater exposure to one another will solve this problem.

6.) The riots

This is the one situation that cannot be justified in any way, shape, or form. Cambodia was plain and simply wrong and to that end, aside from costing the country money, losing tourism, losing face, it also had the unintended effect of not showing strength, but showing weakness and only perpetuating the Thai conception that they are better than Cambodians.

All the previous five points are to different degrees explanations for why Khmers hold negative feelings towards Thais. But these riots are another matter. I find it absolutely reprehensible to hear any Cambodian suggest these riots were a good thing. They were not. They were senseless, inane, childish, self-damaging, and extremely counter productive to improving not only relationships between the two nations but in Cambodia's own ability for economic growth.

The only thing we can hope for is that both sides would be willing to put this behind them. That means some forgiveness from the Thais and for the Khmers, just forget this one guys, it wasn't a good thing.


Violence and hatred solves nothing. It makes me cringe every time I hear a Cambodian say "I hate Thailand" no matter what reason they may offer. "They look down on us," they say. And I say, "so too does that wealthy Khmer in that Landcruiser over there." Yes, there are reasons for the animosity that exists between these two nations and I've tried to explain some of these reasons, but these are largely historical issues that would be served best by being relegated to their proper place in the history books and left there for good.

These two countries are neighbors, have been for centuries and will be for centuries more. There's nothing wrong in having friendly rivalries. The French and British, arch-enemies for centuries, have gotten over the serious differences but still enjoy taking digs at each other, why not here?

Both sides need to lighten up and spend more time getting to know each other. Hatred and fear stem more from the unknown. It's easy to say you hate someone when they are a few hundred kilometers away but a bit more difficult when they are standing in front of you. Both of you, visit each others' countries. Learn about each other. Thais - don't look down. Khmers - don't look up. And all of you stop hating.

Chicken Little and the falling sky

[An apology: Portions of this piece are cut and pasted from the Thailand Update column that went up last week. I'm doing so for two reasons: First, there are a lot of people who read this column but not the Thailand column and second, it is beginning to look like this could possibly turn into another SARS disaster. In my own small way then, so long as this media-fed hysteria continues, I'm going to jump up and down and tell everybody who cancels a trip because of avian flu or throws more gasoline on the panic fire what an absolute idiot you are and to please crawl back in whatever hole it is you emerged from.]

Here we go again. Last year it was SARS, and this year the news media is going to town over this bird flu (avian flu virus H5N1) despite the fact that the statistical odds of human infection probably lie somewhere between being struck thrice by lightning and being bitten on the buttocks by an Asiatic Pit Viper and somewhat less than catching the bubonic plague.

This is so frustrating.

I appreciate the need to maintain public health and the need to issue cautionary announcements, unfortunately however, the end result is not level-headed application of information to the situation at hand, but media-fed hysteria. And given the mass culling of chickens that's going on now, I think if any travel advisories are issued, it should be chickens that are advised against travel to Asia and not people.

2003 was for many an economic disaster in Southeast Asia due to the media hype over some stupid virus that killed a whole lot less people than dozens and dozens of other diseases and situations which we encounter every day. We don't need to go through this again.

Yes, there is a flu in Asia and some people have died and there will be more cases and more deaths, but such dangers as mosquitoes and traffic accidents are so far ahead of bird flu, SARS, etc that they don't even warrant comparison. And with 6+ billion people on the planet we have to expect to lose a few each day, right?

Is it asking too much to expect the news organizations to show some comprehension of their own power and how a seemingly cautionary news story can and will be misinterpreted by the general public? Throughout the SARS scare, organizations such as the BBC and CNN broadcasted SARS cases like they were reading the latest stock quotes and football scores. The economic fallout of SARS was nothing short of disastrous and could have been at least partially avoided through responsible reportage by the news media that would have included more items that provided proper context for the *true* risk of catching these diseases as well as showing more restraint from broadcasting every new case as if it were of the same magnitude as discovering evidence of a life form on Mars.

I don't understand something. Claims are made that it is right to make the incidence of these illnesses major news stories because we have either no defense against them or there is no cure, or even both.

Then what about dengue fever?

There is no available vaccine for dengue and there is no cure. Folks at Mahidol University in Thailand have been working on a vaccine covering all four strains that's apparently in the late development stage, but it's not on the market yet. Though a majority of cases of dengue are fairly benign it can be a miserable illness to have and the most severe strain, dengue haemorrhagic fever (DHF) does carry roughly a three percent mortality rate. Almost every expatriate I know based in Cambodia (including myself) has had this disease. Most of us had a simple form of it that just made us quite sick for a couple of weeks, but a couple of people I know have nearly died (or at least it felt like they did to hear them talk of it). Last year hundreds of tourists came down with dengue in the southern Thai islands as there was an outbreak on Koh Pha-Ngan.

Some statistics on dengue fever courtesy the WHO:

WHO currently estimates there may be 50 million cases of dengue infection worldwide every year.

In 2001 alone, there were more than 609,000 reported cases of dengue in the Americas, of which 15,000 cases were DHF. This is greater than double the number of dengue cases which were recorded in the same region in 1995.

During epidemics of dengue, attack rates among susceptibles are often 40 – 50%, but may reach 80 – 90%.

An estimated 500,000 cases of DHF require hospitalisation each year, of whom a very large proportion are children. At least 2.5% of cases die, although case fatality could be twice as high.

Without proper treatment, DHF case fatality rates can exceed 20%. With modern intensive supportive therapy, such rates can be reduced to less than 1%.

Specific to Cambodia and also courtesy the WHO, dated August 2001 (I caught dengue in July 2001 but as it was not haemorrhagic and I never saw a doctor, my case, like most, was not reported).

In Cambodia, dengue epidemics have usually occurred every two to three years (in principle, Cambodia reports only dengue haemorrhagic fever). Most recently, there was a major dengue outbreak in 1995 and 1998 when 10,428 cases (CFR=4.1%) and 16,216 cases (CFR=2.9%) were reported respectively. In 1999, a major decline in the number of dengue cases and deaths was observed (1530 cases and 37 deaths). However, the number of dengue cases and deaths more than doubled to 3148 cases and 73 deaths in 2000 and since March of this year (2001), the incidence of dengue has been rapidly increasing and has already spread to 21 of the 24 provinces (Annex 2). As of 31 July, 4163 cases including 90 deaths (CFR=2.2%) have already been reported, exceeding the total number of cases reported in the previous year. Of the cases, 1034 cases or 25% were from Banteay Meanchey, 788 cases or 19% were from Siem Reap and 616 cases or 15% were from Kampong Cham. Other provinces that have reported a high number of cases include Kandal, Phnom Penh, Preah Vihear, Pursat and Rattanakiri. Many cases were reported from rural villages where no outbreaks had been reported before and which were classified as low risk for DHF. Serological investigations found that DEN-2 was the predominant strain circulating in Rattanakiri, DEN-4 in Siem Reap while all four dengue virus serotypes were found to be co-circulating in Phnom Penh and Kampong Cham.

Additional information on dengue fever can be found here.

There is a far greater risk to human life from dengue then either SARS or H5N1, yet there is virtually no news coverage of this illness which would seem to pass the litmus test for hysteria in that it has neither a vaccine nor a cure. Perhaps when this year's rainy season brings another epidemic (Cambodia will be due for one as these things run in three-year cycles and 2001 was a particularly bad year here for dengue) let's see if the news media organizations report dengue with the same fervor as SARS and bird flu and maybe then we will FINALLY GET A FRIGGIN' VACCINE for this disease!!!!!

Meanwhile, beware of chickens, well, the one's running in circles about falling skies, anyway. And don't play in chicken coops or with chicken shit... and were you even planning to?

How to cause a panic

In mid-January the Siem Reap office of the EDC (that would be the power company for those not in the know) sent a letter out to most of the large hotels informing one and all that they had a new generator and as part of the testing phase there would be power cuts every night from 4:30 pm to 10:30 pm for the next two weeks and it would start the following day!

This expectedly caused quite a row on a number of fronts. First of all, small businesses wanted to know why the EDC elected only to inform the large hotels of the power cuts. Seems like an odd way to treat your customers especially when you consider that a majority of the large hotels have back-up generators whereas most small businesses do not. Secondly, a one day warning doesn’t exactly give folks much time to make alternate arrangements, like trying to get their hands on a generator or something. And last but not least, why on earth would they choose to do power cuts in the evening in a tourist town in the middle of the high season and when everyone is coming back from the temples and looking for a place to eat and drink or do whatever?

All the panic has been for nothing however, because in the ensuing ten days there were only a few brief power outages which, with one thirty-minute exception, occurred not between 4:30 pm and 10:30 pm but in the middle of the day when most tourists were walking around on old stones. Well, if anything, it gave us all something to talk about for a few days seeing as we’ve finally gotten over our great tin awning incident of last September.

Dollars and sense

I mentioned last month that departure taxes have been raised. International flights from both Phnom Penh and Siem Reap now cost $25 and domestic departure taxes at both airports are now $6. The new tax makes one of the highest international departure taxes on the planet even higher.

Since last month's column, SCA (Société Concessionnaire de l'Aéroport - the 70% French company running the two airports) picked up a $10 million USD loan for improvements. Would it be possible to ask that improvements made would include the simple but rather helpful task of having baggage trolleys at the domestic arrivals building at the Siem Reap airport next to the counter where they place the bags? Having to walk out past all the taxi vultures to fetch a trolley out of the parking area and bring it back in yourself because all the staff can do is offer a smile, a shrug of their shoulders and the helpful words, “no have” when you ask for one really isn’t a very good first impression of Siem Reap. And with all this newly found money perhaps SCA can follow the same practice of a majority of the world’s airports whereby one is not required to pay parking fees when simply entering to drop-off or pick-up a passenger?

Click here for further information on this $10M loan.

Click here for the SCA website, but be forewarned... none of the links work and it really would be a waste of time to visit... but it's your bandwidth.

Doing a good job

I’m always one of the first to applaud any new road project but there’s one in Siem Reap that’s got more than a few folks scratching their heads. Seems they’ve decided that the access road to the airport needs to be resurfaced and to do so, why not shut the whole road down for a couple of weeks – in the middle of high season when the most number of people will be traveling to and from the airport. Okay, it’s a minor inconvenience and really wouldn’t be worth wasting words on seeing as there is another way in, and it’s not too much longer to take that other road … but, it is the road past Angkor Wat and it also involves driving past the Angkor ticket booths.

So… hundreds of people are going to and from the airport each day by way of the Angkor road, so you’d think the Sokimex ticket guys would know this. Hey, look, here comes a tuk-tuk with two tourists and a whole pile of luggage… where might they be heading? But no, the guys are still running out into the road, a public road I might add, blowing their whistles and demanding to see a temple ticket.

This really is ridiculous. At every temple there are Sokimex guys checking that tourists have tickets and they do their jobs efficiently and professionally, so why then is it necessary to stop every vehicle carrying a foreigner that passes by the main ticket booth, especially when the main road to the airport is out of commission and there is no other way to the airport? This same road also has to be used by anyone who’s going to the other side of the Angkor temples for any reason that really is not any business of the Sokimex staff. It is a public road and anyone has a right to be on it, though interestingly, one foreign resident was hassled by one of these twats with, “this is only public road for Cambodians, not for foreigners.” You figure that one out.

Robbery season

Major holidays always see an increase in robberies in Cambodia and yours truly was the intended victim of a bag snatching in Siem Reap during the Chinese New Year. It was perpetrated by what were possibly two of the least intelligent criminal minds in Cambodia seeing as I was driving a 250cc motorbike and they thought they’d pull up alongside me on their 110cc scooter, grab the bag off my shoulder and get away with it. All in the broad daylight of mid-afternoon!

Well, they didn’t get the bag but that didn’t stop me from chasing and of course catching them. I nailed them at the Poipet-bound taxi stand where words and shouts were exchanged. A crowd of taxi drivers and touts, some of whom know me as I’m a regular traveler to the border town, formed in seconds. And what sometimes happens when a crowd of people find themselves surrounding a pair of thieves?

Sorry to say and to some people’s disappointment there was no lynching that day. A police officer arrived and one of the thieves who I was mixing it up with a bit then forgot about me and started in with the cop. He tried to take the telephone out of the hands of the cop who was no doubt calling for help before the lynching started. Unable to grab the phone he took a swing at the cop (he missed, but then again the two were quite liquored up and possibly ya-baaed) and then fled with his fellow punk on the motorbike. The cop gave chase but to what end I don’t know. Some of the witnesses were of the opinion that the two were not from Siem Reap.

In any event, they are probably back in Phnom Penh or wherever they came from and I expect natural selection will take care of those two in short time. Still, given that thieves rank at just about the top of the list of people that Khmers hate (and certainly above even Thais and Vietnamese), had those two actually gotten my bag and I had caught up with them and retrieved it, the chance does exist that the crowd of on-lookers would have beaten the two to death. It's an ugly reality, but a reality all the same.


I’ve seen some more positive changes lately in what tourists have to put up with in Poipet. The last time I came through from Thailand to Cambodia on January 13 I observed that each time a taxi got foreign passengers, the tourist police would write down the license number of the car, the nationality of the passengers, and the price the passengers had agreed to pay. The officer then informed the people not to pay the driver any money until being delivered to their destination, as is standard practice unless you don't know any better. When the officer was logging my ride, I took a peek in his book and saw that all cars were leaving with a 1000 baht price tag on the cargo.

The touts are also becoming much more cooperative about the pricing and there seems to be a push to standardize the price at 1000 baht for taxis to Siem Reap. Given that past history has seen tourists getting massively ripped off in Poipet (as well as the drivers getting ripped off by the touts), the fixing of the price as well as the attempts at additional security measures here are most welcome. The only issue is if and for how long it lasts. Can I be an optimist on this one?

Free time

I hear we’re up to 35 public holidays this year, which is what… about ten more than last year and quite possibly one of the highest totals on the planet? Well, Chinese New Year apparently is one of them seeing as everything was shut down that week. And the other adopted holidays? Darned if I know… US Independence Day? China National Day? Boxing Day? Thanksgiving? Thai Constitution Day (Well, maybe not that one…). Add to that the obligatory two weeks time off staff are supposed to receive and we have almost two months of time off for every worker in Cambodia. Plan business accordingly. And does this mean more holidays equate to more robbery seasons?

Skyscrapers in Phnom Penh

Hun Sen wants skyscrapers in Phnom Penh and has offered, “Whoever will build taller buildings, we will give a medal.” I just love some of the quotes we get from the PM. Still , this doesn’t quite match last year’s tirade over the state of the road from Siem Reap to Poipet when His Excellency told the Siem Reap governor, “Don't wait for the road to come visit you, please visit the road.”

Internet phones

Internet phones, that super cheap international calling option that includes the wonderful feature of allowing everything you say to be heard twice, have been banned in Cambodia. Apparently the telecommunications ministry has decided that only communication services in which they get a cut from should be legal in Cambodia, which means traditional land line and mobile services where prices per minute can reach three dollars. In contrast, most internet shops were offering international internet phone service for around 500 riels.

There's no denying that this ban is for entirely selfish reasons on the part of the government but it does make for a pleasant change to walk into an internet shop and not be bombarded with the sounds of Khmers yelling into these phones as loudly as possible and repeating every sentence (which means they get to hear themselves four times!) as they communicate with overseas relatives.

Speaking of internet shops, I've noticed in Phnom Penh that rates at a few places have reached the ridiculously low rate of 1000 riels an hour (about 25 US cents). I would caution all that shopping around for the cheapest rate is not a productive use of time as the cheaper shops will almost always have painfully slow connections, poorly maintained equipment, and a host of other frustrations. Trust me, if you see a shop with posted rates of say, a dollar an hour, that's probably a shop you want to use. Think about it: One hour at 1000 riels costs 1000 riels, right? But a fast shop at one dollar an hour turns that hour into only twenty minutes. And that's going to cost you about 1500 riels. So for 500 riels more you save forty minutes and a lot of frustration.

For a recommendation, try Sunny Internet on Street 178 between the Rising Sun and the FCC. I think they're at a dollar an hour (or maybe 3000 riels, I seem to have forgotten), but they are fast and the equipment works, something which can't be said for many of the shops along the river.

Good intentions

New York Times columnist Nicholas D. Kristof has garnered a bit of attention recently for running a series of articles on human trafficking in Cambodia. The culmination of his story was his decision to buy two teenage girls their freedom from a Poipet brothel.

No sooner did word spread of this story, and spread it did, that many expats scratched their head at the naivety of such a move. I have nothing against the series of columns Mr. Kristof has produced. Human trafficking is an ugly reality that we'd all like to see go away and most any publicity on this crime is welcome. Unfortunately, taking a 17-year-old girl from her brothel home (and after four years it is, regrettably a home), a girl with no education, no job skills, who is probably illiterate and considered damaged goods by her society, and subject to a host of other social factors, all of which bear negatively on the girl, is really not an effective solution to this problem. Not surprisingly, no sooner did Mr. Kristof pull these two girls out that one went straight back to the brothel and did so under her own free will.

Contrary to popular belief, trafficking is in a majority of cases not a crime of deception. Parents, mothers usually, know exactly what they are sending their daughters off to do and the daughters know this as well, or come to understand it once they've realized what their parents have sold them into. Needless to say, this element of trafficking makes family reunions a difficult task. Many of the girls, once in a brothel, find themselves surrounded by other girls most of whom share similar backgrounds and as a result, friendships and a sometimes deep sense of bonding between the girls develops and after a few years reintegration into society takes a whole lot more than buying a girl her freedom and driving her back to her family home.

I applaud Mr. Kristof for his desire to make a difference, but the trafficking problem needs to be geared towards prosecuting the parents who sell their daughters and on the mamasans who purchase them. Buying a girl her freedom seems noble on the surface but taking a girl out of a brothel requires more than a couple of hundred dollars and a soft heart. What will the girl do next and how will she be helped in this capacity? To his credit, Mr. Kristof is prepared to set-up vocational training for the one girl who has not fled back to the brothel, but these are issues that have to be set into place before a girl is removed from a brothel and not afterwards.

One NGO that comes to mind that exists to reintegrate victims of trafficking is AFESIP. For more information, see their website: http://www.afesip.org. If you think you want to throw money at Nicholas Kristof in his effort to save one girl, I would suggest instead you offer a donation to an organization such as AFESIP.

http://www.nytimes.com is the New York Times website. Free registration is required (tell them anything about who you are, I think I'm registered as a 71-year-old housewife from Mogadishu), but by the time you connect, the Kristof columns may be in the archive which means you'll have to pay to read them. Chances are, however, that they may pop up somewhere else on the net for free.

Cambodian Cultural Village

Apparently the folks at the Cambodian Cultural Village would like to discourage foreigners from visiting as the price of admission is being raised from $5 to $12 for non-Cambodians. Cambodians continue to pay a buck. Do what you will with this information.

Website of the month


After several years of multiple websites with URLs nobody could ever possibly remember, Cambophile Andy Brouwer has finally gotten around to registering a domain and placing all his scattered Cambodia bits into a single website.

The website is probably familiar to most readers here so I need not go into exhaustive details, but the site, which exists solely as a hobby to its owner, offers as its core a generous selection of the author's own travel tales to a number of locales very few foreigners reach. The original site, which Andy ceased to update about two years ago when the server space filled up, had at the time a very comprehensive link page and bibliography section. Hopefully with the newly-found server space and new domain we'll see these two invaluable resources updated and brought back to their original glory.

For better or for worse, Andy's approach to Cambodia is purely positive and non-critical but as he makes no pretensions to be anything to the contrary, I make no criticism. It's been suggested that Andy's site should be promoted by the Ministry of Tourism. I would think however, that the Ministry's first response would likely be to ask if he has license...

Anyway, congrats to Andy for finally getting around to putting his excellent website back in order again.

Business opportunities

The offerings have expanded and I've created a new page devoted exclusively to business and employment opportunities. Here it is.


Letters from the virtual mailbag.

Apparently it's travelers' reports month at talesofasia.

Comments on two of Cambodia's islands:

On Koh Sdech some bungalows have been built and more were being built when I was there at New Year. Bungalows are also planned on neighboring Koh Smach. I cannot decide whether this is a good thing or a bad thing. Personally, I really rather like the place as it is: on the way to Sihanoukville, I was the only barang on the island and on the way back it was just a friend of mine and me. The locals were extremely friendly. There is a church there now and Christian influence seems to be increasing. Although I may not support this, the local Christians including a school teacher did seem most friendly, and we had an enjoyable time with them. We had a picnic with them on Koh Smach and joined a birthday party for one of them one evening.

Yet another Mealy Chenda story:

When I bought the ticket from Sihanoukville to the border, it had no reference to Mealy Chenda. It read Rasmey Buntham Transport. To begin with they were 30 minutes late picking me up at the hotel and then I was taken to the Mealy Chenda guesthouse. It was then that I knew I had screwed up, but as it is a non-refundable ticket I took the bus. When we got to the turn-off from Hwy 4 to the border, the bus pulled over and we waited an hour for the bus from Phnom Penh. Both groups of passengers were combined and we departed. After crossing the first bridge the bus lost a left rear spring and so there we sat. I might mention the bus was in poor shape, it had other problems too. The driver got on his phone and we were told it would take two hours for another bus to get there. So we waited, then in about that time frame, our driver flagged down a pick-up and we were told to get in the back. So we made the rest of the trip in the bed of a pick-up. When we were crossing the bridge to the border, the ferry was also arriving. I'm certain they had a much better trip than our group. Of course there was no refund or price reduction, but then again what would you expect from Mealy Chenda. Hopefully your readers will be aware of the name difference on the bus ticket and avoid my error.

Ratanakiri province comments:

The Ratanakiri Scum (small-sized but still..)

To go overland from Phnom Penh to Ban Lung you take the boat either from Kompong Cham (7 am) or Kratie (12 am) and arrive in Stung Treng around 4.30 pm. There are Taxis (5 USD per seat) and pick-ups (4USD inside, 3USD outside) waiting at boat docks to take people to Ban Lung; the road to Ban Lung was described to me as "perfect"; maybe it was before the rainy season, but in fact it is now pretty terrible with potholes all the way long so it takes around 4 to 5 hours to reach Ban Lung.

So you arrive when it's dark (9-10 pm), you are completely exhausted from the day on the road and you just want a bed and a shower. Casually all taxis and pick-ups stop in front of the Ratanak Hotel....so what are you going to do...walk in the dark trying to find another accommodation? No way, you just go for it!

I really wanted to go to the Yaklom Hill Lodge, cause their site was really interesting and from the pictures of the bungalows it looked like the perfect place, but we were tired so we went in the Ratanak Hotel. The place is the most depressing place I've seen in Cambodia, huge, void, soviet-era like architecture and truly filthy. I've lived in China for two years so I know about filthy and decadent places, but I hadn't seen any of it in Cambodia till I went to this Ratanak place.

The first room they showed us had rat shit on one of the beds, the light in the bath was broken, the second one had dead bugs all over the floor, the window in the bath was a hacked out hole in the wall without glass or any other way to close it.

Fortunately I had my mobile with me so I called the Yaklom Lodge and they were nice enough to come and pick us up. The slicky owner on the Ratanak Hotel wasn't happy of course, tried to coax us back in but we weren't buying any of his shit; from the bewildered look on his face I understood that not many people knew they had a choice and in fact all the other people that had arrived that night just remained there (around 10 persons).

The Yaklom Hill Lodge is the perfect place to stay in Ban Lung: is away from the dusty roads, the owner is a very nice man, breakfast is included in the 10 USD double room, the bungalows are very nicely decorated, food, bikes and jeep are available at very reasonable prices.

However no taxi will take you there directly, they will say the place doesn't exist or has closed down or any other bullshit they come up with.

So sponsor it, the place deserves it.

More Ratanakiri info:

The track from Sen Monorom to Lumphat is a nice challenge, though using a gps is a good idea. I used an 1975 US-map Scale 1:250,000 of Virachey. And its probably still the best one can get. Just remember that at N13°14.096´ E107°04.544´ there is a village where you are able to buy some water, which if I understood it correctly, the name is Srei Threi. Just a kilometer or so out of the centre of the town you need to take a left turn instead of driving straight ahead and slowly bending off to the east. Also important is that when you are 10km south of Lumphat you should head north instead of following the remains of road 141, I accidentally took the right road and ended up at
a tiny ferry, but a group of guys that did it the day after remained on road 141 all the way until they needed the ferry over the Srepok River with was not there of course, so they needed to backtrack and take the route that I had taken. I can see what you feel when you go to Banlung, I had the same in Sen Monorom when I compared
it to two years earlier, instead of 4 or 5 westerners there were now maybe 30 tourists and a whole film crew shooting a French movie.

A Koh Ker report:

I went to Koh Ker from T'beng Meanchey, and it's doable with a motodop. The road to Kulen is pretty good, and then it's a sandy track but we made the whole trip in 3-4 hours.

I'm continuing to receive a few travelers' reports every month, mostly detailing experiences on the Poipet to Siem Reap road. They may be read at the Overland page. See the various Travelers' Reports pages. There are now five of them.

I've also begun a Readers' Submissions section which is open to just about anything you want to say. Reader's Submissions will be published on any country and on most any topic. Visit the section for more information.


Shameless self-promotion section

On-line ordering

It's a done deal. I now have a Visa merchant's account and if you want to purchase a photograph from me you may now do so on this website using your Visa card. Go to the newly redesigned Photography section for more details.


I have published on this website a considerable-sized FAQ file, recently expanded to 138 questions and answers on a variety of Cambodia subjects that should answer a majority and then some of the questions tourists and would-be expats might have. While I welcome e-mail questions from readers and I try to answer them all promptly and properly, the answers you are looking for might be found in the FAQ file. Have a look. Most sections have been updated this past month.

And don't forget to check out the Guide to the Provinces - quick summaries of the tourist highlights found in each of the Cambodia provinces and municipalities.

Siem Reap Guide

The second version of my comprehensive guide to Siem Reap and Angkor went up in mid-December and I plan to update the section on a monthly basis as it's proven quite popular even if Google still hasn't found it. Have a look.

Guesthouses, restaurants, tours and more: Cambodia businesses to serve your every need.


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