We had the makings of a major news story when an announcement originating from the governor's office stated that effective October 12 a curfew would be instated requiring all commercial activity in Siem Reap to cease at midnight. No bars. No restaurants. No food vendors. Nothing. No activity. Everyone go home and go to bed and go look at a temple or something in the morning.
The following quotes appeared in the Khmer newspaper the Koh Santepheap Daily as explanation for this curfew:
"The curfew does not bring ill effects to tourist industry as the authority uses it to strengthen security for tourists during their visits to Siem Reap. A number of places proved to be safe and which are popular among tourists are given special permission to continue their services after midnight under close watch from more police," said Thong Khon, the Secretary of State of the Ministry of Tourism.
"Nowadays, gangs and homeless young people who choose not go home often cause troubles and anarchy to the society and affect the public order," said Ong Oeurn in the name of Siem Reap's authority.
"We do want Siem Reap to become a cultural tourist resort not as a place for sex," said Nuon Sopal, police brigade general based in Siem Reap.
So there you have it. According to the CPP Secretary of State for the Ministry of Tourism, who seems quite a decent fellow, I interviewed him a few years ago, businesses have to be declared safe and watched by the police to stay open late. Hmm, sounds like a plan that will cost businesses more money and on a rather capricious basis.
And Ong Oeurn tells us there are gangs and homeless people causing problems. Well, that's an odd approach... there are dangerous people on the streets (which there are not, Siem Reap is a very safe place at any hour) so rather than arresting the hooligans we'll make everyone go home so these degenerates can continue roaming the streets and causing troubles and anarchy to society and the public order. I like that one.
And finally the sex bit. Umm, okay, shut all the businesses down because... what... sex? Huh? I wrote about this last month. Yes, we have about a dozen brothels scattered around town, three Khmer nightclubs, and one expat-owned bar where commercial sex is available ...And dozens more bars and restaurants where it's not. Siem Reap is not a sex tourist destination. No one's shagging in the streets here.
So that was the logic. Siem Reap has a safety problem of which none of us living here have ever been aware. Yes, we have the odd robbery and a murder once every couple of years, but Siem Reap is not a place one needs to think of when worrying about locales with personal safety issues.
But the curfew didn't last and no one's quite sure why. On the appointed night and at the bewitching hour the police did indeed sweep the Psah Chas (Old Market) area and shut everyone's doors much to the confusion and consternation of business owners (Khmer and expatriate) and more so to the tourists who were rather freely spending their money and wondering why they had to stop.
Expecting another sweep the following night, everyone went on a drinking binge. And at midnight no one saw the police. Nor at 12:30 am, or 1:00 am, or 2:00 am, or the following night, or the following following night, or the next week, or even last night. And no one knows why.
Maybe someone realized that shutting down an already safe town at midnight is not going to make it any safer. Or maybe it was about money.
So what could have turned into a major local news story is nothing but one more in a long series of events that leaves the expatriate community perplexed for a day or so or at least until the next "event" occurs.
For two years the Siem Reap police have been planning to require all motodops carrying passengers within the Angkor Archaeological Park to be ID'd and licensed. The plan has sort of finally been instated. The idea is that motodrivers must purchase a vest which carries a unique ID number which is registered with the police as well as a phone number tourists can call if they have a problem. They also must have a photo ID attached to their vest. The drivers pay $6 for the vests and 2000 riels (50 US cents) per year for the photo license. So far 1500 drivers have been licensed. The plan finally came to fruition under the Ministries of Tourism and the Interior. However, while so many vests have been sold, I've hardly seen any of the motodops around town wearing them yet so it would seem unclear just exactly when these guys have to start doing so.
Still, this is a brilliant and long overdue policy and I highly encourage any tourist seeking the services of a motodriver to employ only drivers who are properly licensed (once they all start wearing the vests, of course). Any problems, simply report the driver and his number to the tourist police. General consensus is the police will take the complaints seriously and do something about them. Legitimate complaints which the police are willing to accept include predictable things like robbery, but also problems such as hassling tourists to stay in particular guesthouses (see, I told you this idea was brilliant!) and driving halfway to a destination stopping and then asking for more money. Posters will be placed in prominent locations in Siem Reap to educate tourists on this new policy and how it benefits them. Kudos to the authorities here for finally implementing a long-needed and intelligent program.
Bauk is a Khmer word meaning 'plus'. It's also used to describe the act of gang rape. Incidents of bauk are growing at an alarming rate with the perpetrators usually young Phnom Penh men, often university students and from middle and upper-class families. The victims are usually prostitutes who have the unenviable choice of either submitting to the group or being forced to do it anyway.
A full story on this crime appeared in the October 26th issue of the San Francisco Chronicle and can be read on-line here. Several readers thought to alert me to this story (thanks for that!) and I highly recommend reading it.
I took a taxi from Phnom Penh to Siem Reap on October 23. Though the road is still not fully resurfaced with tarmac it took only four hours and forty-five minutes to make the trip. The same situation exists on National Highway 5 between Battambang and Phnom Penh.
I've talked regularly about how these improved roads are leading to a spate of accidents. The local newspapers have been on this subject and both the Cambodia Daily and the Phnom Penh Post have recently run stories about the huge increase in traffic accidents and fatalities. Interestingly, the speeding taxi drivers who are often involved in these collisions are blaming the customers for pressuring them to drive faster.
In other road news, the large bridge on Highway 6 just west of Sisophon is down for repairs and the bridge is shut for most of the day. Once open, it's taking several hours to get everyone through. Those traveling independently in trucks and taxis are experiencing minimal delays during the closures as you will be driven to the edge, taken across the river in a raft, and sorted out with a new truck or taxi. Those using tourist buses, generally of the Khao San Road variety, will just have to wait and wait and wait and wait, not that the drivers or company representatives care.
Boat service on the Mekong River between Phnom Penh and Kompong Cham has ceased. No doubt a casualty of the good highway that connects the two cities. Service is still available from Kompong Cham north to Kratie and Stung Treng (when the river is high enough).
What I'm most interested in seeing is how the road improvements between Phnom Penh and Siem Reap, now resulting in the availability of regular bus services, will affect the boat option which has always been a popular form of travel for tourists. With a brief sabbatical to have a price war last year, the boats have always charged foreigners from $22-25. Two people can now pay the same money and take a comfortable taxi and save an hour. Or take an hour or two more and pay only $4 to ride the bus. The boat companies will certainly be forced to drop their prices soon and it will be interesting to see if come another three or four years they can remain in business at all.
The latest border skirmish between Thailand and Cambodia is at Poipet which sees the Cambodians complaining that the Thais are allowed to drive their trucks into Poipet to unload at wherever it is they want to unload while Cambodian trucks are not permitted into Thailand and the goods must be wheeled in on two-wheeled carts. Fair complaint, I'd say.
Thailand and Cambodia have agreed to upgrade the border crossings at Pailin and Anlong Veng to full international checkpoints as well as open another point in Battambang province. There are presently three international checkpoints: At Poipet/Aranyaprathet, Koh Kong/Hat Lek, and O'Smach and whatever the town is on the Thai side in Surin province.
In the skies, the resurfacing of the, err, runway, at the Ratanakiri airport has been finished and once again there are flights to and from Phnom Penh. Royal Phnom Penh Airways is still in business but is canceling more flights than they are making. They say they will cancel any flight that doesn't have at least ten people on it. You might also notice in Cambodia that they have a much reduced advertising presence now - and that includes this website.
Well, they tell us it's not political but there were a couple of curious shootings in Phnom Penh this past month. One shooting took the life of a reporter from the Ta Prohm radio station - which is Funcinpec supported. And the other shooting has put singer Touch Srey Nich in a Bangkok hospital and taken the life of her mother. The young woman is also associated with the Funcinpec party as she is the singer of their anthem.
I don't really have anything to say about this. They say it's political. They say it's not political. I don't know anything and for the most part this really is of little interest to the expats here. I only bring it up because a couple of people asked about it and if there is something political about it then that leads nicely to the next item...
Just thought I'd let you know that nothing has happened since last month except that the opposition says they are now ready to hold discussions. Like it's their call to make. Anyway, representatives of the three major parties will be meeting with the King this week to try to sort this mess out.
The Cambodia Cultural Village is a new tourist attraction that has recently opened along the road to the Siem Reap airport. It's by all accounts sort of a theme park presentation to the history and culture of Cambodia.
As this has been one of those weeks when everything hits the proverbial fan at once I haven't been able to get out there yet myself to see it, but the reports are consistent.
First, it's overpriced. They initially were sticking foreigners for something like $15 but have since decided that $5 will in the long run prove more profitable. How long it stays at $5, well, who knows. In any event, there are performances of traditional dances and reenactments of various ceremonies and rites. It's apparently going over quite well with the Cambodians who get in for a dollar.
There is one exhibit that's causing a bit of a stir. For covering Cambodia's modern history they have elected to show wax figures of an UNTAC soldier walking out of a bar with a local prostitute. It's an understandable display as Hun Sen, when once asked about what UNTAC brought Cambodia, replied that the only thing UNTAC brought Cambodia was AIDS. I will try to get a photograph of this as soon as possible. I imagine that the display will be offensive to some, but it certainly sounds appropriate to me and no matter how offended the UN may become over this, I doubt the display will go anywhere as the owner of the park is apparently also a friend of Hun Sen.
We have yet another new bar on Pub Street. It's called Paris Sete and run, predictably given the name, by a French guy who no one knows. The place looks respectable enough, though none of us have bothered walking over and checking it out and the owner hasn't gone around introducing himself to all the other bar owner's either.
Well, the silly awnings have kind of gone away. The purveyors of the new plastic coverings seemed to have given up as hardly anyone bought one which leaves Siem Reap mostly awning free. And as I commented last month, in general the town looks better without them. However, one person who did purchase one of these silly things says he was then told that he had been given the wrong colors. But seeing as hardly anyone's bought one, it's hard to say then what are or aren't the right colors.
In any event, Siem Reap is supposed to get a new governor in a few months. Rumors have it he's a CPP guy and a popular one at that... I'll drop the name when the rumor is confirmed.
A woman was kidnapped in Kompong Thom province early this past month. Was she a rich or influential person? Not at all. She was just another villager. But the kidnappers weren't exactly your typical kidnappers either. Their ransom demands? How about 50 kilos of rice, three ducks, and a carton of cigarettes.
Water Festival is November 7-9 this year. Definitely an event worth checking out if you're in Phnom Penh at this time. Actually you can't really avoid it as the crowds are enormous and the city turns to chaos. They have boat races in Siem Reap as well but it's a much more relaxed affair. But wherever you are, it's one of Cambodia's two biggest holidays of the year and the country pretty much screeches to a halt at this time (except to watch the boat races).
It happened. The riel weakened against the dollar slightly this past month and a dollar is now worth just over 4000 riels. This brings up two interesting points... the first is why is it Cambodia always seems to lag on international trends. Everywhere else in the world it's the dollar that's weakening. The second point is how will some of the businesses that had been skimming 50 riels on change when the riel was around 3900 (by giving back 1900 riels for 50 cents change) handle the slightly weakened riel. It always seems petty to talk about such small amounts of money but when there is a company like Caltex that skims an extra penny on every transaction how much cash is that when you spread it out over tens, hundreds of thousands of transactions a year?
This just hit the local papers on the 31st, but apparently US Senator Mitch McConnell, the Republican Senator from Kentucky, which I was not aware had become a province of Cambodia, has decided that National Police Chief Hok Lundy is a "gangster". In a statement to the US Senate he took verbal shots at both PM Hun Sen and Hok Lundy as well as taking to task the US Embassy in Phnom Penh for issuing Hok Lundy a visa to visit the United States. There was a decided lack of concern in the Cambodian government's response to McConnell's latest tirade.
Letters from the virtual mailbag.
More site suggestions this month:
My response: I'd be willing to post any job offer from any school so long as they paid for the listing, but I'm not an English teacher website. Probably when I do throw in an expat living section on the site a few ads may gravitate my way, but in the meantime there are two other websites that have listings of this nature. One is bongthom.com and the other is khmer440.com.
Bugger if I know:
Law and justice, pedophiles, politics, etc:
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 three of them.
I've also begun a Reader's Submissions section which is open to just about anything you want to say. Reader's Submissions will be published on any country in the appropriate place on the website. You can link to them from the main Cambodia page as well as the main index page.
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.
A reminder. I have published on this website a considerable-sized FAQ file, recently expanded to 133 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 new Guide to the Provinces - quick summaries of the tourist highlights found in each of the Cambodia provinces and municipalities.
restaurants, tours and more
back to Cambodia
back to Home
All text and photographs © 1998 - 2006 Gordon
Sharpless. Commercial or editorial usage without written permission of
the copyright holder is prohibited.