Election update. Nothing has happened. Not a thing. Cambodia hasn't collapsed into a civil war or even suffered mild cases of civil disturbance. The only story remotely exciting continues to be that of the garbage bin that blew up outside the Funcinpec party headquarters causing significant damage to, well, the garbage bin.
Sam Rainsy has now toned down his rhetoric saying he will not send students and motodops out to burn things this time, well actually he said he wouldn't hold massive demonstrations in protest of the election results, but seeing as Cambodia is a country where people go on riots and looting sprees because a Thai actress doesn't say Angkor Wat belongs to Thailand, a massive political demonstration could well involve burning and breaking things that don't agree with you or as the case may be, things someone has told you don't agree with you.
Sam Rainsy and Funcinpec have formed the Alliance of Democrats with the goal of creating a united front against the CPP and PM Hun Sen. Now, if you're wondering why I previously said nothing has happened and then went on to tell you that a pair of also-rans formed an alliance, which would seemingly indicate that something has indeed happened, well then read on.
This Alliance of Democrats has lots of ideas and plans about how the new government should be formed. They've decided on the prime minister, who will not be Hun Sen, on deputy prime ministers, on the head of the National Assembly, and probably on down to every last detail such as who gets what parking space. All of this if fine and dandy except for one thing which both Sam Rainsy and Prince Norodom Ranariddh (head of Funcinpec) seem to have forgotten. They lost. They don't get to choose what the next government will look like. That's what winners get to do. That's why winners are called things like Prime Minister and Samdech and losers are called a lot of things, not least of which are losers.
Needless to say Hun Sen has dismissed outright the Alliance as an utterly useless and irrelevant political formation with no right to say anything, run anything, or even do anything. He's on record as saying he will negotiate with one party and one party only. Several quotes of his appearing in the Koh Santepheap Daily include: "I and the CPP wont hold talks with the Alliance of Democrats because the people didn't vote for them The people voted for a political party, so I have to talk to a political party, not an alliance... (it is) useless for the CPP, and the CPP wont work with them. Its useful only for the two parties who created it. That the Alliance wanted not to speak with Hun Sen but rather CPP party president Chea Sim led Hun Sen to respond rather succinctly, "this means that they have already died."
And what does Sam Rainsy, never at a loss for words, have to say about this? He claims that "Hun Sen must hold a negotiation with the Alliance of Democrats before the meeting of the new National Assembly be convened... Many countries in the world have recognized the Alliance of the Democrats. Why doesn't Hun Sen recognize the alliance Only the blind who cant see the alliance." Sam Rainsy and Norodom Ranariddh then announced they would leave for the west to seek additional support for their alliance, no doubt into the warm embrace of US Senator Mitch McConnell who is always ready to offer some comfort to Sam Rainsy whenever he feels snubbed by the CPP.
The CPP won. This fact has to be accepted. If the Alliance
thinks it can create a viable opposition to the CPP in the 2008 national
election, I say more power to them, but right now it's 2003, the elections
are over, the CPP have been declared the winners and all parties need
to act responsibly and form the next government.
And if neither party will join the government what happens then? Does Hun Sen simply take over the government himself? It wouldn't be the first time, though I think we'd all hope that if he goes down that road again he'll leave the tanks in the garage this time.
And I've said this before but I'll say it again: While democracy in Cambodia has a long way to go, I do believe that the CPP's victory is broadly representative of the will of the Cambodian people and in consideration of the flaws that exist in more developed democracies - let's not even get into the 2000 American election - I think we owe it to the Cambodian people to respect their electoral process in the same manner as our own native countries expect the world to honor ours.
Let's get right into some promotion here.
On September 20 live music in the form of Rock at Angkor Wat comes to Angkor Wat. Well not exactly to Angkor Wat, the music only makes it as far as Siem Reap town but that's still closer to Angkor Wat than say, the Great Pyramids. And why did the Great Pyramids get the Grateful Dead and all we got at Angkor Wat was Jose Carreras? Anyway, Jerry Garcia passed on eight years ago and with tickets at $500 to $1500, Jose Carreras wasn't exactly offering up a show for the masses. But we're going to do better here: performances from Jade and Confused, Whack Daddy Down, and The Whisky Tango Band and a special appearance by the incredible RAW2003 choir. These are expatriate bands traveling from as far as Canada, London, and well, Siem Reap.
Price is only $1, which is $1499 less than front row at Jose (though the organizers, Tell Restaurant and The Red Piano, managed to nick part of his PA system), and proceeds will benefit the taylor and khoo projects (do click the link for more information about them).
Festivities begin at 6 pm and will be held at the Angkor Meass Restaurant which is next to the Bopha Angkor Hotel. This is on the opposite side of the river from downtown Siem Reap and a short few hundred meters up from Psah Chas and all the bars we hang out in. There will be a BBQ, drinks, DJs, and of course, fun. Lots of it. Do come.
Looking at the Koh Santepheap daily website a few weeks ago I came across another tragic story of road carnage. Near Siem Reap a bus hit a motorbike carrying five people. None of the five survived. One of the photographs showed several bodies still lying in the road as they fell, chalk lines drawn around them. As the accident was described, it was an all too common occurrence where a bus, driving too fast, was overtaking another vehicle and did so with no regard whatsoever for oncoming two-wheeled traffic, subsequently plowing head on into the motorbike instantly killing the five riders.
As one who uses a motorcycle as his primary transportation I can't begin to tell you how many times I've been run off the road by vehicles overtaking other vehicles, coming at me lights flashing, horns blaring, never mind the only place I have to go is into a rice paddy. The presence of a motorbike, regardless of size, seems to matter little to many drivers when they make their decision to pass another vehicle. Like in most of the developing world, might is right. And where does that leave motorbikes? Often in a crumpled heap on the side of the road.
Another danger exits when larger vehicles overtake motorbikes, often doing so with very little room between them and the motorbike they are passing. This would be fine, except maybe when one or the other hits a bad bump in the road and swerves into the other vehicle causing a collision in which no motorbike could possibly come out as the better of the two. And Cambodia has a lot of bad bumps. And some really terrible ones, too.
Do be careful out there.
Seems that Phnom Penh had been harboring a terrorist. I'm referring to Hambali, who is believed to be the link between Al Qaeda and Jemaah Islamiyah, the Southeast Asian based terror group. Hambali was apparently an instrumental figure in the planning of the Bali bombing last year and he's suspected of planning attacks on several tourist areas in Thailand which I will discuss further in the next Thailand column.
Shortly after his arrest a report surfaced that he had spent some time recently in Phnom Penh at of all places, a guesthouse in the backpacker ghetto of Boeung Kak Lake! Well, there is a mosque nearby. He was described as a rude man who never tipped and made the women working at the place uneasy. Hmmm, sounds like an apt description of most of the clientele up that way.
A couple of new bars have opened this month. The first is the Temple Bar. It's owned by a pair of young Chinese-Khmers who have done a really nice job setting up the inside of the bar in a temple theme. Though a small single-wide shophouse, this two-level bar seems to be taking on a bit of a techno effect which would, sort of, put it in the same class as the larger Laundry Bar a block and a half away, though both bars are equally capable of providing a good place to chill as well. The owners, vindicating in a way, the opinion I expressed in last month's "Call Me Nero" piece, brought in a few westerners to help get the place running in a way attractive to young western customers. This place has a lot of potential.
Two doors down is the Golden Shamrock Pub, which has designs to be more of a sports bar. They've had a few hiccups in getting started and are lagging behind the Temple Bar in developing a following, but the location has major potential and the place should do fine so long as the owner can get the placed sorted out properly and high season sees the area overflowing with drinkers. To help move things along, the present owner is on the lookout for any of the following: someone to buy the place outright, someone to take a half share and run it, or just someone to come in and run it (see Business and Employment Opportunities at the bottom of the page).
Continuing further on the previous item, Siem Reap's developing quite a block now. One block up from Psah Chas is a single block that has the following: The Soup Dragon Bar/Restaurant, Le Tigre de Papier (Used books, bar, restaurant - catering predominantly to French, but still serving plenty of other folks as well), The Angkor What? Bar (one of Siem Reap's original backpacker bars), The Lazy Mango Bookshop, The Easy Speaking Cafe and Pub, and then a couple of souvenir shops, an internet shop, and travel agencies. Crossing the street we start with The Red Piano (bar, restaurant, guesthouse) on the corner, the new Temple Bar and Golden Shamrock Pub, a Khmer pool hall, and in between is the Rajana crafts shop, a massage parlor (a real one, not a front for a brothel, you have to go to the next block for that...) and the X-Face Gallery.
Though not all of these businesses are nightlife businesses, this block seems poised to become Siem Reap's version of insert the first famous block of bars somewhere in the world you can think of. Perhaps we could find out if someone somewhere actually knows the name of this street (if it even has one)? But whatever if anything this street is called, it is definitely the street to be on now. Two bars a year and a half ago. Now there are seven. I expect in another eighteen months this block may have at least a dozen.
Siem Reap province, of all places(!), without a doubt has one of the worst road maintenance records in the country. I recently traveled Highway 6 to the border (I'm always recently traveling Highway 6 to the border), and noticed that the Banteay Meanchey portion of the road has been maintained quite nicely this year with the obvious goal of preventing the fiasco that occurred last year when the road broke apart. Problem is the road broke apart in Siem Reap province and not in Banteay Meanchey province. And Siem Reap? They haven't done a lick of work on their part of the road. While the 55 kilometers of Banteay Meanchey dirt can be easily driven at 80 to 100 klicks an hour, you're looking at about 40 kph on the 20 kilometers of dirt in Siem Reap. Can it fall apart again this year? Last year I said no and it did. So this year I'm going to say yes it can and then hopefully it won't.
Speaking of roads, the road from Battambang to Phnom Penh has been sorted nicely and now something like five companies are running regular bus services between the two cities. And speaking of bus services, the decrepit local bus service (as opposed to the tourist bus) that was running between Siem Reap and Poipet appears to have died. I haven't seen their buses anywhere on my last two trips from Poipet. And speaking of Poipet... next item.
Two months ago I wrote about having a positive experience in Poipet for a change, where no one hassled me over transportation, I had an easy time getting my ride to Siem Reap for 1000 baht, and even had a tourist police officer help out. And of course no sooner did I write this that I got e-mails from people who had all sorts of taxi hassles, but what else would you expect? So anyway I went through Poipet again in the end of August and had a similar experience to the previous trip.
First I had to buy a business visa. Well, we all know how the guards overcharge for the visas, right? Business visas usually go for 1500 baht here, which is nearly $37 on a visa that is legally priced at $25. Well I wasn't going to pay that. I was going to pay $25 and that's that. Well, maybe an extra 100 baht if I really had to but I didn't intend to really have to do anything but buy a business visa for $25.
At the visa services office a guy in plain clothes provides the forms, checks them over, sees that you have a photo, etc and makes sure everything is proper before you go up to the window and deal with the guys in uniform who actually issue the visa. Unlike the touts that used to hang around outside (they've mostly disappeared now) who would try to help you with the forms and things, which they'd charge you for, this guy doesn't try to hustle you for a tip, so I imagine he's paid by the guys inside through the extra baht they get from tourists and the occasional expatriate.
Anyway, I put my $25 down to which he asked me if I'd pay baht and I said I would not. I then pointed to an older business visa in my passport that displayed the $25 price as well as pointing to the sign on the wall that lists the prices of tourist and business visas at $20 and $25 respectively. He said, "okay, you talk to the man inside". So I went up to the counter and I gave the man inside my passport and the proper $25 and we talked. We talked about what I did in Cambodia. We talked about how long I'd been in and out of Cambodia. We talked about my personal life where it concerned women. And after a minute or two of chatter he returned my passport to me with a new business visa. He never asked for any money. So I'd like to put it on record: I received a business visa at the Poipet border for the proper and legal $25 and did so without any hassle!
Oh, one more thing. While Poipet really seems to be getting better in many respects, the pickpockets are still alive and well. I know one Siem Reap resident who went over there last week to get a new visa and she had her wallet nicked out of her purse. So do watch your bags, wallet, telephone, etc and do be aware that some of the pickpockets can be quite small.
Read a book recently, The Gate, by Francois Bizot. It's another "I survived the Khmer Rouge" memoir, but with a twist, it's a westerners version. Francois Bizot, a Frenchman, offers us what is essentially two books in one. The first story is of his imprisonment in the early 70s held under the control of all people, Duch, who would go on to be the head of the infamous Tuol Sleng prison in Phnom Penh during the Khmer Rouge reign. Bizot tells of his relationship with Duch and how he ultimately was set free of his Khmer Rouge captors. The second story takes place several years later in 1975 when Phnom Penh fell to the Khmer Rouge. Here, Bizot talks of his time at the French Embassy, his efforts to get himself and others out of the country, and in several disturbing instances having to come to grips with the certain fate of those he was unable to help.
One potential flaw, for some, is that the book does not offer much historical background. For someone like myself already familiar with the broader events occurring in the country at the time as well having firsthand experience with many of the locales mentioned, the book was quite a good read, but for someone less familiar with the historical context of the time or lacking the firsthand knowledge of the places mentioned I would expect certain parts of the two stories may be a little more difficult to absorb fully. If you're in the former group, then I can certainly recommend this book. If in the latter group, it is still a good read but you might find a few holes in the narration that you'll need to look elsewhere to fill.
Beauty and Darkness: http://mekong.net/cambodia/
One thing I do very little of on this website is talk about Cambodia's history, ancient and modern. It's a conscious decision I make as I want the focus of this site to be on contemporary Cambodia, as in 2003. However, that's not to say I don't consider this history relevant, quite the contrary. Cambodia's history is vitally important to achieving any appreciable understanding of the country today. One website that has done a marvelous job of covering the recent history is the Beauty and Darkness website. I did reference this site last month for the Chomsky article they have there, but I wanted to direct more attention to this excellent site. The site is a collection of oral histories, essays, news archives, photos, extensive links, and much much more. The site is maintained by Bruce Sharp and is definitely worth a few hours of your time.
And this will be a new monthly feature here. Each month I will plug a website. Suggestions are welcome. The only guideline is that the website pertains to Cambodia and I see a good reason to plug it. Cash is not a good reason though you can send me some anyway.
Bag snatching, a recent crime arrival in Phnom Penh, has now reached Siem Reap. All of the incidents I've heard about have occurred just after sunset on tourists returning from their sunset watch at either Phnom Bakheng or Angkor Wat. Most of the victims were peddling along on rented bicycles with their possessions stuffed in their daypack sitting unsecured in the basket of the bicycle. So then, this is easy, if you're riding a bike be sure you secure your bag to the bicycle somehow - like tie the straps through the handle bars or something.
Every several months I feel compelled, usually after having to correct misinformed backpackers, to explain about the ownership, care and maintenance, and administration of the Angkor Archaeological Park, also known as "Angkor Wat and a bunch of other old temples".
Who owns the Angkor temples?
The temples are the property of the Cambodian people.
Who takes care of the Angkor temples?
Restoration, preservation, and maintenance of the temples and the Angkor Park grounds are the responsibility of a Cambodian government organization called the Apsara Authority. Almost all of the restoration work is undertaken with foreign assistance, financial and technical.
Who collects the money?
The ticket concession is under contract to a private Cambodian corporation called Sokimex. Contrary to false information spread by members of the political opposition as well as impressionable and ill-informed moto and taxi drivers, Sokimex is very much a Cambodian corporation and the brothers Sok (a rather common Cambodian surname) who own the company would be most insulted if you suggested they were not Cambodian. Sokimex owns not one single stone of Angkor. They collect the money and issue and inspect the tickets. That's it. That's all they do. They presently get to keep about 35% of the revenue with the aforementioned Apsara Authority receiving about 65%.
For more information about the division of funds and the contract that governs this arrangement, read a story I did in October 2000 about this very topic. If you'd like some more information about restoration projects and management of the park, you might like to read an interview I did with Ang Choulean, Department of Culture and Monuments of the Apsara Authority, also in October 2000.
Cambodia in the news is nothing unusual, elections and all. But two stories surfaced this month that I wanted to draw some attention to. The first is a New York Times piece from August 25, entitled "Children Scavenge a Life, of Sorts, at Asian Dump" and written by David Barboza. This story is a profile of life at Phnom Penh's Stung Meanchey garbage dump; a wretched place I've spent a bit of time at and have written about here. Do follow the New York Times link and check the story out.
Future tourism in Anlong Veng was picked up by the International Herald
Tribune on August 20 with a story entitled "Cambodia
to restore Khmer Rouge sites" written by Thomas Crampton. My
own visits to Anlong Veng can
be read here.
Siem Reap: The Lotus Market (click to see). Convenience store in a prime location adjacent to the Old Market. Established 1999. Fully operational with manager and staff. Gross sales: $23K (US) per month. Asking $40K (US) or best offer for a one-half share. Contact: email@example.com
Siem Reap: The Golden Shamrock. Sports bar located one block from the Old Market on Siem Reap's main nightclub strip. Two-level building with balcony. Two pool tables, dart boards, television, kitchen, fully furnished. Sell all for $25,000 or best offer. Also willing to sell half share. Contact: firstname.lastname@example.org
Ratanakiri: The Pikey Hut. Cafe/bar in Banlung, Ratanakiri - one of the fastest growing tourist locations in Cambodia. Established and well fit out bar with a beautiful 3-bedroom house on the premises. Cheap Rent. Guesthouse and Restaurant easy possibilities. Offers in the region of $5,000. For more information please call (855) 12-947-652.
Kampot: The Little Garden Bar (click to see). Established Khmer/Western restaurant on the riverfront. Situated within the grounds of a large colonial residential building with excellent potential for development. Nice landlord who is currently converting the adjacent building into a guesthouse that may also be rented by the new restaurant owner. Restaurant is fully furnished and equipped. Well trained experienced staff. Recognised in six international guidebooks (Lonely Planet, Roughguide, etc). Reason for selling: Partners NGO contract due to expire. Returning to Germany. Selling price: $20K (US). Contact email@example.com, or call: (855) 12-994-161. Or visit, ask for: Olli or Alex.
Sihanoukville: Beach Club. For rent. 8 room
guesthouse / bar / restaurant in popular tourist area on Weather Station
Hill, five minute walk from Victory Beach. Available as either a commercial
or residential location. Fitted with bedding, completed bar, and kitchen.
Long term lease possible, cross marketing possible with Beach Club locations
in Kuala Lumpur and Phu Quoc. Offers in the range of US$250 / month. For
more information, contact: Francois_Benta@hotmail.com
Siem Reap: The Golden Shamrock. Seeking bar manager. Contact: firstname.lastname@example.org
In the UK and want to be on TV? [June
Letters from the virtual mailbag.
Stories and advice:
Culture shock to say the least and for a little context the author is a recently arrived missionary, not sure whether we should be worried or not - see the last two sentences:
Received the following report from Sihanoukville:
Immigration and guesthouses:
Another mention of Narin's, now if only I could figure out whether the last comment is sarcasm?:
I get a lot of e-mails that praise this website, but have maintained a policy, that with a few very rare exceptions, of not publishing them as I really don't think people want to read e-mails from people patting me on the back. Well, here's a very rare exception and the reason I'm publishing it is that it came from an Overseas Cambodian now living in the USA and not, as with 99% of my mail, from another westerner:
I won't mind at all.
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
Well, the first of the month finds me in Phnom Penh at the moment. Visa extension, framing some pictures, Beer Lao at Sharky and Howie's, visiting the advertisers, trying not to get pulled over by the cops this month. The usual stuff.
The second edition of Thailand Update went up on August 17. Do check it out if you haven't done so yet.
Several people have e-mailed me as to when I will have my long awaited and overdue Pakistan tales up. I'm real sorry for that, I've simply been too busy with more pressing stuff - like Cambodia and Thailand. The first draft of Pakistan is almost written so hopefully the stories will be online very soon. And I still have some old China stories to get finished...
Speaking of other countries, it's looking like Laos may finally get on this website. I've been working out a promo deal with someone that may score me a quick trip to Laos, probably in October. It won't result in any great details but it will at least provide something I hope people will find worth reading. And I really do need some Laos representation here, it's omission is too obvious.
Phnom Penh, Cambodia
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