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the toa Blog

February 2006


HEY YOU! Why just read? Talk, too. Head over to the talesofasia Discussion Forum and toss in your 500 riels worth. Some items from this blog are also cross-posted to the forum for further discussion (or not).

Want to help stop the illegal trade of Khmer artifacts? Sign the petition to encourage the Thai and Singapore governments to sign the 1970 UNESCO convention on heritage protection. Link is here: http://www.heritagewatch.org/petition.php

The toa blog - February 26, 2006

Cambodia tourism figures

The annual Cambodia arrival statistics are out again, 1,421,615 total arrivals for 2005. The usual caveats apply - the figures indicate the number of arrivals at any and all border points and not actual tourists as these figures would also include visa runners from Thailand as well as multiple entrants such as myself. This also explains why the number of tickets sold at Angkor is only about 45% of the arrival figures quoted by the Ministry of Tourism.

2005   2004   2003  
South Korea 216584 South Korea 128423 Japan 88401
Japan 137849 Japan 118157 USA 66123
USA 109419 USA 94951 South Korea 62271
France 68947 UK 64129 UK 50266
UK 66535 France 58076 France 45396
Thailand 63631 Thailand 55086 China (PRC) 38664
China (PRC) 59153 Taiwan 53041 Taiwan 37345
Taiwan 54771 China (PRC) 46325 Thailand 35718
Vietnam 49642 Australia 38211 Vietnam 28610
Australia 47465 Vietnam 36511 Australia 26638
Philippines 40261 Philippines 32910 Malaysia 26285
Malaysia 36876 Malaysia 32864 Germany 25671
Germany 35560 Germany 29112 Philippines 23953
Canada 24110 Canada 20680 Canada 14872
Singapore 18966 Singapore 17830 Singapore 14407

Politics in Thailand

The sham continues. The opposition parties are refusing to play Thaksin's game and have announced they will boycott the election, essentially rendering it meaningless. Given the expense involved in running an election that would seem to serve no other purpose but to stroke Thaksin's ego, I think the boycott is sensible, though of course it can also be said it's a game of their own.

Thaksin is buying time. He seems to think he might get four or five years. I think he'll do well to get four or five months.

Before the year is out he will be home counting his children's money and looking for a new job.

Visa overstays

A couple of days ago I posted a short piece in the Thailand section about the risks involved in exceeding one's permitted length of stay. But what about Cambodia? Is it possible to get tossed in the slammer as well?

I had always thought not but recently heard otherwise. The normal procedure on an overstay is one pays a fine of $5 per day plus $30. The plus $30 is to discourage people from invoking the reasoning that an overstay is cheaper than getting a visa extension. The fine is paid on the way out and no one seems bothered by it. But recently in Siem Reap I was having a chat with the guy from the Immigration Police that keeps track of the expats there and he told me that every year he tosses a few overstays in the slammer until that time they can be deported.

At least in Siem Reap, all of us who own businesses are checked up on every year by the Immigration police. They come around about the same time and ask us to fill out a short form and hand over a copy of our passport and visa (but no money!), and hence they do check to see that we remain current.

Phnom Penh Perspective

Bronwyn's back: A Week in the Life. Do check it out.

The toa blog - February 25, 2006


Talesofasia offers its condolences to the family and friends of David Mitchell, owner of the Ginger Monkey in Phnom Penh who was murdered on the night of February 21. I personally did not know him, apparently I should have. The khmer440 website has a moving tribute here: http://www.khmer440.com/?p=548.

The whole course of events are utterly tragic and senseless. Again, deepest sympathies to all who knew him.

Politics in Thailand

Some big news in Thailand. Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra against mounting protests, most recently over the tax-free sale of his (err, his children's) share of Shin Corp, a cozy 73 billion baht ($1.8+ billion US) deal (see Deal of the Century) has dissolved the House of Representatives necessitating new parliamentary elections on April 2.

If politics is a poker game, Thaksin has played quite the hand. The Thai constitution (Article 107) prohibits anyone from standing for house elections who have been members of any political party for less than 90 days. Given the back-stabbing, ship-jumping, politician-buying nonsense that makes up Thai (well, anywhere really) politics it's actually a sensible article (more analysis here). However, Thaksin appears to be reversing it in his own favor as the recent round of rebellion in his own party is effectively neutralized. None of them can stand for election under a new or existing party. Imagine that.

Thaksin dissolves the House requiring new elections in which his new foes cannot participate. Armed with new-found wealth (okay, his kids' new found wealth) to supplement his (err, blood relatives) old-found wealth and the local election mafia well in place throughout the countryside, the man buys his way into a new term claiming a mandate from the people and in theory, the critics will be silenced.

That could be the plan, anyway, and I expect it'll work to the point where Thaksin is re-elected and claims a mandate. What I'm not so sure about is whether his critics will pipe down or only protest louder. And I think therein lies the gamble. There's no doubt in anyone's mind that Thaksin is digging deep into his pockets to buy some more time. But is he going to get a few years or only a few months? Could be an interesting summer...

The toa blog - February 22, 2006

Justice System again

Another Cleghorn story at: http://www.nzherald.co.nz/section/story.cfm?c_id=1&objectid=10369443 :

Sex scam puts Kiwi's conviction in doubt

22.02.06 A New Zealand man serving 20 years in a Cambodian prison on sex charges could have fallen victim to the same scam that resulted in a Swiss man being falsely jailed.

Former aid worker Graham Cleghorn, 55, was jailed in February 2004 and is being held in Phnom Penh's Prey Sar prison. He is serving 20 years for the rape of five teenage girls - crimes he denies.

In October 2002, Swiss hotelier Rudolf Knuchel successfully defended molestation charges brought against him by the Cambodian Women's Crisis Centre, the Dominion Post reported.

The centre is the same organisation alleged to have offered five Cambodian girls US$10,000 ($15,135) to accuse Cleghorn of rape.

Mr Knuchel, 59, has since received an apology from the Cambodian Interior Minister and continues to live in Siam Reap.

The newspaper said Mr Knuchel was arrested in 2000 on charges including raping two boys, trafficking women and children for prostitution, running a brothel, and drug and organ trafficking.

He spent 57 days in jail before his lawyer had him freed on bail before a Siam Reap District Court hearing, in which all but the molestation charges were dropped because of a lack of evidence.

At the 2002 trial, one of the boys confessed he had not been molested by Mr Knuchel. The boy's mother took the stand and demanded US$10,000, which she said had been promised to her by the crisis centre. The judge threw the case out.

New Zealand's Ambassador to Bangkok, Peter Rider, has met representatives from Cambodia's Embassy in Thailand to outline concerns about Cleghorn's case (last month, his appeal was conducted and dismissed without his knowledge). His trial in 2004 took just nine hours.

Thai justice

Speaking of perversions of justice, I just read the latest I barely survived a Thai prison story, this one called "Welcome to Hell" authored by Colin Martin. Like the two before it, Warren Fellows' "The Damage Done" and Sandra Gregory's "Forget You Had a Daughter" it's an easy read and not a pleasant one. Assuming the real story is as told, in the absence of any challenging information to the contrary, we'll assume that the facts are as the author presented (which can not be entirely said about the Gregory book as one source once quite close to the author informed me that certain events prior to her arrest weren't exactly as she described), the horror of Martin's story is not so much the horrific years spent in prison but the absolute travesty that passes for a criminal justice system in Thailand and that if it could happen to him - it could happen to anyone. I don't want to spoil the story, but in a nutshell, Martin ends up in prison on a murder charge over what was probably an accidental death occuring in self-defense and the path that led him to prison was one paved with blatant corruption and legal incompetence of a level almsot childlike in its complete lack of any sense or logic.

Of course with a bit of reading between the lines one with some experience in Thailand can also see a few mistakes Martin made along the way (and he admits to a couple of these) that speak more for his own naive confidence that the system would exonerate him and his refusal to "play the game".

In bookstores all over Thailand.

Another book

But while "Welcome to Hell" is available all over Thailand, there is a biography coming out later this summer that will never see a bookshelf in Thailand and already the Thai internet censors have blocked access to the publisher's webpage for it (Yale University Press - which might give this book some credibility) as well as details of it on sites such as Amazon.com. Unlike the Peterson book, which though still banned in Thailand, had its subject's approval (he granted the author several interviews), this biography is unauthorized and judging by the blurbs I've read, not necessarily seeking to place its subject always in positive light.

The toa blog - February 18, 2006

Hello again

Well, I suggested in late December that postings would be sparse but I didn't think I'd go silent for a whole month. Sort of like going back to the monthly thing which is precisely what I've been trying to get away from. Welcome to life with a guesthouse in high season and a now nine-month old baby and no nanny. I have friends with children who boast of never changing a diaper... I'm an expert.


Granted, at the bottom of the Update page I've run for some time an ignored grovel asking for writers. Now, I'm taking this to a higher level. Not only do I want writers I am now going to do something I've done little to none of before. I will pay you. Real money.

What do I want? I want expats based anywhere in Asia who can write, have an opinion, and know their neighborhood. Tell me who you are, where you are, how long you've been there, what you've had published - especially on the internet so I can read it, and how long you plan to stay where you are. If I like it, I will tell you what I want and how much I will pay you. It won't make you rich, but it should be worth getting out of bed for.


I ran away again last week but we're still busy and as far as I know, we haven't thrown anyone else out on the street at nine o'clock in the morning. We've also hired two additional staff to help keep things clean and organized and to help carry around a nine-month old baby...

In my previous entry I made some comments about dumb and/or annoying things tourists do.

Here's two more:

Bad faith bargaining. It’s generally believed that a longer stay should automatically result in a discount. So the sly bargainers present themselves at the guesthouse of their choice asking for a discount for say a ten-day stay. A reduced nightly rate is offered, for arguments sake, let’s say two bucks off per night, and everyone is happy. But on the third day the guest announces that “oops, my plans have changed” and off they go to the next place to do this dance again. If they paid up front for their room, the guesthouse is of course, stuck. If they haven’t paid up front, then the guesthouse is in the difficult position of trying to extract the full room-rate from the guest and inevitably a dispute arises.
“You said two dollars off!”
“You said you’d stay a week!”

What we do is when presented with potential long-term stays is to pro-rate the agreed upon price. Two weeks and two dollars off a night… first week is full price, then each night into the second week is four dollars off. Or something like that. I’ve found it interesting that on several occasions when I explained this to potential customers, suddenly their two-week stay drops to four nights. Uh-huh. As it always was.

Now to debunk the myth. A long-term stay does not always guarantee a discount and sometimes it’s the exact opposite that’s true. As a matter of fact, during high season, when better accommodation choices are running 95-100% occupancies, a two month booking won’t even get you a dollar off the price of the room. On the other hand, turn up at 6:00 pm asking for only one night or maybe two and you’d be surprised how cheap that room might become.

Another form of bad faith bargaining is what I call Terrorist bargaining. Customer makes advance booking at an agreed upon rate, checks in, takes a shower and a short nap, heads out and then returns two hours later, “Umm, I was just down the street and they have rooms for $10 and I’m paying $14 here. So how about I pay $10 or I head down the street.” My answer is always “Here’s your bill. Enjoy your stay down the street,” and wonder if they’d try the same tactic with the Marriott…

We still have our three kittens. Trying to give cats away in Cambodia is liketrying to sell oil to Arabs. They have names Digger, Diver, and Duster and I won't bore you with the origins of their names, but if you really care, stop by and ask. You can even take one home.

Road and Border

Been through twice since I last posted. Poipet - Siem Reap road is still in relatively good shape. Thai border officials at Aranyaprathet continue to be slow and rude as they've always been. For exiting Thailand they've now constructed cattle pens (apparently symbolic of what they really think of you) for all exiting persons to stand in the hot sun and wait before they decide to let you in the building to get your exit stamp and be on your way. If you have any reason to use this border other than traveling to Siem Reap, I suggest you don't. If you're doing a visa run or heading to Battambang or Phnom Penh, then use the crossing down near Pailin.

It continues to amaze me how over the past couple of years, the Cambodia side has improved so much while the Thai side continues to deteriorate ranking as one of the slowest and rudest border posts in Southeast Asia.

Justice system

Sometime somewhere in the past I've commented if not here, then on my forum about the travesty of justice surrounding the Graham Cleghorn trial. Apparently, unbeknownenst to many, including Cleghorn, he had an appeal:

http://www.stuff.co.nz/stuff/0,2106,3575947a10,00.html :

Girls take back rape allegations
18 February 2006

New Zealand diplomats have intervened in the case of a Kiwi man serving 20 years in a Cambodian prison on sex charges – after the teenage complainants all retracted their evidence against him.

Graham Cleghorn, 55, a former aid worker, was jailed in February 2004 and is being held in Phnom Penh's Prey Sar prison.

The New Zealand Government had already raised concerns at the handling of Cleghorn's trial – which took just nine hours.

He was refused a translator, and denied the right to call his own witnesses and cross-examine prosecution witnesses.

Now diplomats have again stepped in after Cleghorn's appeal was conducted without his knowledge.

The unsuccessful appeal, secretly held last month in Siam Reap, did not allow Cleghorn to present written statements from all five women he was convicted of raping that state the sex crimes did not happen.

Foreign Affairs and Trade Ministry spokeswoman Helen Tunnah said the Government had been monitoring Cleghorn's situation since he was jailed, but decided to act after news of the appeal dismissal emerged.

The New Zealand ambassador in Bangkok, Peter Rider, had met a representative at Cambodia's embassy this week to outline this country's "grave" concerns about Cleghorn's appeal being heard in his absence.

"The ambassador pointed out neither Cleghorn, his lawyer or New Zealand officials had been told the appeal was to be heard and asked for an explanation as to how this came about.

"It was emphasised that this had denied Mr Cleghorn the opportunity to present a case, which breached his right to a fair hearing."

Ms Tunnah said embassy staff were awaiting a response from Cambodian officials.

Cleghorn's two daughters have hired prominent Wellington lawyer Greg King, who said he was disgusted at the legal processes surrounding the case.

He described the appeal dismissal as a "breach of fundamental natural justice in every sense".

Cleghorn had pinned all of his hopes for freedom on the appeal. "And for that now to be dismissed without him knowing, without him being present, without him being represented, is abhorrent."

Mr King said his client was a victim of a non-government organisation, the Cambodian Women's Crisis Centre, which was seeking millions of dollars of foreign funding that had been poured into Southeast Asia to stop child prostitution with Western men.

"Organisations have popped up to get their hands on this funding, and the way to do this is to catch people involved in the illicit sex trade, which Graham's been caught up in."

An excerpt from one of the five teens' statements says: "I swear on oath to help the foreigner Mr. Graham that he has never touched my body."

In a statement published on the Internet soon after his conviction, Cleghorn said he was framed by corrupt officials, including Siam Reap District Court judge Ten Senarong who wanted land he owned near the ancient temple Angkor Wat.

When he refused, Judge Senarong's sister Tan Senara, who ran the local office of the crisis centre, began approaching girls in his village offering them US$10,000 each to testify that he had molested them.

In October 2003 he was arrested and charged with five counts of rape, as well as unlawful possession of a weapon.

About the same time, an Australian and Swiss national were imprisoned in similar circumstances.

Bronwyn Sloan, a Cambodian-based Australian, said she visited Cleghorn in prison before he found out the appeal had been thrown out.

"He was holding it together but he does have health problems," she said. "But I imagine he will now be totally devastated."

Ms Sloan said Cleghorn arrived in Cambodia in the late 1980s and worked as an aid worker in Cambodia's northern border camps. He formerly lived in Petone.

She said Cleghorn's Cambodian wife Der and their six-year-old child were distraught at his treatment.

An off-again, on-again discussion can be found here: http://www.talesofasia.com/forum/viewtopic.php?t=2348

Recent Updates on toa

February 16: Updated the Guide to Siem Reap and Angkor.
February 12: Readers' Submissions, Cambodia: On Learning the Awful Khmer Language by Antonio Graceffo, A Night at the Kickboxing by Philip Coggan, and King's Island by Tim Patterson
February 9: The most recent of several updates to the Overland Bangkok to Siem Reap Travelers' Reports.
February 9: The most recent of several updates to the Overland Bangkok to Phnom Penh + Sihanoukville Travelers' Reports.
December/January/February: Updated ALL sections of the Guide to Cambodia Provinces
January 24: Updated the Overland Bangkok to Siem Reap section.
January 21: Readers' Submissions, China/Hong Kong: Hills, Mountains, and Sea: The Adventure Side to Hong Kong by Antonio Graceffo. Malaysia: Penang and Malaysia Update by Charlie Smith, and Cambodia: Quick Report: Stung Treng to Siem Reap via Tbeng Meanchey by David Shamash, Cambodian Song is Contributing to Discrimination by Lay Vicheka, and Cambodia's Heroes Should Be Revoked by Lay Vicheka
December 27 - January 4: Updated ALL sections of the Cambodia FAQ.

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