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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 - August 8, 2007

Website update

For those of you who were ready to give up, the new toa website is a reality... almost. The new toa, a massive php-based headache is more or less complete in that all the old data is transferred, a working design is in place, and the linkage is in order. There is still work to be done before we can raise the curtain, but much work has been finished, some money has been paid, and that said, the beta version should be live before the end of the month.

Dengue is back

Though I'm usually one of the first to dismiss what are often hysterical disease warnings (i.e. SARS, bird flu), claims that this is turning into one of the worst dengue years on record in Southeast Asia are real. Vietnam, Cambodia, Thailand, Myanmar, and Singapore are all reporting record numbers of cases, with mortality rates, depending on the nation, from barely 0.1% (Vietnam, Singapore) to as high as 1% (Myanmar).

There's still no preventive medication for it. Just don't get bit by any of the larger striped mosquitos (Aedes aegypti) which tend to do their feasting by day. Given however, that you're probably not going to stand there examining each mosquito making moves for your flesh, best thing then, don't get bit.

I certainly wouldn't go cancelling travel plans over it... even if there are triple, quadruple the amount of cases this year your chances of catching it are still slim and if you do, a majority of cases, though not pleasant, aren't serious and nothing more than a few days in bed followed by a few weeks of lethargy and depression. I know, I had a not particularly serious case in 2001. Though not enjoyable, I've been sicker.

More info here:




Siem Reap airport taxis

I guess somebody with some sense finally learned that having customers pay in advance for their taxi at a desk at the airport wasn't a particularly good way to ensure that the customer would be delivered to where they wanted to go. As one of the renegade guesthouses in Siem Reap that refuses to pay taxi drivers commissions for delivering a customer (why the #$%& would I pay a driver a commission for doing his job as the passenger made the request in the first place????), we have on those occasions where customers did not contact us first for a free airport pick-up, had drivers throw them out on the side of the road, call us on the phone telling us they had a customer that wanted to come to our guesthouse but if we didn't give them money they would take them someplace else (never mind the customer *wanted* to come to Two Dragons), or simply drove them to five different places before finally giving up and bringing them to our place.

That's almost all a thing of the past now as the Siem Reap airport taxi folks have recently stopped the practice of having customers pay up front and done the intelligent thing of having the customer pay the driver upon delivery. Problem solved. Well, almost, there will still be a few troublemakers but thankfully faced with the prospect of not getting paid for the lift at all, the drivers are behaving better now.


A bit of a scare last month when an expat couple's dog, a really nice Golden Retriever, went missing. It's traumatic enough to have a dog wander off on you but over here it's not enough to drive around the neighborhood and check the local dog pound (there isn't one anyway). Nope, here you also have to go looking in on the half dozen or so Vietnamese restaurants that serve dog. And that's where they found her. Fortunately for both dog and owners she was still tied up in back, very much alive and very relieved to be reunited with her family. Keep an eye on your dog...

Quick Poipet update

I went through the border a week and a half ago. For better or for worse the association transport bus/taxi station is pretty much underwater and hence closed indefinitely. For better - it's a lot easier to avoid the more expensive transport. For worse - it makes getting transport a little more disorganized and while avoiding the cartel can result in a cheaper cab ride, it can also result in one a lot worse.

As for the road, there is plenty of construction going on, but that work notwithstanding, certain parts, particularly near Siem Reap (Puok area) are turning into lakes every time it rains.

Xenophobia in Thailand

This is a real story from a real newspaper.

Marriages to western men cause of concern

Chiang Rai _ Tying the knot with western men might be a dream come true for many local women who believe it is a ticket to lifelong financial security.

But they might be merely marriages of convenience for both bride and groom, according to Prachan Sakorn, chairman of the Maeyao tambon administration organisation (TAO) in Chiang Rai's Muang district.

He said there was growing anxiety that some westerners might make business gains through marrying local women. There was need for a close watch on possible business takeovers by 'western sons-in-law'.

He said the recent marriage of three couples _ western men and Karen women _ in the Karen-run Ruam Mitra elephant camp in Muang district was a case in point.

The wedding was not a problem, but he wanted the elephant camp's owners to make sure there was no foreign dominance of the business or unfair treatment of tourists, especially overcharging for tours on elephant back.

Isae Saewa, chairman of the Elephant Mahouts Association at the Ruam Mitra camp, said elephant-back tours had gained favour with foreign tourists.

His association had 34 elephants to cater to nature lovers who want to trek through the forest on elephant back.

Three foreign men, from France and Switzerland, had decided to marry Karen women, leave their own country and settle in Thailand.

'I don't think it is a problem if some westerners hold shares in the camp business side by side with the elephant mahouts, or marry local women and help look after the business.

'We have effective control measures to prevent any would-be foreign capitalist from taking hold of the local business, which has been run by Karen people in Ruam Mitra community for more than 20 years,' said Mr Isae.

Meetings with the mahouts to learn of their problems and find solutions to them were held regularly. The association also sought cooperation from the Maeyao TAO to help preserve the business.

Just as many nations have reciprocal agreements on visa regulations, I wonder how Thailand would handle it if other nations began reciprocal treatment on matters such as foreign business ownership laws, real estate ownership, residency status and rights? Not very well would be my guess.

Police punishment in Thailand

This is also a real story from a real newspaper.

Thai cops punished by Hello Kitty

Police chiefs in the Thai capital, Bangkok, have come up with a new way of punishing officers who break the rules - an eye-catching Hello Kitty armband.

The armband is large, bright pink and has a Hello Kitty motif with two hearts embroidered on it.

From today, officers who are late, park in the wrong place or commit other minor transgressions will have to wear it for several days.

The armband is designed to shame the wearer, police officials said.

"This is to help build discipline. We should not let small offences go unnoticed," Police Colonel Pongpat Chayapan told Reuters news agency.

"Guilty officers will be made to wear the armbands in the office for a few days, with instructions not to disclose their offences. Let people guess what they have done," he said.

Further offences would be dealt with using a more traditional disciplinary panel, he said.

The cartoon character Hello Kitty was first introduced by Japanese company Sanrio in 1974.

The cute round-faced cat has become an Asia-wide marketing phenomenon, with Hello Kitty products such as stationery, hair accessories and kitchen appliances available across the region.

While it's nice to know that small offenses won't go unnoticed it does make one wonder about large offences: extortion, extra-judicial killings, etc.? Seriously though, as a disciplinary measure for what are essentially office rules offences, I like it. Perhaps I ould implement something similar with my own staff???

Reality TV

Was watching Thai news recently and they had a video clip of a man getting stomped on by an elephant. The story was that the man was drunk and decided it might be fun to whack an elephant with a stick. The elephant didn't agree and spent about ninety minutes making its point.

Apperently efforts to pull the man from the elephant failed as the elephant wasn't letting anyone near, and any time somebody tried the elephant's response was another squash with its foot or to kick and toss the man around. When the elephant did finally grow tired of pummeling the drunk and moved off to pummel a pick-up truck - which it did as thorough a job with as it did on the drunk, rescuers were retrieving nothing more than a corpse for the mortuary.

Lesson to be learned: don't get drunk and whack elephants with sticks. But can we also ask why elephants are kept chained up in urban environments and not left in the jungle where drunks with sticks are few and far between?

The toa blog - July 5, 2007

Thai math

Thailand is raising visa fees this month. Among the numerous new rates is the cost for a Cambodian citizen to get a tourist visa to Thailand, which is being hiked considerably from $10 to $35. The reason given by the Thai embassy is the appreciation of the Thai baht against the US dollar, which has gained 20%+ in the past year. If that was truly the case we'd be looking at a new visa fee of... let me get my calculator here... okay... umm, hold on a sec, this is complicated, here we go... $12, maybe $13 just for laughs, $15 because it's a nice round number.

On the other hand, while it is clear the Thai embassy is talking out of it's you know what and talking as if anyone listening is a complete idiot, given that the Cambodian government has always taken the attitude that any foreigner who visits Cambodia is rich and can afford most any price or price increase levied, perhaps to have the same logic turned on them is well, a case of sum muk na (serves you right). And this is the same government (Cambodia that is) which in its stricter drivers licensing requirements (you pretty much have to have one in Phnom Penh now - car or motorcycle) charges its citizens $30 per year for the privilege, which if you were to compare that to a US or UK license against the average salaries of its citizens, it would be the equivalent of paying quite a few hundred dollars a year for the license.

Recent Updates on toa

August 22: Updated the Cambodia Overland, Bangkok to Siem Reap section.
August 19: Updated the Cambodia Overland, Bangkok to Siem Reap Travelers' Reports, the Bangkok to Phnom Penh Travelers' Reports, and the Pailin/Battambang Travelers' Reports sections.
July 20: Readers' Submissions Philippines: The Vanishing Batak Tribe by Antonio Graceffo
July 20: Readers' Submissions Thailand: The Muslim Fishermen of Phang Nga by Antonio Graceffo
July 18: Readers' Submissions Korea: On Learning the Awful Korean Language by Antonio Graceffo
July 18: Readers' Submissions Thailand: Tsunami Relief in the Form of Community Based Tourism by Antonio Graceffo
July 18: Readers' Submissions Philippines: The Tau't Bato and Palawan Tribe by Antonio Graceffo
July 15: Readers' Submissions Philippines: The Re-election of Mayor Edward Hagedorn by Antonio Graceffo
July 15: Readers' Submissions Indonesia: Traveling the Islands by Bruce E. Pohlmann
July 15: Updated the Cambodia Overland, Vietnam Travelers' Reports section.
July 9: Updated the Cambodia Overland, Bangkok to Siem Reap section.
July 1: Updated the Cambodia FAQ, Legal and Safety sections.
July 1: Readers' Submissions Cambodia:Cambodian Bokator Elbow Strikes by Antonio Graceffo.

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