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Every Cambodia Update: August 2001 to the present

Cambodia Update.

December 2001

1.) Closing the nightclubs
2.) Fires
3.) September 11
4.) Cyclos at night
5.) More hassles - Bangkok to Siem Reap overland
6.) What a difference a shirt makes
7.) Last month's photo contest
8.) Perspective


Closing the nightclubs

This is THE news story of the month in Cambodia. Ostensibly, due to yet another shoot-out in a Khmer karaoke club in Phnom Penh on the 19th of November, this one involving drunken paramilitary and police officers, PM Hun Sen ordered the nationwide closing of all karaoke clubs, nightclubs, and discotheques effective 6:00 pm, Friday, November 23. As the news hit the streets on Wednesday the 21st, mass confusion abounded as to what would be closed, how was the government classifying various establishments, would the western-oriented clubs be included, and what was the real motivation behind the order? Many questions and no answers. The government was being very vague about the whole thing.

Thursday. November 22. Club owners were called in to local police stations to "voluntarily" sign agreements to close their businesses. Vagueness still abounded - what about establishments categorized and licensed as restaurants but were well known watering holes just the same? Why were some of them, i.e. Sharky Bar, told to close? While others, such as most of the riverfront establishments, allowed to remain open? No answers, still.

Friday. November 23. By afternoon it appeared most establishments would honor the government's order. Police were dispatched around the city to deal with any clubs that attempted to remain open. A few karaoke clubs tested their luck by repainting their signs and calling themselves a restaurant. Previously forced to close, Sharky Bar changed its sign from "Sharky Bar and Restaurant" to "Sharky Restaurant", turned up the lights, turned down the music, put menus around the tables, and had the working girls (no, not the bar staff, the other kind of working girls) stay away for the night. The police showed up, agreed to let the bar remain open, but waited on the outside to see if all those working girls turned up. The girls never appeared and soon the police left. By the way, many (but not all!) Sharky wait-staff do not go with customers and really are there only to serve drinks and chat. So, Sharky dodged one bullet, but would it make through Saturday night? Meanwhile, along the riverfront, it was business as usual - FCCC, Rising Sun, Happy Herb's, Pink Elephant - all open. Everywhere along the river - open. But that was about it. The rest of the city was eerily quiet. The bars, the karaoke joints, the discos, all were closed. On Street 63, along the brothel strip, most of those establishments were also laying low, but still kept their eyes open and girls ready should any potential foreign customers wander by. The Heart of Darkness was open but had to turn on all its lights, open all the doors and windows, and forbid any kind of dancing. It was empty of customers - reduced to a club of pointless existence. As a side note, at one of the western-owned establishments police complained that the club was no good because it employed only women. Quite a few foreigners I know with bars/restaurants only employ women - because they really do make better employees.

Saturday. November 24. I went to Sharky Bar, err, umm, I mean, Sharky Restaurant around 9:30 pm. About an hour later a large contingency of police and other government officials arrived, including a woman high-up in the Ministry of Women's Affairs. Sharky was operating the same as the night before - lights up, music down, menus out, girls away. They looked high, they looked low. Where was the live band? The dance floor? The flashing lights? And what's this? Six cooks in the kitchen! Now, Sharky hasn't had a dance floor in years and I don't think it ever had flashing lights, only occasionally has a live band, and for as long as I've known - has served food. "Aut byen ha te" (no problem at all), the top police officer said and the goon squad departed.

So what's the future? For Sharky, it's more or less business as usual, the Viet working girls will trickle back, there were a couple in there this night anyway, the lights will gradually dim, and we'll probably all look back on this and laugh at another ass-backwards Cambodian approach to solving a problem.

Cambodia really does want to clean up its image and there have been some real problems with some of the clubs. As recently as 1998, Phnom Penh and the country in general was still a predominantly lawless land. You could buy dope in the market and smoke your joint as you walked down the street, there were problems with rural banditry, business regulation was a joke, you couldn't find a police officer when you needed one and if you did he was probably drunk, porno movies found their way onto television screens, and guns solved most problems. Prostitution was (and still is) wide open and Cambodia was (and still is) a haven for pedophiles. But except for the prostitution and pedophilia problems, the situation has improved a lot in the past three years. Drugs are still widely available, but they're more underground. Banditry on the nation's highways is a problem only in the history books, business licensing and regulation has been stepped up and it is not always the corrupt practice that one might think. In many cases it's actually a fairly straight-forward reasonably transparent procedure which I've heard little complaints about from business owners excepting for the various bureaucratic nonsense that occurs just as much in the developed west. Police are a frequent presence now and sometimes they even make an effort to do their job and do it properly. It's been two years since I flipped on a TV remote control in a hotel and saw a porno flick. And the government has made a lot of effort to get guns off the street and actually put away violent offenders.

But in trying to clean up its image, shooting itself in the foot with inane orders to close all nightclubs is not the answer. This closure has sent tens of thousands of people into the streets without work. The repercussions will be felt much further down the line and for some time to come. Many of the out of work girls will turn to prostitution, and then there's the motodops who make a living shuttling customers between bars and ultimately back to their homes and hotels, and the beverage suppliers, and the ice suppliers, and so on, and so on, and so on... And of course the tourist industry. While Angkor Wat is the main attraction of Siem Reap, Phnom Penh really does benefit financially from its (until November 23) quite vibrant nightlife. The government complains that nobody visits Phnom Penh - and then pulls a stunt like this... myopia in the extreme.

I'll agree with the government, there are some real problems with certain establishments. There are several nightclubs notorious for widespread drug availability and violence occurs all too frequently at others. I've always advised against tourists entering karaoke clubs or Khmer nightclubs if any patrons are in uniform (police, military, etc.) as drunken shootouts do occur several times a year and have killed innocent bystanders. But deal with the problems as the problems they are. Enforce the laws against violence and drugs. All closing the bars will do is drive the violence and drugs to other locations while putting tens of thousands of innocent people out of work.

There's still another dimension to this story that needs to be addressed. I've often complained loud and long about two-tiered pricing structures - the unfairness of it and the racial undertones involved. But it can go both ways. In many Asian countries foreigners are often afforded better treatment from the authorities and Cambodia is no exception. And for every dollar a dishonest Cambodian might cheat out of a foreigner, that same person will cheat two, if not three dollars from other Cambodians. But most Khmers are decent people with a good sense of right and wrong and two-tiered pricing aside, Cambodia is a foreigner-friendly country. So long as we westerners don't get too rich, we're pretty much left alone to make a life for ourselves, certainly much more so than in neighboring Thailand.

How is all this relevant to the bar closure?

Nearly all western-owned establishments are open.
Nearly all Khmer-owned establishments are closed.
While nobody is saying that this situation was a government plan, due to the various ways of defining the types of drinking establishments, the unintended result is that for the westerners it's almost business as usual, while the Khmers are taking a real hit. This is so blatantly unfair it can't help but lead to problems down the road. I think most Khmers will see the situation for what it is, blaming their own police and government and not the western club owners who would be stupid not to stay open. But certainly they're going to look upon these western clubs with some combination of anger and envy. And the longer the Khmer clubs stay closed the more the Khmers are going to be hurt financially. And somebody is going to get pissed. The worst-case scenario is someone lobs a hand grenade inside an operating western club. Though unlikely, it is still within the realm of possibility. More likely, the bar closure is only going to place a larger barrier between the Khmer and western communities. I think how I would feel if I were back in the United States and my government dictatorially forced me to close my business - and next door permitted some immigrant who turned up six months ago to continue operating his business doing the same thing I was doing. Like I said - somebody is going to get pissed.

And there's yet another potentially adverse effect to this order. What kind of signal does this send to the international community? When the government can change the rules at will, with no respect to the written law, what kind of confidence does this give would-be overseas investors? If the law says today that I can open and legally operate a particular business and then shut me down tomorrow, I'm certainly going to think twice before I invest large sums of money establishing a business in Cambodia.

As this directive began with the Prime Minister himself, it's going to take some time to reverse this decision. This is Asia and saving face almost always takes precedent over doing the right thing. There's no way the PM is going to come out and say "I made a mistake." So, patiently Cambodians will wait until that time someone comes up with a face-saving way to get the clubs open again. And the foreigners, well, we don't care so much about face and most of our clubs are open anyway.


In the southeastern section of Phnom Penh is a large slum area called "The Building", so named due to the massive skeleton of an unrealized ambitious construction project that dominates the skyline of the neighborhood. Surrounding this shell are several shantytowns. The residents are squatters, their homes illegal. The city wants them removed.

Earlier this year, one of these neighborhoods burned to the ground displacing approximately 2,700 people. No home was ever rebuilt - all the former residents were moved to the outskirts of the city in the vicinity of the airport. Five days after the fire, the area was completely cleared and grass grows where homes once stood. Although there is no direct evidence proving this fire was an act of arson, I've met few - expats, Khmers, and especially former residents of the destroyed neighborhood - who believe the fire was anything but intentional. One resident described armed men with batons pushing people out before the blaze began.

On the afternoon of November 26th an even larger section of the slum burst into flames. By sundown the city of Phnom Penh had already determined the cause of the fire - a propane gas container explosion. This is plausible, absolutely so. And as all these homes were made of wood and crammed into each other it wouldn't take much for a fire - accidental or purposeful - to spread rapidly causing massive destruction.

Few people believed the first fire was accidental and this one too, is under just as much suspicion. Located near the riverfront, this real estate is prime for development. As Phnom Penh grows and prospers, what was once a shantytown could someday be a five-star hotel or a high-rise office building. In fact, this stretch of land was already slated to be used for a new road and a plan was in place to relocate the residents some time next year. Rather conveniently, the fire began at the very end of the neighborhood - and guess which way the wind was blowing? One resident said to me, "Yesterday a big fire, next month have land for sale, next year - new building."

I missed the actual fire, but several friends of mine were witnesses to this catastrophe. They described the situation as utterly chaotic. There were about four fire trucks, about as effective as spitting on a campfire. There were panicked residents trying to save whatever they could. Tears, screaming, mass hysteria. Police, overwhelmed by the panicked crowd, resorted to firing their guns in the air in an attempt to restore some kind of order. Some residents, unable to get their motorbikes out, which is for many people their most valuable asset, took to throwing those motorbikes into the water in the swampy area behind the houses.

The following morning at 7:00 a.m. I went down to the scene of the fire to take photos. The devastation was enormous. The local news reported the number of homes destroyed as approximately 2,400. That's right, two thousand four hundred homes. For as far as I could see only the vertical charred remains of wooden supports rose above the ashes - it was so overwhelming, so widespread it looked as if this had been a forest fire. It was surreal. Hundreds of people had returned to where their homes once stood to see what they could find - anything - a ceramic bowl, the frame of a bicycle, a comb, a fork. Thousands of people lost everything - whether you are a poor slum resident with few possessions or you're someone well-off with a full-size moving van's worth of stuff, everything is everything and it hurts just as much.

With most Asians, unpleasant feelings are kept inside. The chaos my friends described seeing the previous afternoon had subsided. Stoicism was the order of the day. In the west there would still have been much crying, screaming, hugs, whatever was needed at the time. But the pain here was still visible. A boy of maybe twelve sat alone sobbing quietly at the edge of what was yesterday his home. Nearby I saw a woman in her mid 30s with a couple of children beside her. Standing on a pile of ashes, stone-faced silent, the look in her eyes and on her face was one of utter defeat. We made eye contact and with what little Khmer I speak, I asked her the obvious question, was this her house? She nodded in ascent. I'm very sorry, I told her. She nodded again, forcing a smile, "au goon" (thank you) she whispered.

Many children played in the rubble, picking through the remains for whatever useful object, definition of such entirely up to the individual, they might find and avoiding the areas still smoking from the previous day's blaze. Adults were of less humor than their children, but smiles still came my way. But an Asian smile can just as likely be a mask for what the bearer really feels inside.

Their was laughter, sure, a few times when I took a photo and someone in the group, realizing what I just did, would inform the others that some foreigner just snapped them, they'd break into laughter. That's something I like about people over here - looking for a positive even in the worst of situations. But still, this laughter was not the norm.

Thousands of people are homeless today. Up the road a few hundred meters from the scene a large crowd had gathered in front of the Bassac Theatre where city officials barked instructions through a loud speaker as to what the former residents should do, where they should go. But whatever these former residents do, it won't be building new homes on the land they once lived. Some are being temporarily housed at the theatre, but most are out on the streets. Likely, in time the city will dump them on a piece of land some fifteen or twenty kilometers away. Out of sight, out of mind.

We'll never really know what happened. But somebody knows the truth. So here I will take my cue from the Cambodians. Get on with life and not dwell on what is now finished. For if somebody was behind this mass devastation than they will certainly get their due in another life for there is no atoning for the destruction of 2,400 homes no matter how poor their residents are. And if it was an accident, then so be it. But there are more squatter communities in this area of Phnom Penh and I dare say there will probably be more fires.

And there were more. A mere thirty hours after the last flame was extinguished a second neighborhood across the river went up in flames destroying a couple of thousand more homes. This was also a squatter development inhabited mostly by Vietnamese. In one thirty-six hour period, well over ten thousand people became homeless, most losing everything they owned.

This second fire occurred at night. I did not visit the scene the following day, but a couple of westerners who did described it, expectedly, as much the same as the scene of the other fire. Except here, even the wooden support beams were destroyed. Residents were seen standing on the plot of ash that was once their home, guarding that territory, believing they'll be building a new home there. Hopefully they will maintain that optimism when they find out otherwise, are pushed to the outskirts of the city forced to make a living in a makeshift neighborhood surrounded only by a few garment factories and industrial parks.

As I have no access to a scanner I cannot post any of the images of the aftermath of this fire, but I will do so next month and in January's column I will add a link to the page of photographs.

September 11

I received an e-mail in early November asking me why I hadn't addressed the events of September 11. I had initially considered doing so but ultimately deemed it as beyond the scope of this column. But is it? Like everywhere else in the world, tourism in Cambodia has taken a hit. Cambodia had been experiencing annual tourist growth of 30% until the terrorist attack and is now seeing figures 30% off of last year. October was frighteningly quiet in Siem Reap. As the annual tourist season is now kicking in people are returning, but numbers are still off.

While Cambodia has a Muslim minority, the Chams, the collective response from that community was along the lines of "wow, this happened?" and they went back to doing whatever it was they were doing - like keeping their houses and yards clean. You can always tell a Cham village by how neat, clean, and orderly it is compared to the rest of the country. But anyway, there's no backlash here. Cambodia is just as safe now as it was before. Travel. Get on an airplane and come here. The weather is cool, the rains are ending, the temples are waiting. Please come. And spend lots of money.

Now to scare you... in the wake of the attacks there's been a worldwide rush to strengthen airport security. You knew that already so you should be happy to know then, that on two occasions in the domestic terminal of the Siem Reap - Angkor airport, I declined to run a bag containing film through the scanner, instead placing it and my telephone on the small table awaiting a hand search - none was forthcoming. In both instances I walked through the metal detector, grabbed the bag and while offering it to the screener, nobody could be bothered to check the contents of the bag. On the second trip, it was quite a large bag as there were about fifty rolls of film inside.

Early in November the Cambodian government banned Osama Bin Laden tee-shirts. Yup, sell a shirt with the guys face on it and you are in trouble with the law. I have to admit, while never one to support bans of this nature, seeing these shirts offered for sale on the streets of Bangkok - perfectly legal in Thailand - gave me the shivers. But who in their right mind would actually wear one of these shirts and to what purpose? Apparently though, they sell rather well. Okay, I can live with that. You wear a shirt with Bin Laden's face on it and I'll show you the appropriate level of respect. It's always nice when somebody reveals their true character long before they open their mouth.

Cyclos at night

The time will come when the cyclo, that decrepit form of non-motorized transportation with its oftentimes equally decrepit owner, becomes a thing of the past. These huge pedal-powered machines with their big bucket seats ferrying riders around Phnom Penh are slow and clumsy and with Phnom Penh's ever increasing levels of traffic there will be the day they are pulled from the streets, relegated to city lore.

But in the meantime, they are still with us, lumbering around side streets and along the riverfront. But did you know that for many of the cyclo drivers - their cyclo is also their home? Some time in the evening, say ten o'clock, hop on a moto and go down, for example, streets 130 or 136 a few blocks from the river. On the sidewalk, on every block, lined up five, ten, even fifteen in a row these old guys and their cyclos pass the night, facing the wall, sleeping off another day of pedaling around Phnom Penh.

More hassles - Bangkok to Siem Reap overland

I received the following e-mail on the 6th of November. I hope you all can read between the lines to see to what extent these tour operators will go to delay the bus trip across Cambodia. The person writing this needed nine and a half hours to do what can be done on your own in two and a half to three hours by using the Cambodia pick-up trucks.

We made our way on Thai Public bus from Khorat to Aranyaprathet. Once through the border we needed to get to Siem Reap. At this stage it was about 12:30pm. There were as usual a lot of touts hanging around and we got taken up by a couple of likely lads and brought to a bus. We paid 200 bht each for the trip. The tickets were issued in the name of Neak Krokhom Travel & Tours (Red Dragon Travel & Tours). There was about 10 of us a 20 seater bus. We started down the road at about 1.15. We had gone all of 1/2 mile when we pulled in in front of an office belonging to Rasa Khmer Travel/ Lin Da Tours. They told us another group of travellers would be coming from the border, sure enough after about 1/2 an hour another 10 weary souls turned up. We waited another hour outside the office (we were told they were waiting for petrol money!).

Eventually about 3 pm we left, 1 hour later we stopped for food in sisophon. We were told it was going to be a 15 minute break. Once everyone had got off the bus, it promptly drove away leaving us abandoned for 2 hours at this restaurant in Sisophon. Eventually the bus came back, at around 6. They said it needed to have its spare tyre fixed, its air-conditioning fixed and to be filled with petrol.

We were 10 minutes out of Sisophon when there was a loud bang and a hissing sound, the air-con had broken (2 hours well spent). [Gordon here: It is highly unlikely that any repairs were ever made to either the air-com or the tire and the breaking of the unit was an amusing coincidence.]

We finally arrived in SR at 10pm. We had e-mailed ahead to another hotel the previous day to get a booking. This information the driver ignored and brought us straight to the gates of the Beng Mealea hotel. At first we demanded to be taken to our chosen guesthouse, but when we realised this wasn't going to happen, we reluctantly spend a night there. We left at 7:15 am the following morning never to return.

What a difference a shirt makes

For the entire month of November I was holed up at the Dara Reang Sey Hotel in Phnom Penh. My movements were predictable. I'd stumble out of the hotel around 11:30 a.m. walking over to the Western Web internet cafe which is along the upper portion of the riverfront. I always go to the Western Web because they have the cutest and friendliest girls working there. Anyway, after an hour or so of e-mailing and web surfing I'd head down to the lower end of the river and usually take lunch at the Rising Sun. I would repeat this process again in the evening with the FCCC as my final destination.

On any given day during the five hundred or so meters between the Western Web and the Rising Sun or FCCC I could expect to hear "moto" from the ever optimistic motodops maybe five or six times. No problem with that, they need to make a buck, though for some unknown reason, throughout Asia, taxi drivers, moto drivers, and cyclo drivers are all under the assumption that all foreigners must need transportation immediately and the idea that we actually would walk somewhere or otherwise find our way without their assistance is beyond grasp. You never see them do this with their own. In general, I completely ignore the hopeful motodops as sometimes even a simple act like making extended eye contact or saying something is all too often seen as a maybe and an excuse to start following you. And I don't really see why I have to acknowledge them anyway, I don't want a motodop - I didn't ask for a motodop.

But one day I was wearing an Angkor Wat souvenir shirt. Well, why not? I live in Siem Reap, I have many souvenir shirts and unlike certain hipper-than-thou backpackers I have no problem wearing a souvenir shirt for the place I'm actually in. On this day my five hundred meter walk to the Rising Sun was interrupted I would guess twenty times by the motodops. Two guys near the Hotel Indochine stepped out and blocked the sidewalk, "You want moto, go killing fields, Tuol Sleng, want lady boom-boom, go Svay Pak?", further down one guy followed me on the sidewalk spewing the same garbage, and no less than three guys driving down the street slammed on their brakes and started in with the same nonsense.

Granted this is still not as bad as what you get in a place like Saigon where the in-your-face Vietnamese know little about subtlety, but many people are drawn to Cambodia because, with the possible exception of Siem Reap and Sihanoukville, the Khmers are not like the in-your-face Vietnamese and are generally a calm, friendly, likeable lot. That is, unless you walk along Sisowath Quay wearing an Angkor Wat souvenir shirt. Gee, what if I had a day-pack and a bum bag, too?

Last month's photo contest

Nobody got all four correct, but then again not many of you bothered e-mailing me answers, either. Photo #1 - the temple carving is from Preah Khan - Siem Reap - nobody answered correctly. Photo #2 - the statue by the water was identified correctly as being in Kep. Photo #3 - the "Bill Gate Center" was also identified correctly - it is in Siem Reap. Photo #4 - nobody got this one - the street with the large building at the end - it is Banlung, the provincial capital of Ratanakiri province and the building in the background is the main marketplace. There's no contest this month as I'm in Phnom Penh and my slides (and scanner) are in Siem Reap - which also accounts for the overall lack of photos in this month's column.


I've decided (for the time being - it's my column and this is the internet and I can change things as whimsically as I so choose) to devote a section at the end of this column to e-mails I receive relevant to this column or even other parts of this website. This is actually the second month I've done this, but as the quantity and quality of e-mail I get has been increasing steadily there should be enough each month to choose from that merits comment and thus a regular section devoted to these comments seems in order.

We begin with a letter from a tourist who has visited Cambodia several times and is commenting on sentiments I've stated about the Cambodian attitude of obtaining money NOW! NOW ! NOW! - and also the donor mentality that prevails here due to the enormous (proportionately related to the overall national budget) amounts of international aid that comes here. The writer also takes another slap at one of the Poipet-based transport companies.

...But I can see the big problems that must rankle if you've been there for awhile.  Those "helpers" who seem so nice, unassuming, become like children expecting handouts from anyone with white skin...It's sad and I don't see the solution because I'm not an economist.  There doesn't seem to be a concept of work-for-money self-sufficiency or any belief that any money will still be around next week...

Btw, the company in Poipet that's probably running a continuing scam on tourists arriving at the Poipet border is "Linda Tours". They're located on the right hand side of the street as you come through the border.  As a re-cap they told me things like:  We have to charge you twice as much, you're the only one and we have to make up costs or the van won't go, this is the last van leaving Poipet because it's so late (5:00pm).  I kick myself because I was tired and I let them get away with it. Looking back on it I was like a pig on a pole being led directly into that office (Ick!).

Those strong-arm tactics do not make for a good tourist experience!

Hopefully the readers of my monthly columns also explore other sections of this website. While these columns are the most read pages here, the next most read piece (and the one that generates the second most e-mail) is "Life on the Streets" - the story of a Phnom Penh street kid. As this month saw tremendous developments in her story I thought I'd share an e-mail I received in early October.

I must tell you, I looked at the first 3 photo's of this woman (S'Kun), and was totally entranced. She has an intelligence in her eye's that is not unlike the photo on a particular National Geographic cover of a women from, I think, Pakistan, a few years back. I swear to God, I sat here looking at the first four photo's of her (for at least 30 minutes), thinking that this woman has the most soul-seeking eye's I've ever seen, and I've been around. Then to read on later, that she is deaf, was unreal to me, not to mention the rest of her life. Thank you very much for writing about this story. 

I should add that for the month of November, two portraits of S'kun were part of my exhibition at the FCCC. One Phnom Penh expat, looking at one of these photos, made much the same sentiments. I don't recall his exact words but he commented emphatically on the eyes and the intelligence and personality they exuded - and when I told him she was a deaf street kid the news practically floored him.

For those of you who have read "Life on the Streets" before, here's a reminder that some very positive changes have taken place in S'kun's life and I urge you to read the latest update. For those of you who have not read the piece, this is a story I really hope you will check out. Here's the link: Life on the Streets

Most of my e-mail is very positive - praising my writing and inflating my ego - or it is (usually) intelligent questions about Cambodia travel. I did recently receive a little bit of criticism, something I'd actually like to see a little more of:

...I'm a keen follower of Cambodian development news from inside Cambodia. I thank you for your mutual interest. However, I prefer you talk about the positive changes taken place there. Cambodian is constantly changing for the better, slowly but surely. I would like to see Cambodia's tourism and infrastructure develop like Thailand. There are a lot more opportunity for business and changes for the better in that country. One ought to be proud of Cambodia for overcoming so much since the time of the Khmer Rouge. Cambodia can not do it alone for now. I hope the enemies of Cambodia do not try to sabotage this beautiful country, either by sending out negative information about how dirty or poor Cambodian and her people are. I think those that report negative information of Cambodia should take history lesson about Cambod... [Gordon here: and then for some reason the message came to an abrupt halt, assumedly the writer hit the send button too soon.]

I agree that sometimes I complain too much and accent the negative, but there are things that need to be said. Unscrupulous tour operators, guesthouses, etc. - they need to be held accountable for their actions. And the dirt? The poverty? These are realities of Cambodia and I will not shy away from writing about the realities that exist here. These things need to be talked about. No problem ever went away by ignoring it. However, the writer is correct that the positive side of Cambodia and its people and achievements should be promoted as well.

In closing

It was a fun month in Phnom Penh, I sold some pictures, made some new friends, caught up with some old ones, put some faces on some names, and made some good contacts. I'll still be here a few more days before finally returning to my home in Siem Reap. After a few days there I'll be off to Bangkok for a week. At least one leg of the trip will see me traveling the overland route. After that, it's wherever my work sends me - Preah Vihear, Ratanakiri, Mondulkiri, Banteay Chhmar - all destinations I hope to reach during the ensuing dry season. And it's also high time I visited somewhere new - perhaps just maybe, in a couple months I might find myself spending some time in an Asian country I haven't visited before.

Speaking of other countries, I've been asked not less than a few times why I've maintained dead links for so long on China and Thailand at the front page of this website. Here's the deal:

I've visited China three times and have extensive travelogues for the first two trips - much like what I have posted about Vietnam - only longer. Late last year I was in the process of editing the travelogues and scanning photos for inclusion on this website when my hard disk crashed - losing everything. I wasn't too thrilled at the prospect of doing all that work again and I put the whole thing on hold. So for China, there's a lot of work to redo and it's probably going to take a fourth trip there to motivate me enough to get the section up and running.

Thailand is a country that was my home for three and a half years and could conceivably be my home again some day. I like the place. But I haven't really written about it and don't have many photographs, either. Furthermore, there are already so many websites with excellent information on Thailand that I'm not sure there's all that much I can add to the collective body of knowledge. My personal favorite website for Thailand is Stickman's website as I agree with about 90%+ of his commentary about Thais and Thailand. So why write what somebody else has already said? Here's the link to his site: http://stickmanbangkok.com.

Sure, I probably should remove the dead links, but I'll keep them as a reminder to myself that I still have more work to do.

See you next month,

Phnom Penh, Cambodia
November 30, 2001.




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