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Previous updates...

KSR to Siem Reap bus scams, new MOT, air, traffic lesson, bars

Opening a guesthouse, crime, air news, Angkor car, traffic lesson, renovations

Expat reflections, World Bank, tourism, airplanes, crime

Transportation, crime, bus scams, new guidebooks

Tall buildings, visa fun, rain, Anlong Veng, roads

Low lake, TCCA, news, transport, casinos, maps

Every Cambodia Update: August 2001 to the present

.Cambodia Update

December 2004

1.) How many days...
2.) More fun with buses
3.) Full moons at Angkor
4.) The guesthouse saga part 3
5.) Scam of the month
6.) Traffic lesson of the month
7.) Moto logic
8.) Just when you thought it was safe...
9.) Why I don't give to beggars
10.) Website of the month
11.) New on toa for November


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

How many days...

We find a lot to complain about when we discuss policies originating from the powers that be that affect tourism here. Roads that don't get built, monopolies on specific air routes, excessive departure taxes, just to name a few. But one continuing policy that mystifies residents and tourists alike and is in direct opposition to self-imposed goals set by the government to increase the average length of stay in Siem Reap is the policy that requires multiple-day Angkor tickets to be used on consecutive days.

I once asked someone in the Siem Reap office of the Ministry of Tourism about this, "Oh, you want an extra day to see the temples, I can authorize that." Well, no, that's not what I had in mind, I was sort of referring to everyone. "Oh, I cannot do that. It's up to Sokimex. They sell the tickets." Well, seeing as this policy predates the Sokimex concession by a number of years I think we can safely assume that Sokimex has nothing to do with it, though I suppose it is possible they've encouraged the continuation of the policy. But what would they gain? Perhaps a few more sales of 7-day tickets ($60) where otherwise a tourist might be content with a 3-day pass ($40) knowing they could use it on any three days? But to hell with Sokimex. Their job is to sell tickets to Angkor, not dictate tourism policies. Seeing as they are already earning a few million a year for this, a few 7-days turned into 3-days won't exactly hurt them. And the government keeps complaining that tourists don't stay long enough in Siem Reap.

I've heard other excuses as to why they can't do it. How would we enforce it? How can we verify the tourist uses it only three days? The present system has the dates of validity stamped on the ticket. Well, here's a simple idea... stamp the ticket with the date used each day the tourist goes to the temple. So if I turn up on the 17th I get a "17" stamped on my ticket. And when I come back two days later I get a "19" stamped. And when I come back the next day I get a "20" stamped and then they can cancel the ticket. And if the efficient ticket checkers out at the temples should find me without today's date stamped on my ticket, well give them a stamp and be done with it. I should get a medal or something for coming up with this plan.

Seriously, it's a stupid policy. Tourists complain about it. Hoteliers in Siem Reap complain about it, and the government complains that tourists don't stay long enough in Siem Reap. Does it get any more simpler than this? The consecutive day requirement for multi-day Angkor passes is pointless and directly inhibits attempts to increase the tourists' length of stay in Siem Reap.

Discuss this story here:

More fun with buses

Here's a mistake I made. Somewhere else on this website where I discuss bus travel in Cambodia I claimed that buses on the Phnom Penh - Siem Reap route didn't play any of the "sell all our customers to a guesthouse" games as they carried as many or more locals as tourists, and as of late, in Siem Reap they have been depositing passengers at a depot just east of Psah Leau.

Some guests at my place had come one day from Phnom Penh on a Capitol Tours bus - that would be affiliated with the famous (or infamous - depending on how you look at things) Capitol Guesthouse. Seems that a few klicks before Siem Reap the bus pulls off on the side of the road and offloads, or tries to offload, all the foreigners to be divvied up for guesthouse delivery. My two guests told me they would have none of this as did several other tourists, much to the annoyance of the bus operators.

In any event, as if you needed one, there's another reason not to use a guesthouse-affiliated bus and stick to a decent carrier like Mekong Express.

Discuss this story and the following item here:

Full moons at Angkor

There was a bit of a discussion, rather inane at times, on my forum last month about full moons at Angkor and whether or not you could visit the temples during such an event (not really) and whether sneaking in is a viable alternative (up to you). Well, turns out you can get into Angkor Wat on a full moon. All it takes is <surprise, surprise> money. Pay the police $10 they'll let you on the causeway, pay them $20 and they'll take you inside the temple. Expect to be escorted as they don't want tourists falling down on the steep steps in the dark. Now why doesn't this surprise me? What next, full-blown FMPs a la Koh Pha-Ngan sponsored by the Heritage Police? Probably be a good earner for them.

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The guesthouse saga part 3

Not surprisingly, the second full month of business at the Two Dragons Guesthouse was a whole lot better than the first. But high season is coming on now.

We've grown. We finally found a real chef, who, while not being exactly what we wanted, does know his way around the kitchen quite well and is learning quickly our way of doing Thai food and complementing this with his own versions of Khmer, Chinese, and generic Asian dishes. If there is one thing we do have now, it's good food. And he came with an assistant and the two of them are proving to make a good team. The menu changes every couple of days as we work out new dishes but so far we're quite happy with the product and the customers are leaving empty plates and coming back alive for another meal. We also added a third cleaning and do whatever else we need girl, a refugee from the guesthouse next door who once worked for a friend of mine at the now defunct Ivy Annexe Guesthouse.

Finding the chef was a process that took much longer than we ever expected. For several weeks our rather detailed help wanted sign (yes, it was written in Khmer) sat in front of our place drawing no response from anyone. Then about half a dozen people turned up one week looking for a job.

Job applicants often bring a friend along, we're used to it even if we don't like it and it never works to the applicant's advantage, but in one case, every time we asked one hopeful applicant a question, his friend standing ten feet away answered the question, prompting me at one point to stop the interview and ask rather emphatically, "which one of you is applying for the job here?" I expected the young man sitting across from me to answer, "me", but instead the friend standing over there said "him". Both were dismissed. If the two can't even sort themselves out over who wants a job I certainly can't be bothered. We had another come in looking like neither him nor his clothes had seen soap in a week. And as we were ready to settle on the one we eventually hired, a woman came in for the job and seemed worthy of an interview. Turns out she had worked for a friend of mine at his guesthouse. One phone call and I got my answer, "diddled with the purchasing money and couldn't get along with anyone. Every time we criticized her she'd get into a huff and threatened to quit. So we sacked her." Small towns have an advantage.

We're presently in search of an afternoon receptionist / night-time kitchen / restaurant helper and have had three applicants so far. One was a guy whose brother came in first to ask about the job, "err, why doesn't your brother come here if he wants the job?"
"He is shy. Oh, by the way, I'm a motodriver, do you pay commissions if I bring you guests?"
I could see this one working out well... "Hey, great idea, when the boss is away, let's tell customers we are full so we can send them to another guesthouse and get a commission!" A young woman turned up but lived 15 or 20 kilometers away in the countryside. "Err, you can work nights?" She looks at the wall, looks at the ceiling, and offers a very tentative, "sure." Another woman comes in with of all things a CV! You don't see too many of them here. But she didn't impress us too much and the decision of what to do was made all the more simpler because one of her previous employers was also another friend of mine. A quick phone call and "Oh, I sacked her after two months, kept dipping into the till." The search continues.

The license man came back. That would be the guy from the Ministry of Tourism who sells you the license you need only after you get all the others. He wasn't so friendly this time, probably on account of the fact I never did come in and see him. I made a few excuses about why I wasn't yet compliant with the other licenses which he wasn't very interested in hearing. He did however offer that for a small fee he'd be happy to go sort out all the other licenses for me and then issue me the license from his Ministry. Hmm... so that explains why the guy whose license you need last comes first. Well, ten bucks to go fetch me my fire and business licenses (but not the 99-year name registration from the Ministry of Commerce, I did get that one on my own) sounded like a good deal to me and he was all friendly again. Turns out he quite possibly saved me a bit of money, too.

Shortly after he returned with all my licenses I was visited by three smiling members of the Fire Police. Smiling because they had walked into a foreigner's business convinced that the foreigner needed a fire license and a few fire extinguishers to be legal and they offered they'd have me legal, extinguishers and all, for only $200. Hmm... the Tourism guy only charged me $50 for the fire license.

Smiling ear to ear they informed me I needed a license. I said I had one already. They said I didn't. I said I did and went to fetch it. They were not amused.
Why were we not informed?
How should I know.
Was it <name of MoT guy> who did this for you?
Do you have fire extinguishers?
Well, the license says I have three.
Did he do an inspection?
I looked at my manger who's translating all of this and said I had no idea what he did, I was In Bangkok at the time. My manager looked at me as if to say, "No, you weren't. You were right here." I looked at her again and repeated, "I don't know anything. I was in Bangkok. Remember???!!!!"
And she remembered I was in Bangkok.

No longer smiling they handed me back my license and disappeared, reconciling the fact that there was $200 they weren't going to get. I figured they be back so I went to track down the three fire extinguishers my license claimed I had, knowing full well I didn't have them. I located two positively dodgy ones in the back that probably couldn't put out a match unless maybe you physically dropped the extinguisher on it, placed one in the kitchen and one under the stairs. About twenty minutes later the head of the group returns requesting to make an inspection of the extinguishers and yes, he can do that.

He wasted no time in declaring both fire extinguishers as useless and that I could buy two new ones from him for $40. See, I knew they'd get some money off of me.
But, I replied, I can buy two new ones in the market for $30, maybe less.
He had all the answers. Yes, you can, but if we inspect them and find a problem you are responsible. If we inspect the ones you buy from us and find a problem. We are responsible.
Not bad, I thought. But your price is still too high.
His answer: Maybe so, but if you buy from the market, we will inspect every three months and you will have to pay us for each inspection. Buy from us and you don't have to pay for each inspection ... but a tip would be nice.
Still, your price is too high.
Did I tell you that you are supposed to have one extinguisher for every four rooms?
No, you didn't, and I doubted that was the case.
If I decide to hold you to the law you have to buy four. And your license says you have three extinguishers but I am only making you buy two!
He got his forty dollars and I got two new fire extinguishers and everyone is happy and it cost me a whole lot less than $200.

Neighbors. My neighbor is the fairly well-known Home Sweet Home Guesthouse. An eager payer of commissions of as much as 30-35%, he has a steady stream of hopeful taxis and tuk-tuks delivering guests to his door and while many of them do stay, quite a few do not. And a lot walk over to my place and book a room with me. Still more spend a night in his place and then move over to my place for a variety of reasons. And no, I don't think they like me very much.

But here's planning for you. I spent three months under renovation, July to September, making sure I was well open for the beginning of the high season. Not so my neighbor. He started his own renovation/expansion project on part of his building but chose not to coincide his work with mine, but waited until I was finished. Early October he started his work and as we now enter December and one of the busiest months of the year they're over there making a heap of noise from 7:30 in the morning to 4:30 or 5 pm in the afternoon. Brilliant planning there, dude - renovation work during high season. And they had the nerve to threaten to put my construction laborers in jail for starting work before eight a.m.

Whatever. Given the number of customers that flee his place for mine, I suppose I can tolerate a little bit of early noise.

Check us out here.

Discuss this story here:

Scam of the month

Not sure if I really want to elect a scam of the month, as I'd like to think there wouldn't be enough to have one worth writing about every month, but let's try this one on, it's called the "send-me-money-so-I-can-go-to-school scam", is fairly prevalent in Siem Reap and not only succeeds in lining a few lucky individual's pockets but makes it more difficult for the people who really do want to go to school and need someone to help pay for it.

With fair regularity I hear either in person, via e-mail, or see posted somewhere on the internet someone being marked for the scam. Which goes like this: tourist visits Siem Reap and is affected in a positive way by the people and environment. Tourist encounters motodriver, would-be-student, someone, almost always male, who befriends them and ultimately starts in with the plea of how poor they are and how much they really want to go to school if only someone would pay money for the school. If the tourist goes so far as agreeing at this point to help, the next issue is how to send money. "Oh, send it to me."
"Err, how?"
"My friend's back account."
"Well, couldn't I send it to the school. Surely, they must have a bank account?"
"Oh, no have. Send it to me, no problem."
And suddenly full bank account details are provided.

And that's how the scam unfolds. Unfortunately there really are people here who would go to school if someone could help send them. So what do you do?

1.) Meet the parents.
2.) Meet the director of the school in the company of the student.
3.) Get bank account details for the school and send money ONLY to this account.
4.) Request progress reports on the student. One language school, ACE, does provide this information to sponsors.

Under no circumstances should you send money to any individual's bank account no matter how convincing the story is. Cambodia may not be a developed nation, but it has banks and any school charging fees is going to have a bank account to put the money in.

The scam works because the players are convincing and there is no shortage of well-meaning westerners that would love to sponsor someone's education in Cambodia. And that is an admirable thing to do, but you must be sure that you really are sponsoring an education and not sponsoring an exaggeration.

Discuss this story here:

Traffic lesson of the month

You know that old joke... driver goes the wrong way on a one-way street, gets caught by the police who informs the miscreant, "Are you aware that this is a one-way street?" and replies, "but officer, I was only going one way!" Hehe, chuckle, chuckle. Try that on your average Khmer and as stupid a joke that it is, chances are it won't even be recognized as a joke.

Some time ago I saw someone I know riding her motorbike the wrong way on what is intended to be a one-way street. I asked her if she was aware that she was in violation of the law. Oh, its no problem, she said, Im Cambodian.

Needless to say, one-way streets in Cambodia don't catch on very well. As is usual, we pull a schematic diagram from the Cambodia Motorists Handbook (photo-copied version from the Central Market) showing would-be drivers how traffic operates on a typical one-way street.

As one can see each moto is traveling only one-way. So the idea must work!

And this diagram shows what happens when a pair of police officers is present at one of the intersections. This clearly shows that the whole one-way concept breaks down when the police are present as one can see how three different motos had to re-direct themselves, hence they are no longer traveling one way.

Next month: The moto - a family car.

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Moto logic

Okay, so you take the bus or boat to Siem Reap. Upon arrival you're surrounded by motodrivers offering rides to "any guesthouse" for 500 riels or even for free. Wow! Great deal! Sure is, except in many cases the phrase "any guesthouse" is only an abbreviation for "any guesthouse that pays us a commission" though such allowances might be made if you agree on the spot to hire the driver for your transportation needs for the next month or so.

Needless to say complications will arise. I've had a couple of runarounds, or should I say, guests of mine have had a couple of runarounds with drivers over this nonsense. As a non-commission paying guesthouse owner some guests found that the 500-riel to any guesthouse offer turned into a $3 demand. A demand that was preceded with time wasted visiting guesthouses the customers didn't want. So what happens? The driver doesn't get his three dollars, doesn't get his guesthouse commission, and because he hassled the guests over the fare, he doesn't get the customers either.

I asked a couple of motodrivers I knew, why doesn't everybody charge something like a dollar to any location and that way if you don't get a commission or you don't get a customer you at least get a fare you can live with? The answer: That's why we don't hang around the bus depot looking for customers, too much problem. Well, at least they were honest about it.

Moral of the story. Don't believe 500-riel or free ride to anywhere offers unless you are willing to do what the driver wants you to do. You will also see sometimes at the bus depot or boat docks drivers offering free rides to specific guesthouses. That is, of course, a bit easier to suss out as it should be obvious that the free ride is only good for that guesthouse, but that is markedly different from claims of "500-riel to any guesthouse" when that isn't what they are offering.

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Just when you thought it was safe...

Last month I wrote a lengthy piece about the Khao San Road to Siem Reap buses. The complaints all related to service from Bangkok to Siem Reap and not the other way around. Historically, there haven't been the kind of problems discussed last month as there really isn't much to get from people going from Cambodia to Bangkok. You can guess where this is going...

Heard a complaint recently about a trip from hell going to Bangkok! Seems they pulled the let's throw everyone in a pick-up truck and they set off not for Poipet but for Daung (near Pailin). Why? As well as anyone could guess and based on the report it was a simple matter that a longer trip in Cambodia meant the opportunity for a couple of extra snack and drink stops so the bus operators could make more on commissions. And yes, Khaosan Connection was involved. Well why not? The tourists are leaving and won't be back so who cares what we do to them! Anyway, as if you needed another reason, forget the tourist bus between Bangkok and Siem Reap regardless of what direction you're traveling.

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Why I don't give to beggars

You see them all over the markets. Amputees hopping around on one leg shaking a hat at tourists asking for, and sometimes receiving, as much as a dollar. And I've heard tourists defend giving them money, "look what they've been through, and an amputee, how can you not give them money?" Easy. How many amputees are there in Cambodia? Thousands, tens of thousands. How many amputee beggars are there in Cambodia? A few dozen. So for every amputee shaking a hat in tourists' faces outside Psah Chas there are countless more not shaking hats at tourists outside the market. So what makes them special? I don't wish ten years in the jungle and an unlucky day walking through the forest on anyone, but it is a reality of Cambodia that tens of thousands of people have had to reconcile themselves with. If you want to help amputees there are numerous organizations set-up to provide rehabilitation and vocational training for mine victims. If you're going to let an amputee pull your heart strings, let it be one of the 99% not begging in the markets.

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Website of the month


Mr Guy reports from Phnom Penh with his regularly updated blogs on life and living in Phnom Penh. Fresh viewpoints from an unjaded resident. Good page of links and other informative stuff.

New on toa for November

November was another slow month on toa. I posted my monthly four days late, breathed a sigh of relief for its completion and then ignored things for awhile. The following is a summary of what little appeared here last month:

November 27: Cambodia FAQ. Updated the following section: Transportation.
November 23: Readers' Submissions: On Afghanistan, Sven has contributed Planes and Desires.
November 18: Phnom Penh Perspective by Bronwyn Sloan: Rats, bats and the meaning of life.
November 14: Cambodia Overland. Updated the Bangkok to Siem Reap section.


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