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Previous updates...

Year in review, tsunami, tourist buses, Sam Doeun, staffing issues

Angkor tickets, tourist buses, full moon, guesthouse

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

Every Cambodia Update: August 2001 to the present

.Cambodia Update

February 2005

1.) Accidents
2.) Taxi driver
3.) One million
4.) Koh Ker
5.) The guesthouse saga part 5
6.) McBodia
7.) Open skies my #$&
8.) Crime alert
9.) Sokimex reminder
10.) New on toa for January


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).


Traveler's insurance, health insurance, accident insurance, call it what you will... do you have any?

What's one traveler's nightmare? A nasty accident while on the road? What's one guesthouse owner's nightmare? A guest has a nasty accident while in their care? What's one motodriver's nightmare? An accident while ferrying a tourist? Well guess what, one guest (mine) and one guesthouse owner (me) and one motodriver (one of mine) experienced this nightmare this past month.

We had two European tourists flying in from Bangkok early one evening. We sent a motodriver with a tuk-tuk (or remorque, choose your language or terminology), one who happens to be the most reliable and trustworthy of a generally reliable bunch that we work with, to collect our customers. A few minutes out of the airport and barely into Siem Reap a speeding nitwit zig zagging through traffic (we've all seen the type, the sort that natural selection often removes from the gene pool before any significant and prolonged damage to the human species occurs) side swipes my driver who is sent flying off his bike with the tuk-tuk toppling over behind him.

My driver telephoned me ASAP and I was on the scene in minutes. He was hobbling around, ripped clothing, bits of his body on the highway, bits of the highway in his body. Road rash, cuts, bruises, the usual result of a hard encounter with tarmac. He would recover in a week or two, but our customers were of greater concern, both to myself and to the driver who seemed entirely disinterested in his own condition.

The husband was okay, but his wife had the misfortune of falling out of the tuk-tuk with it subsequently dropping on top of her. Her first comment to me, an understatement if there ever was one, "I think I should see a doctor." The nearest clinic was the Naga Clinic so I tore on ahead and found the clinic closed. "Oh," says the guard, "they are out to dinner. I will call them." Drag some Thai doctors (med students?) away from their dinner? Never mind. Next stop down the road is a Chinese clinic which I knew nothing about and wasn't sure I wanted to know, at least not now. And a bit farther, a Khmer clinic, Le Srey Vina. It was closed too, but unlike Naga, there was an emergency number posted outside and lights were on inside. They were out and ready before the car pulled up with the injured guest.

There wasn't much they could do for her here. She was unable to walk and was experiencing some neck pain as well as pain in her hip (she feared the artificial hip she had was broken), and her right arm wouldn't work right. The decision was made the following day to send her to Bangkok.

My motodriver turned up and while it took nearly two hours, his missing bits of flesh were taken care of and he was put back together again. I paid his bill. I've never heard of any worker's compensation insurance in this country. Worker's comp means the boss pays the bill when someone in his or her employ gets injured or sick.

No surprise, at the time of the accident the other driver tried to pull a runner, but my driver, injuries and all, managed to grab the keys from his bike before he could get away. There were no ifs ands or buts about guilt, but the real question was what if anything would or could the biker at fault pay because any forthcoming compensation would come from whatever limited cash and assets this person has.

Insurance? None. They're just now working on getting all the cars taxed, registered, and insured, but motorbikes? That could take a while. This does however give rise to thoughts that perhaps it wouldn't be such a bad idea to require some kind of mandatory insurance coverage for drivers of any vehicle, motos included, that carries tourists. They've already licensed them, why not insure them? At least third party, anyway. Insurance costs are fairly negligible and the drivers can just tack a dollar or two extra to their daily fares if need be. This also assumes perhaps over optimistically that a local insurance company would make good on a claim. One expat I know loves to tell his experiences with the now defunct Indochine Insurance, "when I asked them about coverage and what they would pay on a claim their response was, 'it's not our policy to pay claims'."

But I digress. The following day required a few hours at the police station sorting everything out. Again, everyone agreed who was the guilty party, but what could he pay? No insurance, the bike belonged to someone else, he claimed that all he had or could get his hands on was $200 and that he made only a dollar a day.

That's certainly not enough to go around. Let's see... my driver's medical bill was $45. The damage to his bike and tuk-tuk was as yet undetermined, there was loss of work - he would be out for about a week, and I lost the customer. But wait! We're forgetting someone! The tourist! Well, her bill at Le Srey Vina was over $300 which will be nothing in comparison to what would await her in Bangkok. Oh, and of course the police wanted $50 for doing their jobs.

I visited the tourists in Bangkok receiving the unwelcome news that she had a cracked pelvis and one of the vertebrae in her neck had been dislodged (is that the proper medical term?), hence the partial paralysis in her right arm. The pelvis would sort itself out but the neck needed surgery and there would be a long rehabilitation period to get the arm working again. I imagine the costs of this will be well into the thousands of dollars, even with the relatively cheap Bangkok medical fees. And there is the lost vacation, the wasted plane tickets, the weeks to be spent first in a hospital, then in rehab, and it all adds up to one very expensive what? Ride from the airport to a patch of tarmac in the middle of Highway 6?

The unfairness of it all lies in the complete inability for the tourists to recover any compensation. And did I mention the tourists were in their 60s and two of the sweetest people you'd ever want to meet who took their misfortune with an amazing sense of fate and good grace? Anyway, they were advised that they could try hiring a lawyer and pursue further compensation with the assistance of their embassy, or so the tourist police suggested, though most of us who have dealt with our embassies can imagine how far his idea might fly.

The inability to collect compensation in such situations is a reality those of us who live here have come to accept. It's an underdeveloped country which means underdeveloped systems. There is a certain degree of buyer beware and assumption of personal risk here. We either place our care in the hands of fate or the gods or both, or carry around a good insurance policy. Not being a particularly spiritual or religious type, I carry insurance with worldwide emergency and evacuation coverage.

You can't get blood from stone and when a deadbeat causes an accident resulting in thousands of dollars in damage what are your options? Attach his dollar a day wages for, I don't know, the next 30 years? Well, here's your monthly payment of $15, only $4220 to go! Nope, that won't work.

Advice of the month, if you haven't figured it out already: get your body insured before you hit the road (figuratively and literally). It's bad enough to lose a holiday, no reason to lose the farm, too.

Discuss this story here:

Taxi driver

Most hotels and guesthouses will try whenever possible to pick their guests up at the airport and the reasons should be obvious before I finish this item. But there will be occasions that for whatever reason the guest, though with a specific destination in mind, chooses to find their own way.

I had such a customer last week, though if the cab driver had his way she would never have been.

I've always known that I wouldn't be a favorite among the airport taxi drivers because like most westerners, I refuse to pay commissions (my neighbor gleefully shells out as much as 33.3% per night! that the customer stays in his guesthouse). One, I don't need to pay to get the business, and two, I don't want drivers pushing potential guests through my door, it's not good for word of mouth advertising to have a reputation for pushiness. So I advise people who plan to find their own way to my place to expect possible resistance from drivers when requesting delivery to my guesthouse, but what a customer reported to me last week was a bit over the top. And she, the paying customer, the visitor to Cambodia, the guest, was the one who had to absorb the problem, not me.

Rather than play stupid, "oh I don't know that place, maybe you try here," or lying "oh, that place no good (or closed or burned down or moved or never existed or turned into a karaoke parlor), this particular driver went so far as to say, "No, I will not take you to a foreigner owned business," and he proceeded to commence a diatribe about how awful our existence here is - that we take Khmer money, jobs, etc, whatever. While I suppose we should applaud his honesty, it seems to me that a tourist just looking for a ride to a guesthouse really doesn't need to be subjected to the taxi driver's opinions on immigration, international trade, and foreign relations and would probably find it far more beneficial to be delivered to their chosen destination without the commentary.

On the one hand, I don't really care. I don't necessarily expect drivers to be enthusiastic about coming to my place if I'm not likely to hand them $20 for doing so, and any driver is entitled to his opinions, even if I could quite readily refute most if not all quantitative claims he might make in respect to foreign-owned businesses having a negative effect on Cambodia. But while I categorically contend that the taxi drivers should take passengers to whatever place it is they want to go, I accept that in Cambodia where so much of the tourism industry is completely ass backwards, we've come to expect that taxi drivers are not so interested in doing the job you think they agreed to do even if you booked them from the airport taxi desk.

As I write in my Siem Reap Guide in reference to the Tourist Transport Association (the organization that runs the airport taxi service):

Driving tourists from the airport to their chosen hotel or guesthouse is really not what the taxi drivers are interested in doing. They are much more interested in getting you to hire them for your transportation around the temples and to get you into a hotel that pays them a good commission.

They are members of an organization entitled the Tourist Transport Association. This is a group with the exclusive contract to offer taxi services at the airport. All the drivers carry identification and every vehicle has a number painted on the door, for example B-52. Yes, there really is a driver designated B-52 and the irony of this designation is not lost on him. The drivers pay a nominal fee to be members of the TTA, however, the spaces are full and a slot in the TTA now resells for hundreds and hundreds of dollars (I've heard recent reports that it takes upwards of a grand now).

When you request a taxi from the desk inside the terminal you pay $5 to the person behind the counter who then gives you a receipt and you are connected with your driver. The driver gets none of this money which should be your first indication that something silly is going on here. As I alluded to before, his first hope is that he can get you to hire him for the duration of your stay as your temple transport, and you will need transport, at $20 a day, with a few bucks extra for rides to temples further afield, i.e. Banteay Srei. His second hope is that if you have no chosen hotel in mind, he can then take you to a place that will give him a nice commission. This is sometimes problematic. Some drivers will keep their mouth shut and take you where you want to go, but others will start into this spiel that the hotel you want is dirty, is in a bad location, the staff is no good, whatever, it's all an effort to get you to go where he wants you to go.

If he does succeed in getting you into a hotel of his choosing, and if you had no particular place in mind this isn't necessarily a bad thing, and you hire him to visit the temples, then this all turns into quite an earner for him. Some drivers will go even further and make a point of steering you to certain restaurants, souvenir shops, etc, all in the name of making commissions. As with hotels, he may try to steer you to his "brother's" restaurant.

Now, because the driver doesn't get any of the $5 you paid at the airport, if you have no intention of hiring a taxi to visit the temples, then ignore the taxi desk and walk outside of the terminal and turn right where you'll see a crowd of drivers. Walk right into the middle of the crowd and grab one. Yes, it does seem like walking into some kind of ambush, but I used to do it all the time (now I have my own drivers)... the sea will part, trust me. A driver obtained this way will probably take you into town for $3-4 and you will pay him directly when you are delivered to wherever it is you want to go and you'll probably have a good shot at getting taken where you want to go. You'll also see many drivers in this crowd holding up signs for various hotels/guesthouses. This is a commission game. The guy holds the sign, you take his taxi to the hotel, he gets a commission. If you decide to follow one of these guys to the hotel he's holding a sign for, your ride should be free or no more than $1 as his commission will more than subsidize your ride. Don't be surprised if when he opens the trunk for your bag, you see signs for half a dozen different establishments.

In any event, as I tell my own drivers, they can chase after any commission they want so long as they do what the customer wants. Doesn't seem like an unreasonable request from me or for the customers. Fortunately, more drivers than not understand this concept and what my customer experienced, though not rare, is not typical behavior of all drivers.

Discuss this story here:

One million

It happened. A year later than expected (SARS and stuff), but it happened. Cambodia recorded one million foreign visitor arrivals in 2004. 1,055,202 to be precise, a 50.53% increase over 2003.

South Korea established itself as the number one country of origin with 128,423 arrivals, a 106% increase over 2003. Japan was second at 118,157 and the USA was third with 94,951.

Big numbers are fun, but I'm curious about one thing. Does this mean that 1,000,000 people visited Cambodia last year? I would say not. The number they cite is not the number of people who arrived, but the number of "arrivals". Looking at my passport I entered Cambodia thirteen times in 2004. Does that mean I am one visitor or I am thirteen arrivals? Actually, I'm both but as they count arrivals I'm thirteen and I'm hardly the only one with multiple entries this past year.

It's not my intention to crash Cambodia's one million celebration. It may not have been a million people but the percentage increase they cite would be pretty close to the truth (though I was an increase too, as I went from eleven entries in 2003 to thirteen in 2004). And they say three million by the end of the decade. Hopefully by then there will be a road and more than one air carrier to and from Thailand, at least if they expect to get their three million arrivals.

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Koh Ker

From an arduous journey through the jungle undertaken only by motorbike riders and folks with the resources to hire a 4WD vehicle, Koh Ker, which was for a spell, the tenth-century capital of the Khmer empire, is now a doddle to reach by any form of transportation.

The long-awaited road is finished and if you push it, it's not too difficult to tackle the 125 or so kilometers from Siem Reap in about one hour and forty-five minutes if you should have a big bike. Small motos can do the trip in about three hours. Taxis can do it now, too.

Prices? There's a ten-dollar entrance fee collected by the private company that built the road, Kham Someth, Co., Ltd. The fee is collected near Beng Mealea temple and need not be paid if you plan only to use the road to get to another place, though there is a $5 toll levied on all vehicles (not including motorbikes). If you need transport from Siem Reap, motos will take you there for about $50-60, taxis for about $80-100. Not a bad idea to bring some food, but in the village of Siyong, about ten kilometers south of the temples, there are some very basic restaurants and a new guesthouse has just sprung up to take advantage of the expected tourist rise that should accompany this new road.

When the project was announced (I first reported on it in my July 2003 column) I said this project would be a good thing. Now I've been on the new road and back to the temple and can confirm, it's a good thing. And where's that golf course they were going to build?

As an aside, it was a particularly fun day going out there. I had expressed my interest to re-visit the temple to a couple of the motodrivers who hang out in front of my place. On the appointed day almost the entire group turned up for the ride, joking that I was the teacher (I was the only one who had been there before) and they were the students. Me on my 250cc, they all on there small motos, with one on such an old decrepit thing it was suggested that it was more suitable for going to Koh Ker Hotel (a block from my place) than to Koh Ker temple. I made it back in an hour-forty-five. They hardly made it back at all as they got diverted to one of the driver's family homes in Damdek village. Karaoke and rice wine all night and not a sober motodriver to be found.

The Two Dragons Motorbike Mafia at Koh Ker, Jan 5, 2005, before the rice wine

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The guesthouse saga part 5

January rocks like December and we kept ourselves busy all month long at the Two Dragons Guesthouse (though I did manage to run off to Bangkok for six days to hide from the staff).

January means licenses and taxes. As I opened at the end of last year most of my licenses were sorted then, with one notable exception - the tax license. Yes, here you get a license to pay tax. And like most dealings with officials the means to the end are generally quite amusing and rarely very burdensome in respect to time or dollars spent.

I knew I would have to visit the local tax office the first week of January but got a reminder anyway when one morning, I want to say it was the third of the month, I got the dreaded phone call from my manager "can you come down now". Actually I get a lot of these calls and they usually mean one of two things, either a customer has an unusual question or request, or someone wants money. Seeing as it was the woman from the local tax office in the accompaniment of a police officer we could rule out any possibility of selling a day trip to some distant Tonle Sap village or advice on how to get to Preah Vihear.

I was told to report to the tax office at three p.m. to sort out my 2005 license, monthly assessment, and sign tax. Three o'clock came and I dragged a trusted motodriver, Marom, to come along and do all the talking while I stared at the floor. Questions were asked such as how much money did my business make and how much did we spend each month and whatever answer I gave would determine how much I would pay each month. Seems easy enough. Marom, who was filling out the forms for me (English won't do) and frowning a lot, claimed that Two Dragons really wasn't much of a business and had little hope of ever turning any considerable profit. And he and the tax lady both frowned some more. Okay, you pay $70 a month she said, which was in the ballpark of what I expected and when registered on a western tax-o-meter it's a figure so low it barely makes a blip. $70 a month, I can do that. But my most trusted motodriver frowned some more and maintained that $70 was way too much and we'll deal with this outrage shortly.

Then there was the sign tax to deal with. How many signs did I have, how many letters on the sign, and how big were the signs? Signs, well I have two, but one is two-sided, oh, that counts as two, alright, I have three signs then. Can't hide that fact. How many letters? Well um, let's see Two Dragons Guesthouse & Restaurant. Does an ampersand count? Okay, we have thirty letters. Hmm, I know I should have called myself the Ivy Bar or something. How big are the letters? Small, very small. And how big is your sign? I draw the blankest of expressions. Marom frowns and says, "small, I think very small." I agree, "indeed, a small sign." Hmm, no wonder my business makes no money. So a formula is calculated on how many letters each sign has, how big I said the letters were and of course how big I said the sign was and after a spell of number crunching and more frowns I was told I'd have to pay 225,600 riels for the year. That's $56.40 plus an extra 7500 riels "administrative fee". Yeah, whatever. And upon returning home I looked at my signs and wondered if they had ingested steroids.

And then there's the annual license you must have. It's apparently your proof to whoever needs to know that you are properly registered with the tax department but you could just as easily call it a license to pay tax. In any event, for the one year privilege of paying tax she wanted $150. My motodriver again felt this was much too much and frowned some more, "I think we can bargain, no problem."

While the sign tax wasn't negotiable, they already figured my signs were probably twice as big as we said they were, after all everyone else's were, Marom and the tax woman entered a lively discussion as to how much business tax I should pay each month and how much I should pay just to have the privilege of paying. By the time it was all finished the frowns had turned to smiles and laughter and I was paying less money for everything and there was brief discussion about things like receipts and the like and did I really need them and at the end of it all I was paying essentially pennies in tax compared to what I would be paying in the States or even Thailand. I learned, as most expat business owners here agree, that while there are some games to be played where taxation is concerned the amount of money one ultimately pays is very reasonable and more than fair.

Other than that, we had a spell of bad luck where maintenance was concerned, mostly with a water pump and our well. For once, the new Panasonic hot water heaters behaved themselves, probably because there's hardly anything left inside that hasn't already been fixed.

The long-awaited receptionist finally turned up. To her credit, she is trying to do what is expected of her, unfortunately her English language skills are not quite what I needed and her ability to make decisions or handle even the slightest of challenges is also not what I had hoped for. But it was a desperation hire and as things seem to happen, no sooner do I put her to work, that a much better option comes along, but canning her after a week would hardly be fair of me. This week will be important for her as we've given my over-worked manager a long overdue week off to run to Phnom Penh and wherever forcing the new girl to assume more responsibility in her absence. It will be an exhausting week for us as she really can't be left alone, but by the end of it all, she should have learned a bit. What I'd really hope for is that the restaurant business picks up to the point where she can stay on as a waitress, a job she does okay at, and I can track down the other girl and put her out front to sort out the customers.

And finally, a plea to my customers. More often than not I only have the opportunity to check my e-mail once per day. Please do not send me e-mails like this, "I'm at Bangkok airport now boarding a flight in one hour. Can you pick me up at the Siem Reap airport?" Or, "We're leaving for the border by bus tomorrow morning. Can you send a taxi to pick us up at Poipet?" Chances are by the time I see the second message they will already be standing around Poipet looking for our taxi driver.

Check us out here.

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WooHoo!!!! They're coming!!!! Cambodia is well and truly on the map, McDonald's is poking around and looking to move in. At least according to the Cambodia Daily. Apparently a franchising representative has had a look and answered the Daily via e-mail that, "McDonald's intends to develop restaurants in Cambodia, however no final date has been established for this development."

What does it take to franchise a McDonald's? According to the report: High integrity, business experience, knowledge of culture and customs, willingness to devote themselves full-time to the venture, willingness to train for nine months in a foreign country, knowledge of real estate management and ability to work well with the franchise organization.

McDonald's can sort this one out themselves but once again the mere mention of a McDonald's in Cambodia will inevitably set off the more cultured than thou set on some anti-globalization, anti-western, anti-development, anti-progress, and let's maintain the quaint little villages never mind they suffer a 10% infant mortality rate and life expectancy less than that of a Twinkie, "they're so pure." As I wrote in my August 2003 column when I discussed the possibility of a McDonald's in Cambodia:

McDonald's does not enter a country to cater to the whims of residing or visiting westerners, but enters a market when there is sufficient local interest and ability to purchase the product. I've been in many McDonald's in Thailand as well as China, Malaysia, and Hong Kong and almost all the customers are locals and not westerners.

Soap box time. I have a real problem with people who start ripping out their hair over the presence of McDonald's in a given foreign country. The restaurant is very popular around the world and that someone thinks McDonald's shouldn't be in Cambodia because they don't like the food or more likely feel that McDonald's somehow symbolizes the evils of western culture and how dare they invade poor little Cambodia with their cultural pollution wrecking the social fabric of these poor little impressionable Cambodians is quite a patronizing attitude if there ever was one. If Cambodians want to enjoy McDonald's then they have every right to enjoy it and don't need some westerner telling them what is and isn't right for them. Cambodia is for the Cambodians and they can decide for themselves whether or not they want a McDonald's.

If the presence of a McDonald's somehow disturbs some westerner's idea of what Cambodia should look like, well, that's a personal problem to work out. If you don't like it, you're welcome to go to any of the numerous privately owned bars or restaurants in Cambodia, order a beer and complain to whoever will listen, never mind said bar or restaurant is probably going to be western-owned and themed. If a McDonald's should appear in Cambodia I suggest you complain not to McDonald's or your local bartender but to the local Cambodian government that issued them the business license. However, don't be too surprised if the person on the other side laughs at you and tells you to get lost as he turns around to take a bite out of his Big Mac.

Bring on the Big Macs, baby!

Open skies my #$&!

Here's another one from the Daily: Prime Minister Hun Sen on Tuesday applauded himself for developing Cambodia's "open skies policy." In theory the Open Skies policy says that any carrier can fly into either Cambodia international airport from anywhere, but in practice means you can only fly into Siem Reap only if you're coming from somewhere not too popular as the two most popular routes, Bangkok to Siem Reap and Saigon to Siem Reap are monopolized by Bangkok Airways and Vietnam Air respectively, who pay a "royalty" to maintain exclusive rights to these routes. So much for open skies, which is sort of the point of this story.

Several quotes from the ever quotable PM included: "I did a good open skies policy. Don't be too quick to [judge] the government's policy," and: "One million tourists give jobs to 2.5 million Cambodians. Even elephants have jobs." Which is true, at least the part about the elephants. The PM also added that Siem Reap must be supported by cultural tourism, "no sex or environmental tourism." Okay, I can understand the sex tourism bit, Siem Reap has always kept the lid on that, but environmental tourism? What's that supposed to mean? Don't see the flooded forests of the lake? Or is it an admission that Siem Reap really doesn't have much environmental tourism to offer in the first place, so why bother?

In any event, while there's no doubt that Siem Reap has boomed and direct flights have helped, it's a real stretch to call this policy Open Skies and pat yourself on the back for it. Okay, we have the direct flights to Siem Reap, but has anyone in the government ever actually sat down and asked how many tourists did not come to Siem Reap due to the outrageously high airfares charged by the carriers monopolizing the two most popular routes? And do we then mention how many more are lost due to whoever has the interest in keeping the road between Siem Reap and the Thai border in such disorder?

Break the monopoly on flights from Thailand and Vietnam and put together a proper road and then you all can pat yourselves on the back all you want.

Speaking of air travel, I unfortunately missed the bit in the Daily this month from the director of SCA, the 70% French-owned outfit that runs the airports and everyone loves to hate, but apparently he wanted the world to know that they only run the airport under policies set by the government and that most notably the ridiculous $25 the Cambodia government charges to leave is entirely the doings of the government and not SCA. Fair enough, but can we still get some baggage trolleys in the domestic terminal of the airport? And why are you still one of the only airports on the planet that charges people just to drive in and drop someone off? And, why after all the expansion, is Siem Reap airport still a disaster if two full planes land at the same time? And why is there a taxi mafia more interested in carting tourists off to commission-paying hotels and not taking them where they want to go?

Actually, truth be known, as much as I take shots at SCA, I imagine the answers to some of these questions probably are out of their hands and perhaps there isn't a day when the SCA director doesn't throw up his hands and say, "why am I bothering with this nonsense?!?" Problem is, tourists and residents alike are also saying the same things about the airports.

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Crime alert

I got this alert from a friend in Phnom Penh. Seems there have been a number of recent incidents of motodrivers taking off with tourists' bags, not pillion riders swiping a shoulder bag from another bike, but the actual motodriver discharging a passenger and then tearing off with the passengers bag still between his legs. Haven't heard of this happening in Siem Reap yet, but this is probably another good reason to book ahead and get a guaranteed pick-up from somewhere or at least position yourself in such a way to prevent a driver from disappearing with your stuff.

Second crime alert:

As I was finishing up this column I received the following text message from a friend of mine:

Fucking poipet... Kids just grabbed my passport and 100 usd. Police had my passport back in ten minutes for 20 usd...

I wonder how much of the $100 the police got, too? I've always alerted people to be careful about the kids there and never held the patience for people who think I was wrong when I once decked a kid for grabbing at me. The tragic thing is, the ten year old kids pick-pocketing tourists now probably have a very good chance of being in one of two situations when they hit eighteen: Prison or dead.

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Sokimex reminder

Seeing as this rumor won't go away - I had several guests this past month ask me if it was true, I'd like once again to remind people just what it is and isn't that Sokimex does out at the temples. If you've read this before feel free to jump ahead (or out, we're almost finished for this month):

Q: Who owns the Angkor temples?

A: The temples are the property of the Cambodian people.

Q: Who takes care of the Angkor temples?

A: Restoration, preservation, and maintenance of the temples and the Angkor Park grounds is 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.

Q: Who gets the money?

A: 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 expats, moto and taxi drivers, Sokimex is a Cambodian corporation and the brothers Sok (a rather common Cambodian surname) who own the company would be most insulted if you insinuated they were not Cambodian. Sure, there's some Vietnamese investment, the corporation does have origins there as they came out in parallel with the CPP, but foreign investment in Cambodia-based business is hardly a news story.

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 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.

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New on toa for January

Not much this month... you should see the backlog of contributions I have. Anyway, for what it's worth, the following graced the pages of toa in January:

January 20: Cambodia Overland. Updated the Bangkok to Siem Reap section.
January 19
: Phnom Penh Perspective by Bronwyn Sloan: Phnom Penh Plumbing
January 16: Readers' Submissions: Antonio Graceffo offers Micro Credit : Small business loans in Cambodia. Ronnie Yimsut brings us his latest experience on being an Overseas Khmer visiting his homeland in Overseas Khmer Perspectives. And Philip Coggan takes a walk in Myanmar in Walking to the Lake.


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