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Previous updates...

Police watch, Khmer script, Poipet airport, Tourism numbers, celebs

Profiling, guesthouse 7, news run down

Hospitals, taxing fun, staff issues, moto bans

Accidents, one million, Koh Ker, tax department, McDonald's

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

Angkor tickets, tourist buses, full moon, guesthouse

Every Cambodia Update: August 2001 to the present

.Cambodia Update

June 2005

1.) The joys of life
2.) Angkor tickets one
3.) Angkor tickets two
4.) Four million for Ratanakiri
5.) Another dark heart
6.) Preah Vihear
7.) Khmer software
8.) Tonle Sap canal
9.) The guesthouse saga part 9
10.) New on toa for May


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).

The joys of life

I'm afraid I'm not going to have much to say about Cambodia this month other than a quick run through some news items as life has presented far more important matters than the latest Poipet scams, the incompetence of SCA, and whether cows need tickets to wander around Angkor. The big day finally came and at 6:21 a.m. on May 25 at BNH Hospital in Bangkok, Thailand, Piyapat Matthew Sharpless, our firstborn, emerged from his mother, opened his eyes, saw his father's face and let out a wail. Neither one of us have been the same since.

The three of us are all doing great and adjusting to our new roles as parents and child. I've been a stay-at-home dad remaining in Bangkok to help the missus and do my part with the feeding and diapers and cleaning and things. Parts of this column were written one-handed as my other held steady my new son resting in my lap.

Plenty of photos here: http://talesofasia.com/matthew.htm for those interested in seeeing the new addition to the toa/two dragons family.

And for those with an interest in the state of childbirth in this part of the world, I will post in a few days a mostly favorable review of our experience with BNH Hospital and its staff. You'll have to look in the Thailand section of the website, though.

Angkor tickets one

Effective the beginning of this month, the Apsara Authority planned to hike the cost of Angkor passes by three dollars, with the justification that this price increase will be used to cover the cost of a free guidebook to be handed out to all tourists. Almost without exception, other agencies (Ministry of Tourism), businesses (Sokimex, travel agencies, tour operators), and individuals (tourists) have come out in opposition to this plan, and why not?

1.) The Apsara Aurthority would like us to believe that the $3 increase is for a free guidebook. Does this sound like a free guidebook? Sounds like a mandatory $3 purchase of a guidebook.

2.) The guidebook is totally unnecessary. There are already free guidebooks produced in the private sector that don't cost $3, numerous books for sale that cover Cambodia from almost every conceivable angle, and plenty of internet resources as well.

3.) The guidebook is only in English. More than half of the visitors to Angkor aren't even western, let alone native speakers of English. Very useful to the Korean and Japanese crowds. I'm sure they'll appreciate the free for $3 book they can't read, and I would think some might even see this as a bit insulting. Imagine being a westerner visiting the Great Pyramids of Egypt and being handed a free for $3 guidebook written in Japanese?

4.) The book was promoted by the Apsara Authority as necessary for it would include useful information for the would-be investor in Cambodia. Somehow I find it difficult to accept that a group of middle-aged Japanese housewives or some backpackers fresh off Khao San Road are looking to make a half million dollar investment in Cambodia. And even if someone were, methinks it's going to take a lot more than a free for $3 guidebook handed out at the entrance to a tourist attraction to clinch the deal. "Look Martha, this book done say Cambodia's a right proper place to drop a few hundred grand. Let's build ourselves a hotel!"

5.) The Apsara Authority has the arrogance to say that the price increase is no big deal, tourists are rich and can pay it. Nice way to think, guys. Same mentality that gives us $25 departure taxes, $20 visas on arrival that have nothing to do with controlling who gets in the country or for how long, and the general perpetuation that tourists are not human but inanimate entities to be gouged at every possible chance. Keep going to that well guys and one day it's going to be dry... and I bet you'll be first in line to say "Please help us, we're a poor country."

6.) Curiously, the guidebook was not made available for advance public view, but it's out now. It is indeed about 50% investment guide with the other half comprised of general information on the country available just about everywhere, and some rather superficial information on the temples that is less comprehensive than that available from numerous other sources. And the clincher is that it's about the size of an A4 sheet of paper and weighs roughly a kilogram. Real handy for dropping in one's pocket. Methinks paper recyclers are going to do a brisk business by camping out at whatever garbage receptacle is nearest to the ticket booth.

In any event, there has been a slight reprieve. The Apsara Authority has delayed the implementation of the price increase citing "technical difficulties", but are handing out the book anyway. Use your imagination as to what these difficulties are.

Unfortunately, I've heard a few tourists comment that it really is no big deal, and in the big scheme of things $3 really isn't, which is precisely why the Apsara Authority can get away with it, but we're not talking about $3 to take care of the temples, we're talking about $3 for an unneccesary guidebook which tourists should not be forced into purchasing.

It's a bit of cliche, I know, to say it's not the money it's the principle. Therefore, rather than looking at the $3 you'll pay, why not look at it as the $1.5 million they'll get? Suddenly the money isn't so small now, is it?

Despite petitions and protests we'll probbaly be stuck with this thing for awhile. The books are printed, someone has an SUV to pay for, face must be saved.

What a stinker.

There has been an on-going discussion since May 14 here:

Angkor tickets two

The Sokimex deal comes due in August. While it will probably be a slam dunk for Sokimex to get another five years to control the ticketing, at least there will be some attempt to pull the concession away. According to a Phnom Penh Post report, Eurasie Travel is going to put in a bid for the contract with their offer of taking a maximum of 10% of the revenue, which is less than what Sokimex receives under the present deal (roughly 20% according to recent reports). Sok Meng, who heads Sokimex expressed no concern over the competition, stating that Eurasie didn't have the cash to build the necessary infrastructure to run the concession, anyway. Curiously, Sokimex had planned to offer a proposal to take over ticketing rights to six remote northwest temples but backed away when competition set in.

Hopefully some other firms will jump into the fray, but regardless of who sells the tickets it's unlikely that anyone will notice a difference, as most of what tourists complain about are policies set by the government and not by Sokimex. Sokimex has always sold the tickets per government directive, though the arrangement does make for some easy excuses: Ask Sokimex about a policy and they'll tell you it's a government problem, ask the government about a policy and they'll tell you it's a Sokimex problem. And who said merry-go-rounds were just for kids?

Discuss this story here:

Four million for Ratanakiri

The old cattle shed and flat patch of dirt that makes up the Ratanakiri airport is due for an upgrade, a $4 million one courtesy the Asian Development Bank. They expect to start by the end of 2006 and finish the thing in 2007 at which point they intend to accept flights from Vietnam, China, and Siem Reap. I'm not quite sure how a new airport will suddenly make it possible to have flights from Siem Reap, as nothing is stopping them now except for a lack of interest. Whatever, Ratanakiri is set to join the ranks of international airports.

This would, depending on what happens with the Sihanoukville airport, be either Cambodia's third or fourth international airport. We therefore can expect the crappy French company, SCA, le de du societe du de plu vu I have peanut butter stuck in my teeth concess a du le aire c'est la vie bonjour du aero le port to put in a bid to run the thing. Will they charge the cows to walk across the airstrip? Perhaps employ the cows as luggage porters? Not a bad idea seeing as you can't find a trolley half the time anyway. Where's Sokimex when you need them?

Discuss this story here:

Another dark heart

This one is directly off my discussion forum, posted May 31 by KG:

In yet another violent incident at the Heart of Darkness yesterday, the wife of an Australian government worker was beaten about the head and face by a Cambodian customer for accidentally bumping into somebody on the dance floor. The culprit, of course, got away.

Unlike the vast majority of foreigner-oriented clubs and bars, violence at the Heart of Darkness has become a regular occurrence. Gun play by Cambodian customers and yama-inspired brawls by foreigners are now the norm at the Heart. A gun was pulled on the DJ just a few weeks back because he refused to play a customer's CD. An aid worker received a concussion after being assaulted with a bottle last November. The have been several incidents of guns being discharged into the ceiling and floor over the past couple of years, and last year a tourist was shot in the leg. Stories of violence at the Heart have become commonplace.

Despite weak protestations by staff at the Heart ("We don't know what happened because there were too many people. I haven't seen (the perpetrator) for a while...security is good..."), security at the Heart is not just non-existent, it is an out and out lie. The security guards search foreigners for guns at the door, but ignore young Cambodians who are in fact the ones carrying the guns. Security people at the Heart have told me privately that they are afraid to search the Cambodians, which is understandable, but it doesn't change the fact that by putting on a show of searching foreigners while at the same time knowingly allowing armed Cambodians inside, they are trying to create a false sense of security for tourists and others who don't know better. Unfortunately (or perhaps fortunately) the lie is being made apparent as more and more people are assaulted and injured at the Heart.

Nowadays Cambodia is a relatively safe tourist destination. There was a time when it wasn't - when the sound of gunshots were common and kidnapping by the Khmer Rouge was a real threat. Those days are long gone. But for tourists who didn't get a chance to experience those edgy early days of Cambodian tourism, and still wants to know what it feels like to put their lives at risk in Cambodia, the Heart affords them that opportunity.

I've been cautioning people against the Heart for years and this is one more reaffirmation as to why you should not set foot in this place. These are not one-off events that could happen anywhere, but a pattern of repeated incidents of violence which no one seems willing to do something about. Maybe they can't, but whether they can or cannot, that doesn't change the fact that the Heart of Darkness is not safe and should be avoided. There are plenty of places to drink and dance, one doesn't need a has-been of a club that lost its character years ago. It long ago stopped being the bar you read about in guidebooks.

This posting originates from: http://www.talesofasia.com/forum/viewtopic.php?t=2771. There has also been discussion on the Heart of Darkness here: http://www.talesofasia.com/forum/viewtopic.php?t=2624.

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Preah Vihear

Two bits about the famous temple atop Dangrek. First of all, it's closed... or maybe it's open. Depends on what day it is and whose turn it is to take out the garbage. Thailand and Cambodia had their 41,319th squabble about it. What the squabble was about and why is at this point irrelevent. Both sides blame the other and like most spats between the two, everyone carries on like little children, anyway. Each side has their own version of events and I don't believe any of them about anything they say anymore where Preah Vihear is concerned.

The only thing I'll say about Preah Vihear is the Thais need to give it up once and for all and if it is well and truly such a national Khmer treasure, then maybe it's high time the Cambodians started taking better care of it. 'Nuff said.

The second bit is that Kham Someth Co Ltd, the good folks who built the road to Koh Ker, plan to spend $20 million to extend that road another 92-kilometers to Preah Vihear and have stated that the latest round of tensions have not altered their plans. And why should it? If they can build the road to the temple, then Thailand can whinge all it wants about the temple and it won't matter, because maybe then we'll finally have proper and lasting access to this temple from the Cambodia side. As usual, to get something done here, there has to be a profit in it for somebody.

Discuss this story here:

Khmer language software

As I included a bit last month on Khmer fonts and computers, I though I'd pass along this item which appeared on the http://www.camnet.com.kh/akp/english_news.htm:

     The National Information Communications Technology Development Authority anticipates that the entire government will be using Khmer-language software applications based on freely available Open Source code by the end of 2005, NIDA Deputy Secretary General Noy Shoung said Thursday. Open Office applications with Khmer menus and an e-mail program called Moyura are already being used in the ministries of education and labor and in 14 provincial government offices, he said. A draft plan for designing a Khmer-language font, pending approval, calls for the government of switch from Microsoft Windows and office applications to Linux and OpenOffice. Accession to the World Trade Organization has prompted the move to free software and Linux because the government will soon be bound to comply by international intellectual property regulations. "Basic proprietary software for each computer costs in excess of twice the annual average per capita income in our country", the Open Source draft plan states. The government is also developing the software so non-English speakers can access the Internet and use computers. A keyboard in Khmer is not yet available. The software has been developed with the cooperation of local NGO Open Forum of Cambodia. —AKP

I don't really have anything to add, it just seemed appropriate in light of last month's column to pass this along.

The original Update item and discussion appears here: http://www.talesofasia.com/forum/viewtopic.php?t=2650

Tonle Sap canal

It seems the Ministry of Public Works and Transport has some big ideas for Siem Reap. They're asking the Mekong River Commission for a whopping $10 million to build a canal from Chong Khneas (the port near Siem Reap) 106 km out across the lake towards Phnom Penh. It would be 60 meters wide and 2 meters deep. The Cambodia Dialy quoted the director general of Phnom Penh port as saying it was a necessary project because the speedboats had problems getting through during the dry season. "The canal is necessary for boat business and for fish stock in the lake", he said. "It is time to dig a canal". Additional plans call for the ADB to produce $30 million for the development of the Chong Khneas port.

Hmmm.... Am I to believe that the speedboat operators honestly see their service continuing for years to come? It's becoming more and more accepted that the speedboat service between Siem Reap and Phnom Penh is nothing more than an over-priced tourist rip-off offering a service that's a throwback to 1996 when it really was the only way to travel. Here today we have a good road and good bus companies charging a fraction of what the boats charge.

Development of the Chong Khneas port for commercial purposes such as facilitating the movement of cargo, improving the fishing industry, etc are worthwhile reasons, but if the primary motivation for spending millions on a canal and port improvements is to benefit a handful of greedy boat operators offering a superfluous and overpriced service, well then, I have a free guidebook to sell you.

Discuss this story here:

The guesthouse saga part 9

I popped in for a few days in mid-May glad to find the building was still in one bit, the staff all present and accounted for, the bills paid, the money collected, and judging by the e-mails I've been receiving, the customers happy. Not that there have been a lot of them. For May our occupancy rate was slightly less than half what it was in February, and a smidgen lower than April. Thus is low season and everyone suffers through it. For what it's worth we never zeroed, but there were a couple of nights we had only one room in. Conversely we were full a couple of times, too.

During my first absence the inspectors of the "no guns, etc" fame returned and complained that I was a bad man because I didn't put the signs up in Khmer, too. Excuse me, you never informed us to put them in Khmer, too. Well, I'm bad because I should've just assumed I needed a Khmer version for all the Khmer reading westerners that visit our place. The English part of the signs remains as it was, but we added in Khmer whatever it is the signs are supposed to say. For all I know the signs say, "the owner is a pinhead," but if it makes the inspector's happy, then I'm happy to oblige.

The only major issue that developed (that I'm aware of!), and luckily happened while I was there, was a major plumbing problem plaguing the front of the guesthouse. Fortunately only one guestroom is affected as the other rooms are used for staff, storage, etc, but regardless, we have a bit of a drainage problem. I had to leave the conclusion of the problem to the staff (something about a baby coming) after I made sure the plumbers were on the job. When I later contacted my manager for a status report, I got a rather vague, "job not finished yet, have problem, still working." I decided for the preservation of my sanity not to pursue the matter until I return next week for staff vagueness can be attributed to any of many possibilities which in this case might include: 1, She really doesn't know what's going on and wants to wait until I can see for myself. 2, She knows exactly what's going on but it's a big deal and would rather let me come back and see for myself and blow up at somebody else that happens to be standing nearby. 3, the problem is that the plumbers took a holiday and haven't been able to get back to finish the job but when they do it will be done in an instant and there's nothing to worry about. I'm sure there are other possible scenarios as well... maybe when I text messaged she was at the market and more interested in buying pineapples than explaining to me why our pipes were backed up... or maybe they called in the eels and were afraid to tell me?

Check us out here.

Discuss this story here:

New on toa for May

With the impending and subsequent birth of Matthew, my own attention to the site was minimal this month, but the following still managed to grace the pages of toa in May:

May 30: Sydney resident Matt Kemp's View from Oz returns with: Perth, The Gold Coast, Sydney Scams.
May 30: Matt Kemp updates the Entertainment section of his toa Guide to Sydney with some more food and drink recommendations.
May 21: Phnom Penh Perspective: Bronwyn Sloan returns with A Matter of Perspective.
May 15: Jim California 2 Corner takes us to Thailand with 7 days, 1100 Ks - Koh Chang and east Thailand beaches.
May 15 : Readers' Submissions: Cambodia: Lay Vicheka writes: Democratic Kampuchea: An irresponsible government.
May 14: Cambodia Overland: Updated the Bangkok to Siem Reap section.
May 7:
Updated the Business Listings section.
May 7
: Readers' Submissions: Thailand: S. Stampfli offers Northeast to Khorat.
May 4: Readers' Submissions: Cambodia: From Ronnie Yimsut: Cambodia, a new battlefield.


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