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Every Cambodia Update: August 2001 to the present

.Cambodia Update

November 2004

1.) When a bus ticket is not a bus ticket
2.) The new Minister of Tourism speaks
3.) The monopoly
4.) The guesthouse saga part 2
5.) A new king
6.) Traffic lesson of the month
7.) Siem Reap bars and more
8.) Way to Phnom Penh
9.) Martini's mk III
10.) Website of the month
11.) New on toa for October


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).

When a bus ticket is not a bus ticket

For about four years now it's been possible to buy a bus ticket from a travel agency on Bangkok's Khao San Road offering transport all the way to Siem Reap. Originally it was nothing more than a few delays, a long visit at a restaurant in Sisophon, and a few minor guesthouse dances. Then the companies entered into a price war, resulting in ticket prices plummeting to as low as a ridiculous 80 baht (about $2 US dollars) for the 450-kilometer journey. To make up for the loss generated by such a nonsensical price, the operators began cooking up a wide variety of scams: overcharging for visas, more restaurant stops, upping the bounty on the heads of the tourists sold to guesthouses, etc and the service became known as the "Scam Ticket". Then in the beginning of 2004, the police in Poipet decided they wanted their cut and the bus ticket prices were pushed back up to the 300 to 600-baht range ($7.50 - $15.00). And with the higher prices we have not seen an improvement in service, but here today, in November 2004, we are now seeing a service that has more scams, more hassles, and more unhappy customers than anytime in the past.

I received the following letter this past month:

We travelled on the 7th October. We bought our tickets from an agent just off the Khaosan Road who assured us we would go via Poipet - luxury coach/air con minibus.

We were taken to a border crossing that our guest house owner thinks must be a new one just opened - we have the word DAUNG as place of entry stamped on our visa. [Gordon here: I can confirm that this is the border crossing near Pailin, considerably south of Poipet and most certainly not a direct route to Siem Reap.]

There are two things to beware of - first the very helpful man who meets you TELLS you to give him your passport and a photo for your visa - he is with one of the immigration officials as you go into the Cambodian side so it all looks official - he doesn't offer assistance with the visa, or explain that there will be a charge. We didn't fall for this one, having already read very helpful advice on your site. We said we would do our own visas, and we did - this made us very unpopular with him from then on.

The visa cost us 1200 baht, not negotiable with the guys preparing the visas, they just shut the window and refused to open it until the could see the 2500 baht being waved at them.

We were then escorted (herded) down the road - very dismal dirty place - to an office belonging to a company called Khaosan Travel Connections. Here all the people who had let him do their visa were charged between 1300 - 1700 baht per person for the visa and his service. There was no minibus - a pickup was waiting. He told us that the road was too bad for a minibus to get through - this part at least was true.

The first 15 people were put onto that pickup, which at least had a bench seat in it. They set off. The rest of us - the bad girls and boys who either had their visa before they arrived or sorted themselves out - we had to wait a further one and half hours before our pick up turned up - it was 3.30 by the time we set off. The pick up had 6 plus driver inside the cab and nine of us plus all the bags in the back. We had to sit up on the edge of the back and hold on for dear life as the truck jolted along a very poor and sometimes incredible muddy track.

We arrived in Siem Reap at 11.30 at night, to be taken to the usual "we will take you to a guest house we recommend to save you the hassle of finding one so late at night". We had already booked ours so we just got in a tuk-tuk and went away.

The main thing is that having tried to assure ourselves we were going via Poipet, we didn't and the journey in the pick-up is agony.

It seems that there are buses leaving from the Khaosan Road area at 7 am and 7.30 am - we went on the 7 am bus and some people we met later who were on the 7.30 bus did go via Poipet. This might be a red herring but someone might like to test it and let the rest of us know.

My friend and I were advised to go to the tourist police by the owner of the guesthouse where we are staying. We did this two days ago and they treated our complaint very seriously. Not only did they take a statement for their own use but a separate one for the "corruption police" too.

Apparently the people behind Khaosan Connection Travel are well known to the police as they have been scamming and moving on for a number of years.

Some more people staying at our guesthouse also came down the same way. They also reported the problem to the tourist police.

Last night we were all invited to headquarters where we were each presented with 200 baht in compensation and assured that Khaosan Connection Travel had been told to stop ripping tourists off. While I think this was largely a PR exercise on the part of the Tourist Police, it does show that they are concerned about people who come to their country.

I would urge everyone who gets taken to this border and ripped off by Khaosan Connection Travel to go to the Siem Reap Tourist Police. If they continue to receive these reports, they will realise how much it is happening. I know some people are on a tight schedule of temple cramming when they come to Siem Reap, but if you can spare an hour to report your problems, it will help other fellow travellers. They are particularly keen to know about pressure put on people by local guest house owners when arriving in town.

So what are we to make of this? Do we chastise the backpackers who are so naive or at least uninformed as to purchase a bus ticket on Khao San Road? Do we rant and rave about the incompetence of Cambodian businesses and how their selfishness is damaging the nation's tourism industry as a whole? Do we lay blame on the Bangkok travel agencies selling the tickets? Do we go after the Cambodian government for allowing these shenanigans to continue?

Conversely, do we throw up our hands and say "well, that's how things are, take it or leave it"?

Some thoughts on the matter:

1.) Chastise the backpackers who are so naive or at least uninformed as to purchase a bus ticket on Khao San Road.

For those who live on either side of the border or who have a reasonable amount of travel experience in the region, it's pretty much a given that under no circumstances do you ever purchase bus tickets to ANY destination from a travel agent on Khao San Road. However, a less experienced traveler, err can I say tourist?, is all too easily enticed by agent after agent selling bus tickets to anyplace you'd want to go, mostly domestic, but to Cambodia, Malaysia, Laos, and even Singapore as well. And with so many staying on or around Khao San Road, you have to concede that the purchasing is convenient, even if the subsequent transportation is not, but few know that at this point. What they do know is buying the ticket is easy and cheap and rarely does the purchaser of said ticket ever wonder why it is so cheap or what it is the Thais do for transport because you certainly don't see them buying bus tickets anywhere on Khao San Road.

Having been writing this site for four years and conversing with travelers in the region for seven it's become well obvious how little research and preparation some do prior to traveling. Once on a Koh Kong to Phnom Penh van I was chatting with some tourists about Cambodia, "What's there to see in Cambodia?" they asked.
"Well, obviously you'll start with Angkor Wat."
"Angkor Wat. What's that?" was their answer.
Needless to say there wasn't much else they knew about the country they were already traveling in. And if I were so inclined to fill their heads with stories of Khmer Rouge kidnappings, armed robberies, extortion rackets, etc they'd probably have believed me. And if I owned a guesthouse, well actually I do, I could probably have told them the same crap thereby almost guaranteeing that they stay in every night and eat all my food and drink all my beer. Sad reality is there are guesthouses dishing out this garbage and tourists readily believing it.

Yes, there once was a time when one could set off to Asia without the benefit of a guidebook, the internet, or much of anything but a map, a little history, and some knowledge of what a few of the popular tourist attractions might be along the way. But that was before the advent of mass tourism. Backpacking, or in the sense of the romanticism surrounding it that has evolved over the years, is by and large a myth. A tourist is a tourist whether you're staying in dollar a night dorms or thousand dollar a night luxury suites. And with tourism so well developed in this region, traveling without benefit of advance research via guidebooks, the internet, etc is foolish. Thirty years ago you were less likely to be scammed because few took the time to cook up scams because there were so few available marks. Now, with a million visitors a year to Cambodia, twelve, thirteen times that to Thailand, there are plenty of opportunities to rip people off and not surprisingly people come out of the woodwork and get to it.

I'd always hoped that over time continued publicity of the problems with purchasing bus tickets on Khao San Road would lead to a reduction, if not (in times of gross optimism) elimination, of these services, but that hasn't been the case. Whether it's a backpacker van to Chiang Mai, a "VIP" bus to Surat Thani, or the scam bus to Siem Reap, these privately run services continue to flourish and continue to provide headaches and worse for the people who use them.

Moral of the story: Do your homework. Ultimately you are responsible for yourself. In too many instances, those who get ripped-off were done in because of their own tacit approval. Information on a myriad of pitfalls is out there for anyone who cares to look.

2.) The incompetence and selfishness of Cambodian businesses is damaging the nation's tourism industry as a whole.

Well, sort of. Kind of a loaded question, really. Damaging? Yes, to a point. But sweeping indictments of Cambodian business practices are neither accurate nor productive. I've encountered plenty of honest Khmer business owners in Siem Reap who have no more affection for these clowns then the rest of us.
"They disgust me."
"They give my country a bad name."
"I am Cambodian, I have to deal with these people. But I don't like it."
"Someday we will improve."

The folks running these bus operations approach guesthouse owners with the ever so generous offer that they will bring in the cattle and for every head they drop off, whether the customer stays or not, the guesthouse pays $7 (it used to be $6). And they ensure payment because the guesthouse puts up a $1000 deposit and the balance is worked off through delivery of the cargo. I know a Khmer guesthouse owner who got himself trapped into this mess. He rues the day he ever forked over the deposit. "They come late at night, half the people leave, they say to me, 'why you do this, try to make us stay like this. Why can't you just let us go where we want?' It gives my guesthouse a bad name. I not happy." He won't be paying another thousand dollar deposit.

It was once worse. In the earlier days of this marketing program we heard stories of guesthouses locking the gates and not letting people leave. Then some disgruntled tourists made a point of visiting the police the following morning and a guesthouse was fined $2000 and threatened with closure if it ever happened again.

Other than selling the tickets and providing transport to the border, the Khao San Road to Siem Reap tourist bus is a Cambodian operation. And while it should not be seen as indicative of Cambodia business as a whole, I would agree that it doesn't do the country any favors because it's part and parcel to a visitor's first impression of Cambodia, which in this case is to be hassled and ripped-off. Welcome to Cambodia, please bend over.

I'm of the opinion that no matter how bad the border and bus scams are, if someone is intent on coming to Cambodia, they will come regardless of the situation. But, and this is a big but, what people too often forget is that there are an awful lot of people straddling the fence as to whether they want to visit Cambodia or not.

Scenario: Tourist visits Siem Reap, has a great time at Angkor despite being totally ripped-off on the bus ticket, returns to Khao San Road and hangs out at a cafe with a couple of other tourists who have not been to Cambodia.
"Oh," one tourist says, "we have a week left on our holiday but haven't made up our minds. A week in Cambodia or a trip to the southern islands."
So the tourist fresh back from Siem Reap tells them yeah, Angkor Wat was cool but the border and the bus ticket were a nightmare (and probably not realizing that the Khao San Road bus ticket is most certainly not the only way to Siem Reap by land). Details of the trip are offered over a beer and the other couple looks at each other and, "the southern islands it is" and they're off to Samui. This happens a lot.

3.) Do we lay blame on the Bangkok travel agencies selling the tickets?

The awareness and degree of participation on the part of the agents in Bangkok varies from agency to agency. Many have some idea that the tickets are basically nonsense as they've heard the complaints and the questions from potential buyers, "so is this scam ticket I've heard about?" and I've found from conversations that some, if pressed, will concede that the service is garbage, but sell the tickets anyway, "If we don't someone else will." Others will gladly play dumb. More often the case is along the lines of, "what do I care, this is to Cambodia."

Still, there are others who are certainly more than willing participants, as once when I was polling agents for prices, a couple of them quoted a higher price for Thais! There's an unusual twist! And also another warning flag as to why no one should buy these tickets... hmm... they're trying to keep Thais off the bus. Why is that?

There was a time, however, when the complaints first started rolling in, that several KSR agents did stop selling the tickets and though it's been some time since I last polled agents there, I do recall that some would not sell the tickets because the hassles involved weren't worth the meager commissions.

4.) Do we go after the Cambodian government for allowing these shenanigans to continue?

Well, governments around the world are always fair game, but recent interviews with the new Minister of Tourism (see below) indicate that at the very least there is lip service to this problem. And as the above letter indicates and that one guesthouse in Siem Reap was nailed with a $2000 fine for locking in guests, it would seem that the government is not amused by these actions and how they affect Cambodia's image. Whether they can or are even willing to take further steps to do something about it remains to be seen.

5.) Do we throw up our hands and say "well, that's how things are, take it or leave it"?

Ah, the apologist. Certainly a good coping mechanism for the apparent insanity of living here but not very productive to initiating change. It's a tough call, where you draw the line between accepting the status quo or trying to promote change. Move too far to acceptance of things and run the risk of becoming too complacent, spend too much time trying to change things and become frustrated and exhausted.

Meanwhile, tourists will continue en masse scooping up dodgy bus tickets on Khao San Road and complaining about it later. Given the prices some of these tickets are sold for there's not a whole lot of justification for some of the grumbling. Here, there, or anywhere, you get what you pay for, but what the reader describes above is pure unadulterated nonsense.

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The new Minister of Tourism speaks

With a new government comes new ministers, or Your Excellencies as they are also known. The Ministry of Tourism, not known for being one of Cambodia's better run ministries, "couldn't organize an orgy in a brothel" said one long term expat journo, has a vibrant new personality running things now in Lay Prohas. Both the Bayon Pearnik and the Phnom Penh Post got in to see him recently, and I'd like to do the same next time I'm in Phnom Penh for longer than a day and depending on how much stock you place on his words, and I'll emphasize the "you", as there's not full agreement on what the capabilities are of the government here, there may be cause for some optimism.

On the up side, Lay Prohas has shown little amusement for a number of problems that have plagued tourists in this region for years, not the least of which is the guesthouses purchasing customers from the Khao San Road buses as well as the overcharging of tourist visas at land border crossings, the state of the road between Siem Reap and Poipet, and the illegal fees levied by police officers at certain tourist attractions. He was quoted in the Bayon Pearnik, “Being new in the job I was unaware of many of these problems. This is very bad for Cambodia and will have to be looked into very quickly.”

The Bayon Pearnik, ever the cynics, are certainly giving the man a chance:

Lay Prahas seemed friendly and affable but was very stern on problems within the tourism industry. He said he enjoyed tackling these problems as it was important for the country as a whole as tourism is the fastest developing sector. Who knows he may prove to be a real go getter. Only time will tell.

Lay Prohas has made a point to visit every province in the country to study what attractions can be promoted, how the ministry can work with the local governments; he has stressed the importance of a co-operative effort between the national and provincial governments, and to learn what problems exist in the respective areas.

If I may call one point to attention, Lay Prohas was quoted in the Phnom Penh Post, "One million tourists will visit Cambodia this year and if they spend an average of $1,000 each, that's $1 billion injected into the economy..." I hope the government doesn't make projections based on this figure because there are a few hundred thousand tourists who are most certainly not spending $1,000 each and in many cases aren't spending much more than even a hundred or two.

Tourist expenditures or not, there's been a changing of the guard at the Ministry, and the initial indications are we have a minister set on change for the better. I say give the man a chance.

Discuss this story and the following item here:

The monopoly

Also this past month, the Phnom Penh Post interviewed Mao Havanall, Secretary of State for Civil Aviation. One question of particular interest to me which they asked was:

"Routes were supposed to be deregulated under the government's "open skies" policy, but the Siem Reap-Bangkok route is said to be a sweetheart arrangement favouring two airlines."

The answer was a bit of a cop out if I say so myself:

"The government has allowed just two companies on that route. Bangkok Air/Siem Reap Air and Royal Air Cambodge (which ceased operating three years ago as the government's national carrier). That was a government decision, not Civil Aviation's. I don't know why."

According to the story, cabinet chief Him Sarun said direct flights to Siem Reap were permitted from anywhere by anyone subject to regulatory and technical requirements. He admitted however that Bangkok Air/Siem Reap Air were required to make a royalty payment per flight in return for exclusivity on the Bangkok route. We knew this already but it was nice to see a confirmation in print.

So the Civil Aviation Administration claims to be no more knowledgeable than anyone else on this matter. So I ask the question again, in light of the above quotes and the rapid failure of the Hun Sen family airline, just exactly who is in charge of the aviation industry here?


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Siem Reap
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The guesthouse saga part 2

We've had a full month of operations with the Two Dragons Guesthouse, offering up a few surprises, but nothing too dramatic, fortunately.

Of five brand new hot water heaters we purchased, three have broken already. But one thing I've learned is that while most everything is imported here, much from Thailand or Malaysia, the quality of what is imported is often crap. I imagine at the Panasonic water heater factory in Malaysia some inspector finding a number of units not up to snuff, makes a stamp here and a signature there and they are off to Cambodia. And warranties? That's a good one. Actually, there is one shop in Siem Reap that sells appliances and other electronic goods, a Sharp outlet, that puts one-year warranties on all items and both our refrigerator and washing machine came from them, but they are otherwise the exception.

There's been some sloppiness in the labor, but it's important to keep in mind the old adage that you get what you pay for, and when what is essentially unskilled labor working for $2 a day, that's what you are going to get. Most of the small businesses here are put together on tight budgets and the inevitable result is some things aren't going to be quite right. If you weren't a handyman when you started you will before long. I've learned more about plumbing in two months then I had learned in the previous twenty years. But more importantly, while things sometimes break, work incorrectly, etc, the general appearance of both the rooms and the front of the building are spot-on and I'm quite pleased with the result.

Reminds me of the experience of another guesthouse who had built their place from scratch. The workers put up the walls per design, sort of. They put up walls. Then they asked where would you like the windows? Err... you already put up the walls. Right, they said, now tell us where you want the windows and we'll knock out the bricks. I'd say I've gotten off easy.

Supplies: We wanted to make these custom curtain rods instead of buying the usual ugly metal things. So we had our own wooden bars made to fit these circular wooden holders that were available from a local curtain supplier. We bought what they had, about four sets, still needing a dozen more. No problem they told us, we'll have them up from Phnom Penh next week. Next week became two weeks and when they arrived they were the wrong ones. No problem, we'll have them next week. That was three weeks ago. Time to call the carpenter.

Staff: Once some customers started turning up our overworked and underpaid manager came back to life and has proven to be worth her weight in gold and then some (she's not so big), though a week of slow business near the end of the month did seem to wear her down as it did the rest of us. She's on a few days of a well-deserved break to see the family in Phnom Penh and I'm left with the realization of who really runs things around here. Err, where do we keep the soap?

We have two cleaning staff now. Once the second girl came in, the original one, who on a good day worked in slow motion and on a bad day suffered from a strange form of motion sickness - if she moved she got sick - has improved enough to guarantee herself a little job security, that and a bit of a scolding on the part of the manager under my directive did the trick. The new girl, who had previous experience in a four-star establishment (the other girl had worked in a cheap Khmer guesthouse and had the bad habits to prove it), has a clue as to what a clean room is, but sending her to the market with a shopping list almost always results in a few surprises. Inevitably though, the humor value of the errant purchase far outweighs any financial considerations.

So for the time being, we have an ace of a manager and two cleaning staff that are generally competent. So far so good on the labor front.

Motodrivers: Motodrivers are a fact of life in the hospitality business. They can be good friends and helpful associates or royal pains in the rear. I've sought the former relationship, facilitating this by forming my own little driver mafia for both local and long distance travel organized with the assistance of a long-time motodriver friend of mine. The drivers like it. I like it.

Customers: No complaints there. Other than problems with bad shower heads, ineffective water heaters, and so forth, we've yet to field any complaints from our guests that could actually damage our name. That ever important word of mouth has already produced a few customers and in our short life we've pulled a couple of favorable website reviews. Try this one.

Like most western-run guesthouses, Khmer guests are few and far between and most of us want to keep it that way. Personally, I'll rent a room to anyone, but when a group of ten Khmers turns up and wants to cram themselves into two $6 rooms and they think they should only have to pay $4 for the privilege, well, you can see why. My manager, who is Khmer herself and from her own prior experience would just as soon not see any Khmer guests either has been instructed to answer the inevitable question, "You give me special rate because I'm Cambodian?" with, "Yes, we have special Cambodian rate, you pay double."

In the middle of the month we had five monks in to give us some blessings (as well as to a few of our motodrivers who were eager to receive a few themselves). In preparation we had to buy all sorts of food and incense and candles as well as a Buddha picture. The day we brought in the Buddha picture, which was the day before the ceremony, we had but a single room full. No sooner did we place the image on a high shelf, but several different groups of tourists walked in bringing our occupancy from one to six rooms in the course of an hour or two. Hmm again.

Officialdom: Contrary to what some people would like you to believe, opening up our doors has not brought a stream of people with their hands out. Other than the representative from the Ministry of Tourism turning up to advise me of the procedures for obtaining the tourism license, not one single person has dropped in looking for money. But I knew this would be the case from day one.

Now it's about day 45 or so... here's to the next thirty.

Check us out here.

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A new king

To be quite honest, I am not particularly knowledgeable on the dynamics of royalty in Cambodia. I'm much more a student of the intrigue that surrounds royalty and the royal family next door. But I can't ignore recent events so rather than offer what would clearly be a shallow analysis of the abdication of King Sihanouk and the coronation of King Sihamoni I want to alert readers to Bronwyn Sloan's October column which I think offers analysis and opinions far more comprehensive than any slop I'd dish out on the subject.

Traffic lesson of the month

Intersections. Navigating intersections in Cambodia is a skill well worth acquiring. Few intersections have traffic lights and those that do, in the absence of a police officer, exist as nothing more than colored lights to light up the streets in the evenings. Stop signs don't exist as few motorists would know what they mean, regardless of whether they were literate or not. "Stop? Why would I stop if the road is clear?" Sometimes the logic here isn't so bizarre after all.

Once again, we take a page from the Cambodia Motorists Handbook, schematic number 27-C located on page 79 which clearly shows how traffic dynamics at a typical intersection work. As you can see from this diagram, created from watching traffic flow over a five second period in late afternoon at a typical intersection in Phnom Penh, traffic does in fact follow a recognizable flow. You just have to know how to analyze it.

Let's start from the left. The three parallel lines indicate three motos. The two outer lines are four high school students - all male, the inner line is of course, a Honda Chaly with two female high school students. The orange line represents a motodop who was following the students and thinking the girls rather cute himself he executed his right turn a bit erratically nearly colliding with a driver coming from the top. From the bottom we have four motos who all follow different courses. One can be seen properly executing a left turn Cambodia style (see last month's column). As can be inferred from the schematic the driver veers over and behind the six high school students and comes within a millisecond of crashing into the motodriver making the right turn as well as the one already swerving out of the way as he comes from the top. Another rider from the bottom performs a simple right turn just ahead of the students, hence swinging wide to allow them to pass because he too, wanted a look. The two drivers heading straight are equally erratic, with one nearly turning left towards Norodom when he remembers he is supposed to stop at the market and pick up a kilo of fish.

Coming from the right we have two motos. One makes a wide right turn to avoid crashing into two motos coming from the top and then continues his wide arc pulling into the local drink shop for a Bayon Beer and a smoke. The other moto is a friend of the students and seeing his friends coming the other way alongside two cute females he pulls a u-turn in the middle of the intersection without stopping or looking. As usual this nearly causes an accident but as no one else was paying any more attention, somehow the situation sorts itself out without any crunching of metal or bones. There are four motos coming from the top. One continues through the intersection ever so gently moving to the side to avoid a number of potential accidents previously described. Another also pulls a u-turn in the middle of the intersection when she changes her mind as to where she wants to go, she's still not sure where but at least she's determined it's to another place. Two remaining motos make left turns, one follows proper Cambodian custom and cuts along the opposite curb while the other, due to the insanity of the other motos, is forced to perform what would be considered in the west, a normal and correct left turn. Upon completion of this turn, the driver is heard to mutter, "Look, what they made me do, I almost got killed having to turn like that. Where on earth would anyone make a left turn like that?"

As you can see then, navigating an intersection is easy. You don't need a stop sign or traffic light, just the knowledge of where it is everyone else wants to go. Failing that knowledge, pay no attention to anyone else and just drop the throttle and go!

Next month's lesson: How to deal with the complexities of one-way streets.

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Siem Reap bars and more

We have another entrant to the Pub Street collection of bars, the Buddha Lounge just opened its doors across the street from the Temple Bar. Apparently the owner is a former DJ from the Heart of Darkness. That's welcome, though some of the clientele from the Heart of Darkness most certainly are not.

Late night and hungry? Here comes the Angkor Xpress. Brand new this month and usually located near the Angkor What? Bar, this is a late night food truck service offering reasonably priced burgers, hot dogs, kabobs, and more. Greasy and filling, it all goes down well with a lot of beer. Brought to you by the same Aussie-Khmers responsible for Phnom Penh's Midnite Train.

And something is in store for the future. For years patrons at the Angkor What? Bar and Easy Speaking Cafe looked across the street at the empty lot that fronted the Nimith Snooker Club. Well look no more, they've finally closed the club and someone plans to do something with it. Lots of speculation but whatever it turns out to be it'll probably involve eating and drinking.

Le Tigre de Papier (The Paper Tiger) has a new owner and the renovations have just finished. Haven't seen the insides well enough to know what's different, but a quick and cursory inspection shows new chairs and tables and a well-cleaned up interior - sort of what you would expect after a month or two of work.

Siem Reap has seen several new mini-marts open this year. Heads above all others is the originally named Angkor Market, run by a friendly Chinese-Khmer family who have more than just a clue as to what it is they are doing. Very competitive pricing for goods everyone else carries, takes the piss if they're the only ones selling the item. Snacks, dry goods, drinks, newspapers, postcards and much more. Sokimex has the Sokimex Express which includes a burger joint. I haven't brought myself to try the food there, but I do pop in to the mini-mart from time to time. It's Siem Reap's largest store and does indeed have a good collection of goods, though most are priced a tad higher than the aforementioned Angkor Market. On the downside it also has the kind of service you might expect from something bearing the Sokimex name. Brrrr. Finally we have the Seven Bright. I haven't been inside but from the outside you'd be lead to believe it's a Seven-Eleven. Not sure how long they will get away with this one. Located opposite Psah Chas in what used to be the old Ivy Bar and Guesthouse.

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Way to Phnom Penh

Or why I don't ride my motorbike to Phnom Penh anymore. The last few times I had occasion to visit Phnom Penh, which is about every four to six weeks, I've taken taxis. A good road now, it only takes four hours and getting a whole car for $35 isn't a very dramatic undertaking and that price in itself is less than a pair of boat tickets. Conversely, it is more than a pair of bus tickets, but at least you're on your own schedule. Never mind the price, the reason I won't ride my motorbike anymore is the condition of the road. So smooth and fast it's the road carnage I've witnessed recently that's put me off. We've happened upon the scene of an accident that would appear to have occurred within the previous hour or two anywhere from one to three times per trip! My last ride down saw us pass two accident scenes, nearly be part of a third, and then finally join the club by hitting a motorbike ourselves.

This of course brought out the entire neighborhood and with the entire neighborhood looking on, the motodriver, who was not injured, and his bike suffering of only minor damage, still saw fit to demand $1000 for a new bike, never mind he pulled out of nowhere and it was a miracle he was conscious to make a claim. But big car hits small bike and the police set compensation at $20. I knew better than to join the crowd and maintained a low profile in the back seat of the car knowing that my presence couldn't do myself or the driver any good, but might have done the motodriver some good, but seeing as it was clearly the motodriver's fault I didn't see any reason to add to his seemingly good fortune at being clipped by a taxi driver.

Moral of the story. I've seen too much carnage on this road and don't care to become part of it. Other than a ride in the country somewhere, you won't see me and my motorbike outside of Siem Reap town much anymore.

Discuss this story here:

Martini's mk III

During my last visit to Phnom Penh, which lasted all of twenty-six hours, I popped into the latest version of Martini's. I had missed the short-lived second version but I can say the third is well, a lot like the first. A quiet beer garden area with plants and fountains and food and an indoor disco that is really well sound-proofed and lots of girls wandering around. Some young, some old, some annoying, some not. Same name, same theme, same ambience, same Martini's. But a new location. It's down there somewhere below Sihanouk and just off of Monivong.

Website of the month

Got one this month (got one next month, too).


Finally, after years of drifting in a virtual purgatory trapped in an inner space of dead links, hypertext, and Microsoft error messages, the folks at Cambodia's free tourist mag have finally figured out what a website really is and put one together. Having been drinking with the magazine's editor for five years now (not continuously, though we've tried), I've come to appreciate the sense of urgency that is placed on most Bayon Pearnik projects so entering the internet age late in 2004 would be right on schedule. But it is a good website and I'm sure if the editor were standing here he'd give me some nonsense about good things take time and patience is a virtue or then again we'd both shut up and finish our beers. After all, there are sober kids in Bangladesh.

Anyway, the website. It's not just a place to download an ad-free version of the mag, but you can do that if you want. It's not a place to click a hyperlink and be greeted with "blah, blah, blah, yakity yak don't come back", though looking at the site at 4 am after leaving Howie's that is what you might see. Nope, not anymore. The Bayon Pearnik has created a real website that actually provides information you can use in a design you can navigate. Have a look.

New on toa for October

Despite the ongoing guesthouse adventures, I managed to resume attention to this website and the following appeared on talesofasia in the month of October:

October 31: Readers' Submissions: On Cambodia, Antonio Graceffo has offered us the following: Cham Muslims: A look at Cambodia's Muslim minority; Feeding the Ancestors: The Pchum Ben Festival; and The Coronation of a Cambodian King and an anonymous contributor brought us Stung Treng to 4000 Islands to Vietnam - a travel report.
October 31: Cambodia Overland. Updated the Bangkok to Siem Reap Reports section and the Cambodia-Laos Reports section.
October 28: Cambodia Overland. Updated the Bangkok to Siem Reap section.
October 24: Siem Reap Guide. This section was updated twice in October, most recently on the 24th.
October 24: Cambodia Overland. Updated the Cambodia-Vietnam Reports section.
October 21: Jim's California 2 Corner installment of the month is entitled Get Your Kicks on Route 66.
October 21: Readers' Submissions: On Indonesia, Soppy has contributed Life in Batavia and on China, Antonio Graceffo has sent us The Monk from Brooklyn: an American at the Shaolin Temple
October 16: Phnom Penh Perspective by Bronwyn Sloan: Royal Reflections.
October 11: Cambodia FAQ. Updated the following sections: Food and Drink, Money, Adult Entertainment, Communications, and Tourist Attractions.
October 11: Cambodia Overland. Updated the Bangkok to Siem Reap Reports section.
October 6: Phnom Penh Guide by Bronwyn Sloan, added Introduction and Things to See and Do sections.


In closing

Late again, really late. Remind me not to send my manager on a four-day holiday when I have a column to get out. Now I really appreciate the work she does. But that's not news.

News is the rather unanticipated word that come next May toa world headquarters will have a new member demanding undivided unyielding attention for the next decade or two. Yes, my wife is pregnant.

And as a new life prepares to enter this world, it's time as well to deal with the departure of a fallen comrade. Will was a gifted writer and a positive addition to toa, but he's crossed the bridge and left a void to be filled. It's a long shot I know, but I need a Sihanoukville correspondent. Do you live in Snookyville? Can you write? Can you sell a few adverts and make yourself some money for your efforts? Drop me an e-mail if you think you'd like to take over where Will left off.

Speaking of writers, I'll be advertising soon for writers a bit more on the main pages but if you are located in any Asia location of interest to more than the local residents and their pets, like to write, know how to write, can make deadlines better than I, are well-connected in the expat community (makes it easier to sell ads because that's how you'll get paid), then drop me a line. I'm especially interested in Vietnam, Malaysia, and China-based expats. Thailand outside of Bangkok is of interest, too. Okay, anywhere, really.

In Asia it's the night of November 3 (the morning of the same in the States) that I'm writing this and I've checked in briefly with CNN, BBC, etc, and it appears George Bush has won re-election as the President of the United States. If US governments kept more to themselves there'd be less international concern over who wins this office, but regrettably, the foreign policies of the United States government does involve to varying degrees the 95.5% of the world's population who are not American. As I like to think of myself first as a citizen of earth, I did my part and as promised, I got my absentee ballot in on time, and as a registered voter in the state of Pennsylvania, my vote in theory would count for something, though under the electoral college system it's an arguable point.

That said, the two-party system as it stands in the States stinks. How many voters cast a vote not because they support a candidate but because they need to prevent another candidate from taking office? I know I did. It should be about supporting a candidate you like, not blocking one you dislike. My preference was to vote libertarian as I have in the past, but I couldn't do that this year. I had to hold my nose and grimace in pain as I found myself forced to mark an X for a candidate I didn't want to see as President of the United States only because I so strongly despised the other. I've complained for years about the two-party system in the States, hopefully this past election might finally get some momentum going but I kind of doubt it. We seem thoroughly entrenched in the two-party system and in reality I'd be satisifed if we could pull out of it anytime in the course of my lifetime.

And as for the planet earth and its citizens... we survived two world wars, epidemics, climate changes, and more. What will we add to the list between now and 2008? And who thinks Hillary might be running against, I don't know, Dick Cheney then? Well, gee, isn't he sort of like the president already? Anyway, over and out.

Siem Reap, Cambodia
November 4, 2004

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