Thieves & Scams: 0   kN/gM: 3   -   Overall Winner: Poverty
Cambodia, © 03.Jun.2003 gM
Photos of Cambodia
Introduction to Cambodia
Thieves & Scams: 0   kN/gM: 3   -   Overall Winner: Poverty
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Phnom Bakheng at sunset
Phnom Bakheng at sunset / © gM
Siem Reap. - On day four hundred and seventy seven, kN and gM were looking for cheap accommodation in Siem Reap. After the usual search, a nice double room with bathroom, screened windows, fan, and tiled floors was found at Mith La Or for 25% less than the second best offer which was already 20% less than the third best offer. The same evening, kN and gM rented a motorcycle with driver from the hotel to buy their weekly passes for Angkor and to see Angkor Wat in the evening light from Phnom Bakheng.

The next day, kN and gM met with friends from Canada. Together they organized remorque-motos (tuk-tuks) with drivers and explored some of the ruins further afield from Siem Reap. When kN and gM returned to their hotel, the friendly staff asked how their day had been. When kN and gM told them what had happened, the nice room suddenly was booked from the next day on and kN and gM were shown an even cheaper, but much older and windowless, substitute room.

Since previously there had only been one time in almost five hundred days of traveling where a booking took precedence over guests already staying at the hotel, kN and gM were highly suspicious of this 'booking'. They gave the hotel a fifteen minute ultimatum, explaining that they had not been told that the room was booked, that they on the other hand had made it clear to stay for the next seven days, that they would not move from the room they liked, and that they either would leave now without paying a single dollar or stay in their room for the agreed upon price. Thirty minutes later the 'booking' had disappeared and the real reason was revealed: cheap room rates only if transportation to visit the ruins is arranged through the hotel!

As kN and gM had planned to do so anyway, they used the hotel's bicycles for the next couple of days and had the hotel arrange a tuk-tuk with an excellent driver for the next three. Nevertheless, kN and gM's stay at Mith La Or was overshadowed by what had happened and a slight tension seemed to be in the air at all times. Was the clogged bathroom another attempt to have them move out? Did the 20cm long millipede find its way into their room all by itself or was it planted? At the end of their stay, kN and gM had the exact change ready for their bill as they were expecting serious discrepancies. And there were. kN and gM had to point out that the hotel had forgotten to put on the bill the cost for the rented motorcycle with driver from the first day!

Cambodia. - As kN and gM's stay in Siem Reap was overshadowed by this small incident, the experience of Cambodia itself was overshadowed by something far more depressing and tragic: poverty and the cruel legacy of the Khmer Rouge. Even in places like Myanmar and Laos, kN and gM did not have the feeling that people were suffering - people were poor and oppressed, yes, but not suffering in a there-is-no-escape way.

The tuk-tuk driver asked kN and gM whether they could visit a souvenir shop ('You don't need to buy anything!') so that he could get free petrol for bringing prospective customers, policemen openly offered their badges for sale as souvenirs. Such small things - a little here and a little there add up to mean enough food for the family. kN and gM's tuk-tuk driver was called away for a couple of hours because his brother-in-law had a motorcycle accident, fracturing his thigh bone. He would have to endure a torturous eight hour taxi ride on the horrendous road from Siem Reap to Phnom Penh. For years to come, his immediate and extended family will have to deal with the costs of transportation and medical services. Moreover, the fracture may very likely mean amputation if the one surgeon in Phnom Penh cannot do anything about it in time. Serious things - what is a family of nine going to do if the father does not come home from his construction job with the usual one dollar a day?

far left: Courtyard of Security Prison 21
left: Walls lined with photos of victims of the Khmer Rouge / © gM
Courtyard of Security Prison 21
Wall after wall with photos of victims of the Khmer Rouge
Killing Fields
Pieces of clothing and bone are still found
Exhumed skulls are on display in Choeung Ek's commemorative stupa
center: Killing Fields at Choeung Ek
right: Pieces of clothing and bone are still found at the Killing Fields
far right: Exhumed skulls in Choeung Ek's commemorative stupa / © gM

The Khmer Rouge regime is responsible for the deaths of up to two million Cambodians throughout its 3¾ year rule in the 1970s. Killing Fields with mass graves are scattered all over Cambodia. Not a single family was left unharmed by the regime. Families still have to come to terms with their losses, just as kN and gM's guide for Security Prison 21 in Phnom Penh had to fight back her tears halfway through the tour. It obviously did not make a difference that she had been in this job for more than ten years. Cambodia's countryside is riddled with landmines, one for every two to three Cambodians. Landmines still claim one to two victims a day, adding to the tens of thousands of Cambodians who have lost limbs or more. Unimaginable things - things that will not be resolved anytime soon.

Introduction to Cambodia  /  Thieves & Scams: 0   kN/gM: 3   -   Overall Winner: Poverty  /  Money Money Money Money