Thursday, November 7, 2013

Cambodia Trip 1.3

There is no public transportation in the part of Cambodia I visited (north, northwest), which helps explain – like in Lao – why transportation costs are much higher than in Thailand. I suppose there is a public transportation system in the capitol and larger cities. Anlong Veng, like most of Cambodia, is served by private buses, tuk-tuks and motos. I saw very few sawngtheaws.

After showering and final packing, I checked out of the Monoram guesthouse and started walking toward the town’s center (a roundabout called “The Dove of Peace”). I wasn’t walking more than ten minutes before a tout got my attention, drawing me to a bus headed for Siem Reap. I say “headed for,” because two hours later, a ways beyond Phnom Kulen mountain and the Kulen Prum Tep Nature Preserve, I had to make a bus change around Preah Sredak or Preah Trach. I had been wondering why the “rest” stop was taking so long and only later realized my original bus was waiting for the connecting bus for me, the lone transfer.

Here's some video I shot from the bus, just south of Anlong Veng, about an hour north of Phnom Kulen:


South of Anlong Veng, Cambodia, 2013 from Malcolm Gault-Williams on Vimeo.


The bus riders on the two buses were quite different from each other. On the first bus – which I presumed went all the way to Phnom Penh – many young families travelled with babies. In contrast, the connector bus to Siem Reap was predominantly male, ages in their 20s and 30s; probably workers in Siem Reap without a spouse or leaving her back at home.



Several days later, talking with my new Cambodian friend Bunleng, I told him what I noticed about the two buses, gave him my suppositions and asked him if they were correct. He confirmed that many young families are and have been moving to Phnom Penh and some of the bigger Cambodian cities to start new lives there due to more job opportunities.

I told Bunleng that this is what happened in Thailand in the 1980s, too, and that my wife and her siblings had been part of that movement. I also told him that today, many of those families are moving back to the countryside because they are older, aged-out of the job market, and opportunities in the countryside have vastly improved. I predicted that he would see the same kind of shift in Cambodia within his lifetime.

As we drew closer to Bakong and then Siem Reap, I could see the standard of living improve along the side of the highway. Back towards Anlong Veng, there were still many houses within a stone’s throw of the highway that did not have electricity. Now, I could see every structure was hooked-up. I certainly knew where I was just from the roadside billboards with pictures of Khmer temples, half in English, half in Cambodian. It was all temples this, temples that; Angkor this, Angkor Wat.

The Siem Reap bus station amounted to a downstairs corner office in a two-story shop house complex. Presumably, buses staying overnight parked somewhere else, probably in a nearby open field.

In retrospect, I realize that I lucked out at this point because the first tuk-tuk driver that approached me asked me if I was going to visit the temples, etc. He’d give me a free ride to my guesthouse if I would hire him for transport between the temples at $15/day. This is about standard and I was already prepared for this, so I started negotiating. I say I “lucked out” not because I quickly secured transpo for seeing the Angkor temples or that I negotiated a good price. I lucked out because Bunleng is a really good guy who taught me a lot – not just about the temples, but mostly about Cambodia and I recommend him highly for anyone planning to visit the Angkor temples, of which Angkor Wat is just the center piece.

After Bunleng dropped me off at Popular Guesthouse, I checked in, made sure I had a sunny room high up and then did my usual routine of settling in, showering, washing clothes and then going out to get some things done: Cambodian SIM card, cellphone minutes, a bite to eat. I had a hamburger and fries – which are luxuries I am not usually able to get – and a couple of 12 ounce Angkor beers at one of the local restaurants geared for foreigners; served by a very modestly pretty waitress with a great smile, dressed all in traditional Cambodian clothes.

While there in the tourist heart of Siem Reap (Psar Chaa), I was approached by a supposedly speechless vendor who gave me a good deal on a revised edition of David P. Chandler‘s biography (1999) of Pol Pot, entitled Brother Number One, A Political Biography of Pol Pot . I have since read this and recommend it. I have read several books on Pol Pot and this one seems the most even-handed, although much smaller in wordage than other more-detailed studies.

Some reviewers accurately described the book:

Chandler makes up for the paucity of details about Pol Pot’s life by painting a rich tableau of his times and setting out the historical context of his policies… The only plausible portrait of the man whose gentle persona and brutal actions remain an enduring paradox.” (Nayan Chanda for Far Eastern Economic Review)

Chandler successfully walks a fine line, condemning Pol Pot and all his works, but trying to understand what motivates him…” (Choice)

I walked the Psar Chaa – “the liveliest part of Siem Reap” – a bit to check it out. This is the center of Siem Reap nightlife and there’s precious little that cannot be bought here, in one form or another. Before heading back to the guesthouse, I called my wife. She’s doing fine.


I returned to the Popular a little after dark; took another shower, watched some TV and then hit the sack.

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