Might is right Dollar is king The winner takes it all
Cambodia is in the world mostly known for it's tourist attractions of Angkor Wat and the other grand temple complexes of the medieval Khmer empire. In fact did the Angkorean empire coin the Indochinese peninsula culturally until today; particularly Siam / Thailand took much of the Angkorean traditions over and maintains many of them still now. The Angkorean age between 802 CE and 1431 CE represents the classical era of mainland Southeast Asia.
A Rural People
Since 2006 more than 50% of the global population lives in cities. In contrast to that 80% of the Cambodian people live in the countryside. Painting seen in Phnom Penh.
Image by Asienreisender, 2013
In the aftermath of the grand time Cambodia lost power totally and came under severe pressure of it's two new emerging neighbours, Siam / Thailand in the west and Vietnam in the east. In the 19th century Cambodia almost ceased to exist; most historians agree that without the French interference the country would have been extinct and shared between Siam and Vietnam.
In the 20th century the small and weak country was pulled into the American Vietnam War against it's will and suffered the fiercest consequences, the total destruction of it's infrastructure, a complete civil breakdown and (auto-)genocide. The barbarious Khmer Rouge regime executed the educated part of the population except the few who could leave the country.
The contemporary Cambodian society is built up from scratch, still suffering the consequences of the genocide and is on the developing level of early capitalism. Particularly the lack of educated people and the maintainance of an authoritarian, hierarchical society keeps Cambodia down. In fact the Khmer Rouge came away with genocide and their networks still occupy the administrative key positions. The ongoing Khmer Rouge Tribunal gives a very poor impression to the observer. Corruption is rampant. Education is a long-term process and not achievable due to the investment of however much money into a conventional education system like schools and universities. Education, being more than the breeding of (one-track) specialists, requires generations to develop, includes the transfer from long-term experiences from parents to children.
In a global society focused on total competition, from the individuals up via corporations to states fighting for their positions in the world market, a country which development was interrupted so severe is in our times no more able to catch up with the much more advanced competitors. On the contrary do we observe the decline of the leading western industrialized countries down to the level of third world societies under the conditions of advanced globalization and a structural capitalist crisis. The prospect for the Cambodian society towards a better future are therefore against zero.
A remain from seemingly 'glorious' days: Angkor Wat. Nowadays it's the main sight in Southeast Asia. Image by Asienreisender, 2006
Cambodia is situated on the Indochinese peninsular along the shores of the Gulf of Thailand. The coastline is 443km long. It has a long border at the east to Vietnam, a longer border to the west and northwest to Thailand and a border to Laos in the north.
Two third of the country consists of alluvial plains, between 5m and 30m above sea level. In the east the Mekong River is passing over 500km in north-south direction through the country, coming from Laos and later entering south Vietnam. Connected to the Mekong River is the Tonle Sap (Sap River) with the great domestic Tonle Sap Lake in the central west of Cambodia.
The Cardamom Mountains are the largest and highest mountains in the country. Phnom Aoral (1813m) has the highest peak in Cambodia. A particularly peculiar part of the Cardamoms is Kirirom Mountain Massive with it's large pine tree forests. The Areng Valley is a large river valley which is still widely covered with tropical rainforest. The Elephant Mountains are an offshot of the Cardamoms. Bokor National Park in the southern part of the Elephant Mountains is reaching close to the coastline at Kampot.
The northern border to Thailand are formed by the Dangrek Mountains (see also: The Dangrek Mountains at Anlong Veng and O'Smach). In the border region to Laos and Vietnam offshots of the Annamite Mountain Range are touching Cambodia in the eastern provinces of Ratanakiri and Mondulkiri.
Mangrove Forests at the Southern Shores
At the southern shores Cambodia's alluvial plains are running out into the Gulf of Thailand. The natural coasts were ever seamed by a wide stretch of mangrove forests. Image by Asienreisender, Koh Kong, 2/2016
The People of Cambodia
According to official statistics are 85% to 90% of the Cambodian inhabitants ethnic Khmer. That would make Cambodia the ethnically most homogenous country in Southeast Asia. Minorities are...
In practice it means little or nothing. In all-day-life the Cambodians just drive as they like. They don't waste a thought for any rule and drive as they would walk, just according to their mood and following their sponaneous impulses. They cut curves, also at crossroads, they drive at the right-side or left-side of the road as it is just pleasing them, using frequently mobile phones while driving, they enter main roads coming from side roads without checking if somebody is approaching. At crossroads drivers use their horns as a warning and drive on without checking any further or slowing down. The use of the horn is done extensively in Cambodian traffic.
Particularly after sunset traffic gets increasingly dangerous, not only because of the worse sight and the lack of illumination of vehicles and roads, but also due to a greater number of drivers under the influence of alcohol, drugs, medicals. And so on, and so on...
The maintainance of vehicles is poor. Many are old and run-down and need repair.
On Cambodian roads there is a clear hierarchy established. As bigger a vehicle is, as more powerful it is and as more rights it has. The second weakest participants in traffic are bicycle drivers and the very weakest are pedestrians. Pedestrians are generally supposed to give space to anybody on a vehicle. Status thinking in it's purest kind applied to traffic affairs. It's mirroring the 'national psyche' very well, I think. Brutal, incompetent, antisocial.
Accidents and Fatalities
A motorbike crash a bit outside of Kampot. It's a typical appearance, often seen. When a driver enters a road, he or she doesn't check if there is anybody approaching. The driver just enters the road and relies on his good luck.
Although many Cambodians are afraid of traffic accidents, it wouldn't cross their mind that their own behaviour could have something to do with the occurance of accidents. For them it's all caused by the force of supernatural powers. It's kharma. Image by Asienreisender, 2013.
Since the side doors weren't properly closed, a truck of the Angkor brewery lost part of it's freight. Fortunately there was no accident here in this case. Imagine the surprise when driving behind such a vehicle, and suddenly it unloads in front of you - particularly when driving a motorbike. By the way, the bottles were empty.
Cambodias national road no. 4 - a nightmare to drive on. Image by Asienreisender, 2014
Cambodia had the highest procentual rate of traffic accidents and fatalities in the ASEAN states in 2008. I am pretty sure that it didn't change to the better in the meantime. Reasons for the fatalities are speeding, alcohol, overloaded vehicles and the (frequent) use of mobile phones while driving. It's often seen that motorbike drivers have only the right hand at the rudder, using a cellphone in the other or anything else or resting the left hand on their knees. All vehicles get frequently overloaded. Trucks anyway, busses are crammed with four people on seats for three, and sometimes motorbikes transport whole families of four, up to six people or items who are much, much bigger than the motorbike is itself.
A typical example of an overloaded motorbike. The driver keeps the barrel with his left hand. Image by Asienreisender 2013 in Stung Treng.
Traffic police posts are frequent in and outside of cities. They check for overloads and charge motorbike drivers for not wearing helmets. But mostly they stop busses and trucks to get a bribe. The vehicles remain unchecked in return. Cambodian traffic police also doesn't persecute the use of cellphones while driving, although it is an offence against the Cambodian traffic laws.
The worst road in Cambodia I have personally driven on is the national highway no. 4 (NH4) between Phnom Penh and Sihanoukville (Kampong Som). Speeding is incredible, many drivers take a great risk, mostly car drivers. Driving on a motorbike I have been forced seven or eight times to leave the road between the valley between Bokor National Park and the Cardamom Mountains and Veal Rinh alone (roughly 70km), due to cars on my roadside who relentlessly drove full speed and risked a frontal crash without releasing the accellerator. Passing cars from behind come so close that they almost touch. It's all getting worse on holidays. The Khmer Rich can afford that, the traffic police wouldn't dare to touch on them and in case of a killing they would be bailed out. Certainly the (ab-)use of hard drugs (metamphetamins, 'ice') plays a role as well.
Like in the other Southeast Asian countries the traffic is increasing rapidly. As the Phnom Penh Post writes in January 2015, the number of motorbikes in Cambodia rose within the last year by 17% up to 2,35 million registered ones. The number of cars, buses and trucks rose by 5% up to a total number of 429,000 vehicles. Most of these new vehicles were bought on debt.
An emerging new middle-class, higher wages and an improving road network leads to the traffic increase. In the same time the traffic fatalities are on the rise as well.
Teuk Chhou Dam & P. Plant
A new dam with an electric power plant at Teuk Chhou (river) near Kampot. It's running since December 2011.
Image by Asienreisender, 2013
Electricity is mostly unstable in the provincial capitals, towns and other places. There are usually daily several short interruptions. Mostly they are for a few seconds only. In remoter places they can last some hours. Phnom Penh therefore is said being equipped with a stable electricity.
The cable connections for electricity look not seldom adventurous. Many of them are made by the neighbours themselves. Interruptions can appear when local people manipulate the system. I personally observed the most interruptions when there are parties in the neighbourhood (the notorious marriages, funerals, births, new house inaugurations et cetera, et cetera, et cetera). I suppose the party organizers implement cable connections for their entertainment electronics and there might go what wrong, here and there. Also the professional electricians tend to make installments the easiest way, not being worried too much about functionality.
Car batteries, reloaded with the engine in the background right. For Cambodians in rural areas without electricity they are a possibility to have at least enough electricity to feed a light bulb, a fan and load their mobile devices. Seen in the countryside north of Kirirom Mountain. Image by Asienreisender, 6/2015
Water supplies are another problem in Cambodia. First, the tapped water is not drinkable, as in the most countries in the world. Second, out of the bigger places the water supply is mostly poor or non-existent. Many Cambodians have wells outside their houses where they get their water from. Many people collect raining water in tanks, barrels and tubs. When there is no rain for a time, they run out of water. Particularly clean drinking water is a problem for many people. The heavy and rapid deforestation of the country is followed by draughts and climate change.
In the provincial towns there are internet connections. For travellers most of the guesthouses and hotels have internet connections (free wifi) and it's normally okay; not too slow and relatively stable. Sometimes it's too slow and instable. Out of the towns there is normally no internet available. There is a number of providers operating on the Cambodian market.
An alternative to a conventional cable-connection can be internet SIM cards connected with USB modems. It's not cheap and the contracts are very restrictive and tricky, but they are sometimes the only possibility to establish a connection outside a town. Better are pre-paid cards, relatively cheap and one remains flexible.
Some 93% of the Cambodian population are Theravada Buddhists, what is the dominating religion also in Thailand and Laos and in great parts of Burma/Myanmar. 6% of the population are Muslims (mainly the Cham People) and a single percent are Christians, mostly Vietnamese Catholics. Animism is the norm among the Khmer Loeu, Chinese are mostly Confucians, Taoists or Mahayana Buddhists.
Despite the persecution of all religions under the Khmer Rouge regime, religious life has been resurrected everywhere in Cambodia. Buddhist and Chinese temples as well as Muslim mosques are built up again, here and there is a Christian church to see. Particularly the buddhist temples grow like mushrooms in the country, many, big, if not pompous. The main buddhist organization in Cambodia, comprising 90% of the buddhist believers, is aligned to the Cambodian Peoples Party. They are a rich institution and work perfectly together with the state in an ages-old pattern: the clergy keeps the people silly, the state keeps them poor. And the show can go on.
Buddhism is the official 'state religion' of Cambodia. However, in fact these people don't appeare anyhow religious in a deeper sense - it's as so often merely a superficial superstition they are following. Visiting a temple and throwing absend minded some small money into the donation box seems to free them from all their sins.
In other cases believers make a deal with Buddha. They donate money to the temple and expect in reverse the fullfillment of their wishes. That's usually business success. The donation is practically seen as a profitable investment in the future.
Cambodia's history is long. The Khmer People were among the first people settling in Southeast Asia. It's not clear if the Funanese, who errected the first civilization in Southeast Asia, where of Khmer ethnicity. But it were Khmer who shaped the most significant civilization in Southeast Asia. The Khmer empire of Angkor was the most important, powerful, sophisticated, longest-lasting, largest and in long-term most influential empire in Southeast Asia's history. Angkor was a much more meaningful cultural and political center of it's time as London or Paris in this time were. It had it's best times from the early 9th century on until the early 15th century.
The Bayon, the main temple of Angkor Thom, which was built as a new capital of the Khmer empire in the reign of king Jayavarman VII (1181 - 1219 CE). Image by Asienreisender, 2006
After it's decline Cambodia never found back to historical importance. It became more and more a playground for the stronger western and eastern neighbours, the Siamese and Vietnamese empires. It had a very dark chapter under the terror of the Khmer Rouge in the 1970s.
This chapter dates back to July 6th, 2013. The elections have been 'won', as expected, by the CPP. However, the election results are not acknowledged by the opposition.
After the elections it came to a number of demonstrations and other protest forms against the regime in Phnom Penh. It looks very much that the CPP rule represents only a minority of the Cambodians and can be described as a dictatorship, based on the army.
Western countries hesitated to accept the new/old government, but meanwhile it seems, at least on the surface, that things are going back to 'business as usual'.
Nevertheless, the CPP and strongman Hun Sen are in a weakened position than they were before.
June 30th, 2014
Much noise is to hear these days in Cambodia. This time it's coming from a great number of party booths all around the country. It's election campain for the July 28 election. The campaign lasts for one month. The booths are equipped with loudspeakers blairing out party propaganda. Groups of party members dressed in party shirts are standing around. The sound is partially music, 1930s style, partially speeches and announcements who sound not seldom remarkably aggressive; also 1930s style. Sometimes noisy propaganda videos are shown as well.
In 2006 there were still some 20 parties in Cambodia. On any bus trip over the country one saw masses of signs of the different parties. Meanwhile most of them are extinct - left are eight.
The parliament consists of two chambers, the National Assembly (123 seats) and the Senate (61 seats). The Senate members are deployed by the king on proposal of the political parties. Elections are hold every five years.
Party propaganda of the CPP in Ban Lung, Ratanakiri: left: Chea Sim, party leader and president of the senate, middle: Hun Sen, prime minister, right: Heng Samrin, president of the parliament and honorary president of the CPP. All three were former Khmer Rouge functionaries. Image by Asienreisender, 2013
The biggest of the Cambodian parties is the Cambodian People's Party (CPP), which changed it's name in 1991 and is the successor of the 'Kampuchean People's Revolutionary Party' (KPRP) of the 'People's Republic of Kampuchea', which followed Pol Pot's 'Democratic Kampuchea'. Most of the KPRP members remained in the party after the namechange and a great number of them were Khmer Rouge who fled Democratic Kampuchea due to internal strife to Vietnam. Their formerly Stalinistic political orientation is now ideologically focussed on what they call a reformed socialism (means: turbo capitalism in a de-facto one-party system).
Vice chairman of the CPP is Hun Sen, himself a former Khmer Rouge commander and Cambodian Primeminister since 1985, when the KPRP was still a Leninist/Stalinist orientated party.
The Cambodian National Rescue Party (CNRP) under it's president Sam Rainsy is the result of a July 2012 fusion of the Sam Rainsy Party and the Human Rights Party. They form the strongest opposition party and hold 29 seats (28.5%) in the National Assembly (out of a total of 123 seats). It's political orientation is liberal and nationalistic.
Sam Rainsy, the opposition leader, left Cambodia and lives in exile in France, for he was sentenced in Cambodia to twelve years prison - politically motivated charges, as the opposition claims.
FUNCINPEC is a royalist and liberal party founded by Norodom Sihanouk in 1978. The French acronym is translatable to 'National United Front for an Independent, Neutral, Peaceful and Cooperative Cambodia'. Now they are ruling in coalition with the CPP, but lost significantly in power since the last fifteen years. They only hold two seats in the parliament (representing 5% of votes after a landslide loss in the last (2008) election).
There are five more smaller parties who gain few votes.
At an office of the Cambodian National Rescue Party. All political parties have much in common, and it starts with that they all are very noisy. Image by Asienreisender, 2013
The Cambodian media in the 2013 elections are dominated by the ruling CPP. Particularly TV, radio and newspapers are tied close to the government. Only two out of the 160 radio broadcasters are considered as independent. Oppositional politicians complain that they wouldn't have a voice in the mainstream media. Besides the government sets violent pressure on all oppositional and government critical voices.
Therefore the TV shows permanently advertisements for the CPP, particularly spots that show simple people receiving free rice and kramas (the traditional Khmer shawl) from government officials; karaoke videos show infrastructural projects promoted by the government, accompanied with nationalistic songs and so forth.
Primeminister Hun Sen announced publicly that there would be civil war in Cambodia involving neighbouring countries in case he wouldn't win the elections.
On 'reporters without borders' ranking of press freedom Cambodia ranks at the moment on place 143 of 179, 26 ranks lower than a year before (1 marks the 'freest' country, it's Finland in 2013).
'world.time.com' writes that the National Election Committee members were "handpicked by Hun Sen and his allies".
At the moment there are no opposition members represented in the parliament, for all of them were expelled soon ago, allegedly for violating internal rules.
The foreign radio programmes 'Voice of America', 'Radio Free Asia' and 'Radio France' are the only possibility for Cambodians to get news in Khmer language who are not under Cambodian governmental control. Therefore it's the only available source of information about nuisances in the country (appart from the internet which is used by only a small part of the widely illiterate population). An effort to abolish them to broadcast during the election campaign was withdrawn after an USA intervention.
There is no doubt that the ruling CPP will win the elections; nevertheless does the government not allow campaign reports in the five last days of the campaign. They fear vote losses and want to keep them small.
In the years after the UN invervention from 1993 on Cambodia changed from a communist command and planned economy to a free market economy with the usual implications. Means that state owned companies got cheaply privatized and big firms are favoured in the laws and the tax system and can play their game widely free. International corporations get easy access to the Cambodian markets. Workers and peoples rights are therefore kept short.
Since the level of technological development in Cambodia is after the total destruction of the country in the 1970s extremely low, it's completely depending on imported technologies brought by investing foreign companies.
The main attraction for international companies to produce in Cambodia lies in the cheap labour here. Disadvantages are the weak infrastructure and high energy costs.
Since about 1999 the Cambodian economy grows at an annual average of around 6% to 7%. That sounds impressive for western countries, but one has to consider the low base from which it grows. In absolute terms 7% of little is very little. 1% growth of a big economy is still much.
Cambodia depends on foreign aids. The largest support comes from China, while the USA have frozen their aids after the 2013 elections.
The most important industries are the garment producers. Clothing is therefore the biggest export good of Cambodia, followed by timber, rubber, rice, fish, tobacco and footwear. The garment factories are mostly owned by foreign investors from China and Hongkong, Taiwan, Singapore, Malaysia. Merely 5% of the factories are owned by Cambodian entrepreneurs, 4% are USA owned. Nevertheless are big brands among them, like Wall Mart.
A Chinese textile factory along national road 2 in Takeo. As closer one comes towards Phnom Penh, as more of these plants appear. They can not deny their prison character, surrounded by high walls, protected with barbed wire... Image by Asienreisender, 2/2015
The garment industries are only competitive on the world market because of the relentless exploitation of the workers. Any efforts to rise wages weakens the production location. In January 2014 there were big workers stikes in Phnom Penh for a rise of the monthly wages from 80 US$ [!] to 160 US$. Although that's still too less to make a living, the Cambodian government reacted harsh and sent military elite troops to stifle the demonstrations. Although the demonstrators didn't attack or provoked violence, five workers were shot dead and 28 'disappeared' into the horrific prisons. Western governments did practically nothing against the violence and the profiteers are the Cambodian elites and the international companies, among them H&M, Puma, Gap, Adidas, Levi's and many more. The tensions are, of course, ongoing and break through the surface from time to time in form of strikes and demonstrations.
However, the working conditions itself are bad enough. In the end of 2012 hundreds of (female) workers collapsed at their work places in eleven different factories. Local research committees diagnosed the work of bad spirits. Appart from the ghosts involved there were some more evident reasons for that: malnutrition, too little fresh air, overwork, toxical chemicals around... There are estimated 350,000 workers in the Cambodian textile industries.
Besides, garment production is the oldest modern industry and the structure of Cambodia's economy looks therefore very much for early industrialization. It's a Dicken's nightmare where children are sent into the 'devils mills'. There is even an industrial base missing for the textile industries, yarns and other raw materials have to be imported. That makes the garment industry more vulnerable for competition, together with labor unrest and the already mentioned lack of a developed infrastructure.
More than 90% of the garment workers are female, many of them are very young. That comes together with the wide poverty of the masses. Much reminds here to 19th century Manchester capitalism, including childrens labour in the industries and human trafficking - what is also part of the economy.
Ravensberger Spinnerei &
Historical Textile Industries
The leading industries of the first industrial revolution were the textile industries. The image shows the 'Ravensberger Spinnerei' in Bielefeld, Germany, built in 1854. It's built in a castle-like style after an English model and represents the bourgeois ambition to catch up with the old feudal elities.
The first industrial revolution brought nameless poverty over most of the people of the industrializing countries England and Germany. Masses of people who worked at home, spinning and weaving textiles, lost their family income, for they couldn't compete with the efficiency of the new factories. The ongoing industrialization caused a number of new social problems. One of them: unemployment.
The jobs in the factories, however, came with the same implications as they are to see in Cambodia nowadays: bad, unhealthy working conditions, long working hours (twelve hours), high pollution level (physical contact with toxicals), high noise level, lousy payment, very strict working regulations and the employment of mostly women and children, because they work for cheaper than men do and are easier to oppress. The Ravensberger Spinnerei was called by the local people 'the prison'. In the 1860s the factory got surrounded by a wall. Nevertheless, strikes occured and social unrest, which was beaten down by police forces (and in bigger cases the army was employed), just as in Cambodia nowadays. Many of the strikers faced imprisonment. Most of the working force came from outside (work migration), because the local workers were reluctant to make the bad jobs.
While the Ravensberger Spinnerei (above) was a flax spinning mill which produced yarns, a few years later a cloth producing textile factory was added (image right side; now there is a supermarket inside). The whole production chain was now concentrated, from growing flax over yarn production to linen weaving. A few thousand workers were employed. The building on the image below left served as a sleeping place for the workers, who were mostly girls and young women.
Interestingly, since Cambodia is on the stage of very early industrialization, western 'developed' countries got more and more deindustrialized in the last decades. The short phase of a relative mass prosperity in these countries is already over again and pauperization is coming back. The highly praised and ideologically loaded 'free-market economy' makes the rich richer and the poor poorer.
Images: The historical sketch of the Ravensberger Spinnerei (above) is from the homepage of the 'Landesverband Westfalen-Lippe', www.lwl.org. The images below are by Asienreisender made in 2002, the photocomposition in 2014.
So, most of the export contains of unprocessed agricultural products. Timber production is not sustainable for there is the notorious destruction of the last remaining forests behind - not at all an unexhaustable resource.
Rice Agriculture in Cambodia
Rice is sowed first in June/July on certain 'mother fields'. The rice halms are growing densly there. After they reached a length of some 30cm they get handpicked and bundled, completely with the roots. These bundles are distributed then and replanted again, all done by handwork. In this second planting the rice halms get more space to it's neighbours to grow with an optimum of space, light and nourishment. Harvest time is in December. The peasants then cut the rice with sickles.
The rice paddies are all quite small and not to compare with industrialized agriculture in the west. To protect the plants against vermines the Cambodian farmers use heavily toxic pesticides. Cambodia is kind of a dumping ground for international chemical industries; here they can sell toxicants they couldn't in western countries, for there is practically no regulation respective protection against these machinations. The peasants don't understand the danger lying in the chemicals and often carelessly expose themselves and their families to them.
The weather is of crucial importance for a successfull rice harvest. Sowed and grown in the rainy season they need much water; most of the cultivated rice is wet-rice; at harvest time the weather must be dry. Climate change is a threat to this traditional circle.
Images and photocomposition by Asienreisender, Kampot, 2014, 2015
Rubber therefore is growing on the grounds of the before destroyed rain forest. All the Southeast Asian states compete in rubber production. World market prices are not stable and dropped sharply in 2012. Nevertheless big companies particularly from Vietnam commit land grabbing, do grand-style logging and promote rubber plantations.
Traditional agrarian products are fish and rice. The tobacco production is a great example for a completely negative product. The use of arable land for it competes with food production and tobacco is not good for anything except pollution and harming peoples health; not only that of the consumers themselves but also that of the passive smokers around, who have no choice left than to inhalate the smog.
At the other end the country is depending on the import of all kinds of processed goods like electronics, machinery, vehicles, medicals, construction materials and petrol and petroleum products. Processed goods are much more expensive than the unprocessed goods Cambodia produces. This creates a sharp export - import imbalance which leads to an annual trade gap of some billion US dollars (2.65 billion US dollars in 2012).
To come over the trade gap international aid helps the country which usually fills part of the trade gap and prevents Cambodia from an economic collapse scenario.
A Family Petrol Station
A typical neighbourhood 'petrol shop', here in Traeng Trayueng at the foot of Kirirom Mountain. Petrol is sold in former Coca-Cola bottles. Here the petrol is not seldom cheaper than at the conventional petrol stations. By the way, I have seen once one of the big petrol trucks who came from Sihanoukville Oil Port having a stop at a wooden shack at the roadside, where people drained some of the petrol out. That's certainly the 'trickle down effect' the Reagonomics and primeminister Hun Sen are promising to the poor. Image by Asienreisender, 4/2015
In 2003 there were offshore oil resources explored in the Gulf of Thailand south of Sihanoukville. Negotiations about the conditions of exploitation are going on since then. At the moment it seems that Chevron (USA) is getting the contract, but the extraction of the oil won't start before 2017, rather later. There is seemingly discord about the share between Chevron and the government. The oil production would relieve the Cambodian budget considerably and support primeminister Hun Sen's rule.
Mining bauxite, gold, iron and gems makes another contribution of the country's economy. Licences for exploitation are given to private companies.
A brandnew casino at the Cambodian - Vietnamese border at Prek Chak.
Image by Asienreisender, 2013
Tourism plays another role in the Cambodian economy, and it's a rising factor. The number of arrivals is continuously growing in the last years. Most of the foreign tourists come from Asian countries as south Korea, China, Thailand, Japan and others. Westerners make only a fraction of the arrivals. Arriving Vietnamese are seldom here for touristic purposes but mostly for business opportunities. Alltogether make the tourist industries the second largest sector of the Cambodian economy.
By distance the most attractive place for tourists to visit in Cambodia are the ruins of the famous medieval Angkor, followed by Phnom Penh and the Mekong River system including the Great Lake of Tonle Sap. To mention is at this point also the the attraction of the sex industries including the country's notorious child sex tourism.
On Kampot's Fresh Market
A market scene in Kampot. Most of the Cambodian people are peasants and live from subsistence economy. The saleswoman holds two young pigs in her hands.
Image by Asienreisender, 2013
For a great deal of Asian tourists from neighbouring countries the gambling industry with all the (many of them new) casinos are the central reason for a visit. Since gambling is prohibited in Thailand generally and in Vietnam for Vietnamese subjects, many Thai People and Vietnamese enter Cambodia exclusively for gambling. That's the main reason why so many casinos are placed very close to the borders.
The construction industries as a capitalistic key industry profit from anything else what is growing in an economy. The governmental infrastructure projects to attract foreign investment as road construction or building big administration buildings, developing industries, new shopping centers, the expansion of Phnom Penh, tourism with it's hotels, guesthouses and restaurants - the construction industry is always part of it.
In all day life it looks pretty poor around here. There are not many shops like groceries and supermarkets or electronic and computer shops. The shops are pretty ill-equipped, reminding to the shops in the countries of the former Soviet Block, the choice and the quality of the goods is normally very low and prices are rather high - considered the quality one gets. What is missed here in usable goods is replaced by a great variety of lifestyle products nobody really needs - sun bleechers in a great amount, much to sweet soft drinks and crappy snaks in small plastic bags who spoil the childrens, harm their health and the litter is next thrown on the roads and into the green. One get's a choice of 25 different skin creams, but not a single one of good quality without obscure chemical ingredients.
Two of these dirty rags of the local currency, the riel. Here a 10,000 and a 5,000 riel bill, looking very similarly. One has to care not to make a mistake. The same similarity is between the 10,000 and the 1,000 riel bill.
The riel does not seem to be an independent currency. It's bound to the US dollar; one dollar is always woth between 3,900 and 4,200 riel, doen't make a difference how high or low the dollar is noted towards other currencies.
Image by Asienreisender, 2015
The immense corruption is also a characteristic for Cambodia. The high price level and inflation has also to do with the omnipresent corruption. At the end every business which is forced to give money to corrupt officials has to put it on it's prices and finally it arrives on the price tag for the end consumer. All the officials in the country seem to be corrupt, and in many cases one sees it often with one's own eyes. The traffic police, for example, is routinely charging trucks and buses. There are fixted amounts of bribes who are due at every police check point. The policemen approach the vehicle then and take the cash. So far I see is that all what they do; for any other traffic affairs and all the omnipresent offences against the traffic laws they have no eye. Insofar one can argue that they are merely parasitic. One could also argue furtherly that that is the case with the whole buerocracy in Cambodia.
Corruption makes also infrastructure projects failing or being delayed, when necessary money is 'disappearing'.
The inflation rate is high, consumer prices rose in 2011 for example at 5.5%. Although the Asian Development Bank predicts a lower inflation for the next two years it seems too optimistic, for it's based on the presumption of economic recovery of the European Union and the USA.
Poor education and a poor job market in this very neoliberal orientated economy don't give people hope for a better future and keep the majority in poverty. 37% of the Cambodian children under the age of five years old suffer chronic malnutrition. Over 50% of the population is younger than 25 years. Half of the governments budget is coming from foreign donors.
Cambodia is and remains one of the poorest countries in Southeast Asia.
There are few newspapers in Cambodia, and they don't have many readers. In all day life I see very seldom somebody reading a newspaper. That's remarkably different in neighbouring Thailand, in Malaysia or even in Indonesia. Apart from some 20 bigger newspapers in Khmer language there are two in English, 'The Cambodia Daily' and 'The Phnom Penh Post', and two others in Chinese. Since illiteracy is so widespread here, many Cambodians are anyway unable to read a paper.
Radio broadcasting is established in Cambodia since the mid 1950s. Nowadays there are 40 stations broadcasting, among them also foreign stations as BBC, RFI and ABC. The national station 'Radio National Cambodia' exists since 1978.
TV programmes are running since 1966. There are eight programmes, all coming from Phnom Penh, reaching a radius of 200km around the capital. Some broadcast stations use transmitters to reach audiences in the provinces. Four of them are available via satellite. In Phnom Penh some ten percent of the households have TV, in the countryside TV is still seldom to see.
A theater poster of the national theater in Kratie. It's much about ghouls, zombies, ghosts and spirits... Two accompanying loudspeakers produced the unavoidable din. Image by Asienreisender, 2013
The quality of the programme is pretty poor. It's serials, mostly soap operas, game shows, sports (much boxing) and political indoctrination. Thai soap operas are very popular, but their popularity suffered a knockback due to the anti-Thai Phnom Penh Riots in 2003 (see above).
Most TV stations shut down in the evening and start next morning again.
For 2015 Cambodian TV is announced to change to digital broadcasting.
The center of all the medias is Phnom Penh, where most of them are located and the provinces mostly adapt to the content of what's coming from the capital.
After the four years of 'Democratic Kampuchea', when broadcast stations were destroyed and newspapers didn't exist, the media of Cambodia had to be rebuilt from the scratch in the 1980s.
Internet was introduced into the country in 1992/93. Nowadays there are merely between 12,000 and 70,000 internet users in Cambodia. It doesn't play an important role. The above mentioned illiteracy excludes many Cambodians from internet participation, and the access to computers and internet is low. Internet connections are not cheap and the quality is variable.
The mostly used media is the mobile phone. 20% of the Cambodians use a mobile telephone.
On the annual world press freedom index of 'Reporters Without Borders' the Southeast Asian countries all rank more or less low. The 'freest' countries in this sense are among the European democracies as Finnland, the Netherlands, Norway and a few others. Cambodia ranks in 2013 on 143 out of 179 listed countries. It dropped compared to 2012 for 26 ranks down.
A TV set in a tea restaurant in Veal Renh. Like in the old times in the west, watching TV is for the vast majority of the Cambodians a public event.
Image by Asienreisender, 2014
The Cambodian constitution guarantees the freedom of speech, press freedom, freedom of publication and freedom of assembly. In reality this legislation means little or nothing.
Almost all the Cambodian medias are owned by political parties or persons who are close to a political party - the concentration is clearly in the hands of the ruling Cambodian Peoples Party (CPP). All the eight TV-stations are connected to the CPP. Very few radio broadcasters can be seen as politically neutral. Therefore the information is tinted by the interest of the government. Critical reports are rare, oppositional medias are under pressure and intimidation. Their number shrinked considerably in the years since 2008. Self-censorship happens as a result.
The professional level of journalism is generally on a low level in Cambodia. The tone is frequently very aggressive, insults happen in many cases. In the last ten years there have been about ten journalists killed; foreign observers blame the government for being behind the killings. In none of the cases one of the committers has been hold responsible. In other cases journalists have been arrested.
In a 2009 poll of the human rights organization 'Licadho' 52% of the interviewed Cambodian journalists said they have been threatened with physical violence at least for one time.
Governmental influence on the freedom of media are often justified by maintaining the national security and stability, although it is not backed by the Cambodian laws. National security is not precisely defined by the law, though, it seems to be when the government can do what it want, without control or critique.
In June 2013, while the July 28 election campaign was running, foreign broadcasters as 'Voice of America' and 'Radio Free Asia' were banned to report in Khmer language on campaign matters. This edict was reversed again later after severe protest, respectively pressure, namely from the USA.
It seems now that the internet comes more and more into the focus of governmental surveillance. The internet is a growing power and offers manyfold opportunities to publish critical content. The official justification for controlling the internet is always the 'public moral': pornography and games could harm children...
Human Rights Watch writes in it's Cambodia section that the human right situation in the country deteriorated in 2012 with a "surge in violent incidents, as the ruling CPP (Cambodias People's Party, see above) prepared for national elections." Primeminister Hun Sen announced he would remain in office until he will be 90 years old - means for another 30 years. Recently Hun Sen added, if he and his CPP wouldn't win the 2013 elections, there would be civil war in Cambodia, which also would involve neighbouring countries.
Opposition leader Sam Rainsy (Cambodian National Rescue Party) went into exile in France due to a politically motivated trial, being sued to 12 years jail. At least 35 other activists who fought for human rights, against land-grabbing or for better working conditions "were killed, wounded, arbitrarily arrested, threatened with arrest or kept in exile by CPP-led security forces and the CPP-controlled judiciary." (Human Rights Report Cambodia).
Powerfull international companies together with national security institutions undertake land-grabbing in a great style. This land-grabbing is focussing on the last remaining tropical rain forests for utilization of timber and, in a second step, to change the landscapes into rubber, cashew nut or other kind of plantations. A May 2013 'global witness' report called "Rubber Barons", (free download at http://www.globalwitness.org) elaborates the involvement of international participants into land-grabbing practices in Laos and Cambodia, including the Deutsche Bank and the International Finance Corporation (IFC), the financing arm of the World Bank.
Local communities, who don't even get informed that the land they are living on since generations is getting transformed until the caterpillars appear, face violence when refusing to move out.
Land Grabbing and Evictions
Deforestation and a new village for the displaced people in the background. A few of them can be happy to get a slave-like job in the new plantations which replaced the tropical rainforests in which they lived sustainable for generations. Around Ban Lung, Ratanakiri.
Image by Asienreisender, 2013
Labour unrest in the textile industries and oppression and violent, including deadly incidents caused by security institutions occur not seldom.
The investigation of additional Khmer Rouge suspects involved in the Pol Pot's regime commited crimes (Khmer Rouge Tribunal, 'ECCC') is continuously hindered and foiled by Cambodian judicial officers. "Kasper-Ansermet, an investigating judge nominated by the United Nations secretary-general, claimed that government interference and lack of cooperation made it impossible for him to do his job" (Human Rights Watch).
Cambodia operates ten 'Drug Detention Centers' in the country. Alleged drug users can be undertaken a compulsary treatment for up to two years, according to a December 2011 law. These centers are run by different government agencies, including security forces. Former detainees reported about abuses up to torture that happen in these places.
Human trafficing in a great style, protected or backed by police or government officials, is another big issue. Many of the victims, mostly children and young women, got sold by family members into prostitution networks or abroad (e.g. Thailand, Malaysia).
The judiciary system is clearly not independent but corrupt, inefficient and mostly controlled by the CPP.
The international community does little respectively nothing to improve the human rights situation in Cambodia. Human Rights are for the western democracies merely a lever for regime changes in countries where the dictator (or sometimes the fairly elected democratic leader) doesn't play the game they and the corporations behind them want to be played. But, it seems business with Hun Sen's Cambodia is running fairly good, so far.
In Cambodia's case, on the contrary, China, Vietnam and the USA provides active security assistance in the form of training and equipment of Cambodian security forces. While the first two don't show any commitment to human rights anyway, the USA traditionally take it easy when it comes to business. The USA here and there pay lip-services for human rights, though.
Japanese, South Korean, Chinese and Vietnamese investments, sometimes interfered with economic aid, don't implement any conditions for community participation. Here may even be the contrary the case in many projects, means the displacement of local people might be a condition for a certain investment.
Under these circumstances there is little hope for a better future. An improvement of the human rights situation in Cambodia would mean a deep and thorough change not only of the politics of the country, but also of the international community.
The Ministry of Justice
The ministry of (in-)justice in Phnom Penh. Judiciary in Cambodia is an instrument for the ruling class. They usually get away with their crimes, as the Khmer Rouge got away with genocide. That's, sadly enough, nothing new in Cambodia; on the contrary, it has never been different. In this ancient feudal society the king and the aristocracy always ruled arbitrarily. No civil law existed here in former times. The word and will of the aristocracy was the law. The CPP network now is merely replacing the old aristocracy. Although the UNTAC established a judiciary in Cambodia in the 1990s, it remains a mirage. "If Hun Sen wants a judgement, he get's it" (Brad Adams, director of Human Rights Watch Asia).
On December 27th, 2014, the Phnom Penh Post reported on a trial against a CPP town governor who shot three times into a demonstrating crowd in front of a factory. Two young women got injured. The functionary then disappeared and was apparently covered by cronies in highest positions. The police claimed there would be no trace of him. The provincial court later dropped the charges against the offender. The case sparked an outrage among the victims and human rights activists. In an appeal he got sentenced to 18 months jail and a fine of 9,500 US$ in absentia. Seems a mild judgement for shooting innocents out of a 'bad mood', or whatever.
Political murders, shootings, intimidations happen not seldom in Cambodia. The given example is just one out of many hair-raising crimes in which the offenders are enjoying impunity because of their status in the CPP network.
Image by Asienreisender, 12/2014
A great problem in Cambodia is deforestation. In the last 40 years a major part of the formerly huge tropical rainforests has been cut or burned. In 1970 Cambodia was covered by 70% with tropical rainforest, what was decreased to 3.1% in 2007. That makes the highest deforestation rate in the world. That is partially due to legal and more illegal logging for the export into the neighbouring countries of Thailand and Vietnam, partially for the errection of huge cash crop plantations as rubber, palm oil, cashew nut and more. The process is rapidly ongoing.
(See also the report on the Ratanakiri page on deforestation there.)
Although the Cambodian government officially put laws in power for protecting the environment, these laws in reality mean little or nothing. Corruption opens ways for logging activities. Critics and rangers who take forest protection serious get not seldom intimidated, attacked and sometimes killed.
Mangrove forest south of Kampot. Most of the mangroves here are replaced by salt salines. Image by Asienreisender, 2013
A recent example are the Cardamom Mountains, where 20,000 hectares of the rain forest are planned to be destroyed for another hydroelectric dam project at the Areng River in the Areng Valley. As always in such cases a great number of (rare) animals (like the Siam Crocodile, of which only a few hundred individuals survived in the wild and the Asian Elephant together with 277 other animal species of whom are 31 threatened) and plants are threatened, as well as nine villages of the local mountain tribe of the Khmer Daeum (translatable to 'original Khmers'). Operator is the Chinese Guodian Corporation. The Cardamom Mountains are one of the last bigger refuges for wildlife and nature and the area is part of a protected National Park. The construction of the dam with the infrastructural attributes like roads will lead to the usual secondary effects as easier poaching access, illegal logging and more and more building activities.
Appraisal reports show that the construction of the dam would even be inefficient in it's economical outcome and it's power production. Other companies, who planned a similar dam project in the region withdrew their plans for these reasons in the past.
By the way, the organisation 'Rainforest Rescue' started a petition to be sent to the Guodian Corporation and the Cambodian Government. You find the link here:
Tropical rain forest in Bokor National Park, one of the few last refuges of primary forest in Cambodia. Particularly on the steep slopes of the mountains it's difficult to cut the trees. But, in the back of the photograph, inmiddle of the National Park a new city is under construction, planned to house a 100,000 people. In the background you see the Gulf of Thailand. The island is Phu Quoc and belongs to Vietnam. Image by Asienreisender, 2013
Another example of how little protection National Parks mean is the Bokor National Park. Here, on a high plain in the forested mountains is a new city with housing for a 100,000 people and a complete infrastructure including 'pleasure' accommodations like huge hotels with casinos under construction.
The mangrove forests along the coastlines fall victim to coalmaking and shrimp farms. Consequences of the deforestation are soil erosion and the change of local climates. The soil erosion leads to unfertile land and to sedimentation of lakes and rivers.
The depth of the Tonle Sap Lake (the greatest lake in Indochina) decreased between 1960 and 1993 from an average of 50cm in dry season to 30cm. The Tonle Sap is part of the Mekong River ecosystem; the four or five dams built in recent years at the upper Mekong in China (where the Mekong is called 'Lancang River') demand their tribute. Also, the Mekong River transports great amounts of sediments out of the deforested surroundings of it's catchment area.
The Mekong dams far up in China have additionally an impact on the richness in fish, because they are cutting off migratory fish species from their spawning areas. A much greater impact will follow due to the ongoing construction of the Sanyabury dam and the newest Don Sahong dam in Laos.
Officially are 25% of Cambodias territory under natural protection. But again, in fact this protection means little and does not deserve it's name.
Cambodia also is one of the visually dirty, the very dirty countries. Litter is dropped everywhere. The market places are usually the ugliest places in the towns, where masses of rubbish are collected and piled up. Almost everywhere where people live, litter is around. The litter, consisting of plastic of all kind, engine oil remains, electronics rubbish and also food remains, is a phantastic hotbed for vermins. Among them are flies. Flies in masses. Amounts of flies who darken the sky.
Countryside in South Cambodia
A typical Cambodian landscape around Kampot. After the tropical lowland rainforests were destroyed they changed into arable land like these rice paddies here. The next step is more and more urbanization, road construction, land filling, building sides and an enormous traffic increase. Following the urbanization plan of Kampot, in 15 years (2030) these yet harmonic looking landscapes are changed into suburbs with all the dirt and slums who come with that.
Besides there is a high use of dangerous chemicals by the local peasants who don't understand the risks of using them. Cambodia is a dumping ground for the multinational chemical industries for products who are abolished in many other countries with higher standards of environmental protection.
Image by Asienreisender, 2015
That makes hygiene a serious matter in Cambodia. Food hygiene in the verymost of the restaurants, including the 'better' ones (means more expensive, equipped with better furniture) is in the majority of the cases not even given on a basic level. The bad habit of most of the Cambodian People to spit food remains out onto the ground while eating and generally to litter everything they want to get rid of on the ground just where they are at the moment, is not only optically bad looking, but feeds flies, mosquitoes, cockroaches, rats and more vermins.
The increasing amounts of plastic waste (bags, bottles, covers etc.) are a big problem. One-way plastic covers are generally a very bad solution for they waste first resources and second cause a problem in disposal. There is no 'professional' solution for waste disposal, so the plastic ends up in the green and on the streets, sporadically burned by the local authorities on dump sites outside the towns or half-burned in little garden fires by local people.
Apart from these impacts the air is of relative good quality in most of Cambodia, except Phnom Penh, because there are no big industries to pollute it. However, traffic is on the rise. In 2014 alone the number of vehicles on Cambodias roads increased by 17%. Since the most roads are dirt roads or, in the dry season, dirty and dusty asphalt roads, the dust pollution is enourmous. Garden fires in who plastic rubbish is burned pollute often neighbourhoods.
The water in the most rivers is considered of comparably good quality. Questionable is the usage of pesticides in agriculture and it's hidden poisons, who are washed out of the rice fields into the streams and rivers and lakes. Cambodia is seen as a dumping ground for the multinational chemical industries. Since there is no regulation here, toxins are in use who are sometimes forbidden in western countries since decades.
Kirirom National Park
Kirirom Mountain Massive is a unique landscape in Cambodia. It's rolling high plateaus are coined by forests of pine trees. The fragile ecosystem here is under a severe and growing pressure due to poaching, arson, logging, road-building, construction activities and tourism. Images and photocomposition by Asienreisender, 4/6/2015
Criminality and Safety
Cambodia is a country with widely empovered masses of people. Anomie is everywhere and the country has a long tradition of authoritarianism and brutality. Many Cambodians turn quickly violent, and not few boast with their violent intentions. The crime rate is therefore high and one should be aware here of the main risks, including that of traffic or other accidents.
Most of the criminal issues are petty criminality like 'snatch and grab' robberies, mostly committed by bypassing motorbikes to other road users or to people who put valuables on tables in restaurants and so on. But also burglaring, mugging and armed robberies occur not seldom and sometimes murders. Many people have guns and other weapons and it doesn't matter if it is a Cambodian or a foreigner, a life means little in Cambodia. On the other hand is the homicide rate in Cambodia with 3.4 murders per year per 100,000 people clearly lower than in neighbouring Thailand or the USA (both at 4.8 / year / 100,000 people). So long one does believe in official statistics. Maybe it's rather advisable to be sceptical about that.
A poster in Phnom Penh, showing two victims of a street execution.
Image by Asienreisender, 2013
In the first half of 2014, a 31 years old Dutch woman who worked for the United Nations in Phnom Penh, witnessed a man who tried to steal her bicycle. She went there and, instead of disappearing, the Cambodian thief stabbed her several times with a knife and killed her.
In early July 2014, an American teacher who thaugt since 18 years English in Southeast Asia, was found killed on a waste disposal site outside of Phnom Penh. From time to time such headlines appear in the papers. Personal reports from other Westerners of being mugged are frequent. One has to be quite careful here in Cambodia to avoid fatal incidents.
Many rural parts of Cambodia are not under control of the police. Walking around after sunset is much more dangerous than in daytime. The beaches of Sihanoukville are known since long as a particularly dangerous stretch - tourists were robbed or even murdered there, already. Sihanoukville is counted anyway as one of the most dangerous places in Southeast Asia, and a number of Westerners were murdered there in the last years. Some of them might have been involved in obscure businesses, but others defenitely not. Banditry even on more frequented overland roads can happen after sunset. Armed people stop vehicles and take and do what they want.
From time to time there are reports in the news of thieves who have been killed by local people in public places. Sometimes a thief on a market place is caught by a victim. The victim and an increasing number of gathering crowd now starts shouting and beating to the thief. The rage is rising and the mob is killing the accused with bamboo sticks, stones, knifes or whatever is just at hand. It's not even proved that the accused really did what he was accused for, but one thing is sure: someone got killed, and such incidents of lynchlaw happen in Cambodia. Killings also happen not seldom in cases of rivalry, missunderstandings or when drinking.
A poster, suggesting the hand-over of weapons who are in private possession. There are still many households equipped with arms, and the people are reluctant to give them away.
Image by Asienreisender, 2013
The British daily 'The Guardian' published an article on February 7th, 2014 on their website in which it's reporting about the murder of a Cambodian journalist. Suon Chan reported for his local Cambodian newspaper on illegal electro-fishing in a protected area in Cholkiri district. Soon after the publishing, on January 31th 2014, ten fishermen appearad at his home and beat him to death. Two of Suon Chan's relatives, who tried to help him, were also beaten and injured.
It's remarkable how careful the local people are locking their houses and flats. All the windows are usually equipped with an iron grid, and hotel and guesthouse staff warns guests frequently of thieves who might try to grab valuables with their hands or sticks through an open window, even when it is protected with a grid, when belongings are in range. Also upper floors are mostly protected with barbed wires etc. to protect rooms, balconies, upper terraces etc. from climbing thieves.
One should also be aware of pickpockets who are mostly active at places where many people are around as market places, bus stations, tourist sites etc. Sometimes such guys approach very friendly and touch their victims in a way like placing a hand on one's shoulder to distract him from picking somewhat out of the pocket.
ATM fraud happens reportedly sometimes. Anyhow the card data are spyed out, the card gets stolen and unauthorized transactions are made afterwards. Also raids after leaving an ATM can happen. It's always a good idea to have an eye open before entering an ATM and to check if it is maybe under observation by other parties.
I just mention fraud, scams, lying and cheating besides, for these include usually minor crimes compared with the ones mentioned above. Cheating happens in many varying cases every day. To lie is part of all day life. Important matters have always to been proved. Some scams can turn out very dangerous, though.
Counterfeited money is around in Cambodia in a great amount. The US dollar serves as a second (or first?!) currency in Cambodia. Dollar bills are of a very low quality. It's relatively easy to counterfeit them. Many shops sell photocopies of dollar bills of relatively good quality. Many people here use to pay with copied money, and if one is not checking the change for validity, one can easily receive a faked bill. Interestingly, I got repeatedly counterfeited five dollar bills from banks in Kampot. The staff is incompetent and/or unequipped to prove the money they get in.
A counterfeited one dollar bill. Image by Asienreisender, 2014
Traffic provides a permanent risk for anybody, since almost all Cambodian drivers drive obviously carelessly and, as I often saw, intentionally risky (see also the chapter 'Traffic' above). It seems that nobody cares for any rules of safety here, it's all under the law of the strongest, so particularly motorbike accidents are a threat, but also car, bus and boat accidents. Pedestrians should be very careful, because there are only few sidewalks and they are not safe, either. Motorbikes and cars drive on them. Besides they are frequently blocked with parking vehicles, foodstalls, shops, workshops, piles of rubbish or interrupted by building sites or deep holes.
Landmines and unexploded ordnance are in some rural parts of the country a threat, particularly for local peasants and playing kids. It's America's and the Khmer Rouge's heritage. Hiking tourists face a certain risk when leaving the tracks; that could also include walks over rice paddies. Particularly Battambang, Banteay Meanchey, Pursat, Siem Reap and Kampong Thom provinces are partially contaminated.
Along the Cambodian - Thai border at Preah Vihear, Oddar Meanchey and the Banteay Ampil district of Banteay Meanchey province were and are sometimes armed incidents between Thai and Cambodian armed forces. The border there is partially under dispute. Also these border areas are partially contamined with land mines.
It's said that police officers at police stations sometimes charge foreigners 20, 50 or 100 dollars for filing a criminal report. In reverse they do nothing for the victim to get his or her belongings back. I wouldn't trust at all into the competence of any policeman here.
The main activity for traffic policemen in Cambodia seems to receive bribes from bus and truck drivers. There is a commonly known 'price' for the bribes established. At certain spots always policemen wait and cash bigger vehicles. Their ambition to improve road safety is therefore zero.
For foreigners who get deeper involved into Cambodia as residents and start dealing here in business affairs or buying real estate they will highly probably face unexpected difficulties. Business disputes can lead to harsh and violent actions by local business 'partners'.
On the other hand happens considerable criminality as well from foreigners. When the UN moved into Cambodia in 1992, they brought a lot of money into the totally impoverished country. The average UN offical got a monthly salary of 5,000 $US. The first thing what happened was a boost in two new 'economic sectors': prostitution and drugs. Since then Cambodia became a growing reputation as a country where child abuse is easy, cheap and barely persecuted.
The considerable activities of international NGO's is as well no recommendation. Behind them are usually powerful institutions on the search for (economic) prey or for political opportunities. Many of the plenty orphanages are highly productive money machines, abusing the Cambodian children who are mostly (estimated 75%) no orphans and cheating the western donators. In the worst cases such orphanages are a camouflage and in fact function as child brothels.
Another point to mention here are the medical facilities and hospitals in Cambodia. There is practically no reliable, qualified hospital, doctor, staff etc. in Cambodia who meet western or anyhow reasonable standards. In case of ending up in a Cambodian hospital the chance is high to leave it in a worse state than entering it. The closest alternative one has is to go to neighbouring Thailand; particularly in Bangkok are good clinics and hospitals.
When getting medical care in Cambodia or elsewhere in Southeast Asia the medical institution will ask for cash immediately. The medicals are usually counterfeited, not originals. Some might be good, others of low quality or even harmful. You never know before...
In a society that anomic as the Cambodian it's no wonder that there is a severe drug problem here. It's not only alcohol. Although marihuana is easily accessable it's practically very little of a problem. The use of marihuana is not correlated with enhanced criminal behaviour. It's a certainly more harmless drug than alcohol is; if marihuana users appear in criminal statistics it's usually merely for the very reason that it's use is criminalized by law.
A five milligram metamphetamine pill for medical use. It was used in the past to treat narcolepsy and is partially used as treatment for exogene obesity and ADHD (Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder). However, the side effects are problematic. Image from en.wikipedia.org, US federal government.
As very problematic the new designer drugs as metamphetamines turn out in a new scale. They are cheap and widely available. The drug problem here is even that big that it has the potential to impair social stability. While a couple of years ago 'designer drugs' were mostly used by gang members, now a growing number of kids and youngsters use it frequently. An inofficial estimation of frequent metamphetamine users in Kampong Cham University is up to 65% (2009). Teenagers who hold drug parties, often in rented guesthouse rooms, domestic violence, gang criminality and rapes, often committed on minors, are part of the dark side of contemporary Cambodian society. Most of the drug users are the offspring of the emerging middle-class and the upper-class. There are no confirmed figures of how big the Cambodian middle-class is; estimations vary between 5% to 10%. The upper-class contains of, roughly, 50 families.
The fact that modern society has practically nothing to offer for kids and adolescents is not only a Cambodian problem. In a society where all is about money, status, power, and consumption is seen as a reward or fulfillment, the inner emptiness of the people shapes bizarre characters. Since the Cambodians are thrown from an ancient mindset into a modernity they can not understand, confusion is huge. Superstition is as rampant as drug abuse.
The families give all too often the impression that family members don't communicate problems; there is no understanding for them and there are many taboos. There is also little interest of parents in their kids. It's widely believed that kids grow up and develop into a certain 'natural' form, independently their upbringing. Education therefore means little; it's only an material investment for a future income. Kids, particularly boys, don't get limits set. They can practically do what they want. The schools are overcrowded and learning is rather unnecessary, because, after all, the kids get the marks they need when they pay the teacher money for. There is little interaction between teachers and pupils, as there is little between teachers and parents.
Drug Detention Center
The 'Drug Relief Association of Cambodia' is an NGO, running drug treatment centers like this. More than 50% of the inmates are students. Approximately two thirds of them are below the age of 25. Most of them are here because of the use of metamphetamines. Images and photocomposition by Asienreisender, 2/2015, at Tonle Bati.
Everybody is lying and cheating everybody else, also within the families, and who actually know's what's right and what's wrong? What's the scale? No real trust is possible and no reliable human relationships are constant. Cronyism replaces friendship. In this depressing social truth drugs seem to be a gate to another, better world of euphoria, strength and superiour feelings. The driving style of many locals, particularly the youngers, very much reflect that.
The estimated number of drug users in Cambodia is, according to the United Nations, up to 500,000, while Cambodian officials give a much lower number (6,000). Yaba is popular among Thai youngsters, ice is often used in Cambodia. Both are very addictive metamphetamines. It stimulates the pleasure center of the brain, is triggering hyper sexuality, pushing the user up, causes sleeplessness and also paranoia and depression. Used for longer it stimulates psychosis and the potential for extreme violence. Ice is seen as the 'perfect high'. The addictibility is enormous; after used twice, 95% of the users continue to take it (heroin and crack are at 20%). Criminal behaviour is highly correlating to the drug. The shift from normal behaviour and extreme violence in a moment is one of the symptoms. The NGO Licadho reported a steadily increase in rapes in Cambodia. More than 50% of the victims were minors, and, disturbing, many of the offenders were minor too.
Since drug abuse and all the implications are a taboo in Cambodian society, the problem is played down. It just doesn't happen. Families who can affort it send their addicted kids to clinics abroad, often to China or Australia with the camouflage they would go to study there. That is because drug abuse is a taboo in Cambodian society. It would be a shame for the family, and therefore 'doesn't exist'.
There are eleven government-run rehabilitation centers in Cambodia. They are boot camps at best but, according to a Human Rights Watch report, rather 'torture centers'. The treatment includes electroshocks, beatings, excessive labour and physical exercises, also sexual abuses and more encroachments. About a third of the detainees are below eighteen years old. Nevertheless, many NGO's are cooperating with these institutions.
In food quality and variety Cambodia can by far not cope with it's western neighbour Thailand, which cuisine is clearly among the most delicious and versatile in the world. The common restaurants and food stalls, particularly the ones on the Cambodian markets, look mostly very poor, basic, neglected and pretty dirty. The restaurants are normally populated with masses of flies who are attracted by the lack of cleanliness, particularly by the food remains who are splashed around.
A Khmer Restaurant
A common Cambodian restaurant in Kampot market. Image by Asienreisender, 7/2015
It's always pretty difficult for me to find a restaurant where it looks halfway well, at least outside of the tourist sector. The touristic restaurants give a better impression on the first glance - if the food is really better and the kitchens cleaner is another question. Only one thing is sure: the prices there double, triple or quadruple up.
It has to be considered that the quality of the food in general varies much. There is potentially good food available, say rice and vegetables and various dishes made from it. Many dishes are too fat respectively oily, though. A great deal of the available food is fried in cheap oils with a high amount of cholesterol. Glutamat, a taste enhancer and appetite accellerator, pure and bad chemistry, is often added as well as sugar is put in noodle soups, fried rice and almost anything else. Diabetes, high blood-pressure and other civilization diseases are much on the rise in Cambodia.
Fish provides 80% of the protein supplies in Cambodia. Most of it is river fish. The Mekong River is the richest protein source for the Cambodian population. Image by Asienreisender, 2013
In mid-2015 articles about a smart Cambodian businesman (actually a provincial farmer) appeared in the Phnom Penh Post. His new, great business idea was to sell 'provincial fried rat'. His claim is, that rat meat is healthy, because it's 'organic food'. Big rats are in great numbers around in the countryside. They can be caught and additionally bred. However, rats are very much attracting parasites who can be dangerous for man. Besides, the peasants use pesticides and herbicides, often very toxic substances who are forbidden in most other countries. Rats, who are eating anything, accumulate toxicants in their system.
The meat is not seldom very old and of doubious sources. Particularly what is sold as pork can be whatsoever - worm, snake, rat, cat, dog... - difficult to identify. Since many locals eat anything, they don't mind. It's actually a good reason to become a vegetarian. Another good reason for that would be just to watch carefully how the animals here are treated. More troublesome is that there is almost in any dish meat included.
Generally, the Cambodian cuisine is based on fish as a protein source. Chicken is relatively seldom to get and it is pretty expensive (I found it five times as expensive as in Thailand, and the quality therefore lower). Pork and beef in the market stalls are laid out openly, roughly displayed on wooden banks or desks, waiting there over hours or whole days for a buyer. In the meantime the notorious masses of flies besiege it, and bypassing dogs or cats might put their snouts on it before being dispelled by the saleswoman - so far she does notice it.
Since there is more food available in Cambodia than in the poor times just a few years ago, many locals tend to eat too much. Presumably it's also still a status symbol to get fat. Anyway, overweight is widespread here meanwhile, what wasn't so in recent years. Too much fat, oil, sugar, glutamate make an unhealthy food habit; highly processed industrial food is also known for it's addictive contents.
Food in the 'Kingdom of Wonder'
There is an old tale about a Greek king (Midas) who had a wish to be fullfilled by an oracle. He wanted that everything what he touched with his fingers becomes gold. He almost died then, because all the food he touched turned gold and became inedible. However, with the Khmers it's quite a similar thing, with the notable difference that, whatever they get into their fingers, becomes crap. And so is their food.
We see here a small choice of the average Khmer restaurants you find all over Cambodia. They are almost all neglected, filthy and the food looks like a threat. Flies are around in masses, ants creep sometimes over the plates (they go quickly anywhere where food is, except in the fridge), here and there a smaller or bigger cockroach (there are over 1,000 different cockroach species on earth, and none of them is on the list of threatened species), and litter is scattered around. Sometimes an ugly stench lies in the air. Thats how poverty looks.
Since the hygienic standards are so low in Cambodia it's important to have an eye on food cleanliness. The food stalls in Cambodia are of dubious hygienic quality. Best to eat only at places where many other guests go, then the food is rather fresh and it shows that many locals show trust in the place. Better eating to less than catching a disease. It's a good country for having a diet.
Most of the occuring health problems in Cambodia are the usual suspects: diarrhoea, hepatitis, diphtheria, tetanus and polio.
Scenes like that are sometimes to see in Cambodia.
The most scary tropical disease is probably malaria, at least it's in everybodies mind who travels here and still there is no satisfying prophylaxis for it. Another, not less bad disease transferred by mosquitoes is dengue fever; it comes in four different variations and there is no prophylaxis neither a treatment for it. Chikungunya is kind of a variation of dengue, a 'new' disease. Malaria occurs everywhere in the tropes, in the last years it's even coming (back) to western countries. Another very bad mosquito transferred disease is the Japanese encephalitis, a brain inflammation which ends mostly lethal or at least with severe handicaps afterwards. The rural parts of Cambodia are more likely malaria infested than Phnom Penh and the province capitals, but again, it appeares everywhere. Dengue Fever appears rather in urbanized areas, particularly big cities.
Rabies is an untreatable disease transferred by bites from mostly dogs or sometimes cats. It's in almost 100% of the cases lethal. A prophylaxic vaccination is possible and advisable for people who stay for longer in Cambodia or generally in Southeast Asia.
HIV/AIDS is meanwhile widespread in Cambodia. Transfer is possible by sexual contacts, blood transfusions, tatoos and used syringes.
One of the many Hun Sen / Bun Rany hospitals in the country. Bun Rany, the primeminister's wife, is the chairwoman of the Cambodian Red Cross. Brand new, it looks already abandoned. Hospitals are usually ill-equipped and, above all, lack qualified medical staff. Image by Asienreisender, Koh Sla, Kampot Province, 2015
More potential diseases are bird flu, tuberculosis (many more cases here than in western countries) and bilharzia (schistosomiasis, as a result of swimming in freshwater lakes or rivers).
The health situation in Ratanakiri is the worst in whole Cambodia. All the mentioned diseases and more are endemic in Ratanakiri, and the province has the highest rate of child and general mortality in the country. Around 23% of the children there die before getting five years old. The diseases come together with a lack of fresh water supplies and malnutrition, great poverty, poor infrastructure of all kind particularly medical care, cultural and social barriers between the local hill tribe people of the Khmer Loeu and the majority Khmer People and deprivation due to land grabbing, destruction of the natural environments and violent displacements.
The situation in the neighbouring Mondulkiri Province looks similar.
Generally, the hospitals are ill-equipped and, above all, the doctors are in many cases unqualified. Those Khmers who can afford it go abroad for a quality treatment, for example to Vietnam or Thailand, some go even so far as Singapore. There are very few better hospitals in Cambodia. The 'Sonja Kill Hospital' in Kampot has the recommendation to be the best clinic in the whole country. Whatever that means in practise.