Week one in Cambodia is in the books, and here are few observations.
1. Cambodia is a beautiful land, both in terms of its natural and cultural beauty, and it is fortunate that this beauty was preserved given the recent past.
2. Like most developing world countries, Cambodia has a serious trash problem. The rivers and roadsides are littered with bottles, cans, plastic bags and all sorts of rubbish. The fact that this is a consistent theme in the developing world points out the importance of basic infrastructure, like a trash collection service, to ensure a clean landscape. But when your daily challenge is just finding enough to eat, then picking up litter is not high on the agenda. I hope this changes as the country climbs out of poverty.
3. Cambodia should be one of the richest countries in Asia. There are millions of tourists that flock to Angkor Wat (the biggest tourist attraction in Asia) each year, and each must pay a $20 entry fee per day to see the ruins. That is a lot of money. The problem is that the maintenance and operating of Angkor and its surrounding ruins is done by a Vietnamese business, which also (surprise, surprise) owns a hotel in town. Supposedly, some of the money from entry fees goes back to the Cambodian people, but if the infrastructure of Siem Reap is any indicator, then not a whole lot actually does. The locals tell me that the money is pocketed by the Vietnamese owners with a small cut going to government officials, and there it stays. On the flip side, the temples of Angkor are very well kept up. They are clean, immaculate and well preserved--something that the fledgling Cambodian government may not be capable of at this point. In this sense, outsourcing Angkor to a foreign company was probably the best option to preserve it. However, I hope that in the near future, as the Cambodian government further stabilizes, that control of their sacred sites will return to the people, and with it, the money that flows into those sites. Interestingly, their sacred mountain and national park, Phnom Kulen, is also controlled by a foreign businessman (and owner, of, you guessed it, a hotel), and not, the people. The cost to enter this park is $20 a piece for foreigners and considerably less for locals. Again, it is doubful that much if any of this money makes it back to the community. Additionally, nearly every hotel and restaurant in Siem Reap is owned by foreigners. At least they provide jobs for the Cambodian people, but it is unfortunate that more money can't stay in the community.
4. A return to Roman times. Throughout Siem Reap, there are carriages pulled by motorcycles. These are called Tuk Tuks, or remorkes. They are the most popular way of getting around for foreigners as they provide a gentle breeze and a comfortable ride from one ruin to the next. However, nearly every tuk tuk is filled with Anglosaxons, and one cannot help but make the comparison between Siem Reap and ancient Rome. But tuk tuk drivers are well paid for their efforts. They can make $30 in day, which is a healthy sum in these parts. Certainly, the boom of tourism at Angkor Wat has been a boon for tuk tuk drivers, roadside stands, postcard sellers etc. Even if the entry fee doesn't go back to the people, at least the money that tourists spend to get to the sites, at the sites and around town, goes directly back into the economy.
Okay, that's all for now.