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March 24, 2007

Notes on Cambodia

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I’m sure that 99% of you don’t have much of a picture of Cambodia or probably the other places I’ve been.  I know I certainly didn’t before seeing them.  Some these things apply to all of the countries and some I’ve noticed more here.

I made lots of friends here just in the first 10 minutes – Hello Friend, You want Cold Water, Food, Book, Tuk-Tuk, Marijuana, other drugs, Woman, Man, Girl, Boy, and so on.  Whatever they have that anyone might be interested in you just have to walk down the street and in no time someone will be trying to sell it to you.

Driving Rules – They drive like people in America wish they could.  The bigger your vehicle the more authority you have.  If you have a Land Cruiser or larger you just drive down the center of the road and don’t slow down or stop honking.  Motorbikes are even more prevalent here and probably outnumber cars 10 to 1.  Cambodia drives on the right side of the road so that is familiar, but if you are just going a little ways and the left side is easier then thats what they’ll do.  Most roads don’t have centerlines (or any other) on them so if more traffic is going in one direction then they end up taking more of the road.  There are a few traffic lights, but mainly you just honk before the intersection, slow down a bit, and weave around if necessary until your through.  It all actually works fairly well and there are lots of close calls, but I haven’t seen anything major.

Ice is made in blocks at plants with filtered water and then delivered to the stores and vendors.  Since it is in big blocks all the vendors have a saw and have to get into there coolers from there.  Drinks don’t come with ice typically (restaurants will use bottled water with an ice machine) so they just need to get things cold and sell them like that.

Pickups are used for just about everything.  You’ll see some stacked 15 feet above the bed and tied down, others with 20+ people crammed, and some with 10 feet of stuff and people stacked on top.  I don’t know whats going to happened when all these trucks being made now that are more like cars start showing up and giving out in no time.

They do like to have fun.  I’ve see many volleyball nets and games going on out in the country and a couple of pool tables under a covering too.  In Phenom Phen the tuk-tuk drivers use their back seat as a card table for some sort of game they play which involves lots of yelling and action.

Both cities I’ve been in it has been easy to get around with English.  I’m sure as I travel further out it will change, but so far so good.

The children have to pay to go to school.  I don’t know the details of it, but some of them will use this to try to get you to buy stuff.  Buy water so I can go to school tomorrow.  For many of them I suspect that they are going to be back the next regardless, but it does pull at you a little bit.

Motorbikes are stacked with as many people as they can carry too.  You’ll see a whole family putzing along with mom holding the baby.  I also saw some with racks on the back and transporting three pigs tied down behind the driver.

This country was bombed and land mined heavily during the Vietnam war so they have some benefits set up where the victims make crafts or music and so on.  Once you are further out they stay to stick to the marked trails and not to touch any odd looking object.  Every year the potential continues to decrease and one book I saw said that more amputations are caused by bad medical practices causing infections than by mines now.  It also recommends that if you are hurt/sick whatever to get to Bangkok and not go the doctor here.

The US dollar is the currency of choice here.  One dollar equals 4000 Riel so if something costs $0.75 you give them a buck and get a 1,000 Riel bill back.  US currency must be in very good condition to be accepted.  Any little nick or excessive wear and they won’t take it.  I’ve got on $20 with an 1/8″ tear that is no good until I’m back in the states.  They could care less what there currency looks like they’ll take it.

ATMs first appeared in Siem Reap in 2006.  They are also in Phenom Phen, but I don’t know if they are anywhere else.  The same applies to all of Laos where I am going next so I’m going to have to stock up on cash here and carry it with me for the next month.  Laos also uses Thai Baht for transactions that aren’t quite big enough for dollars, but are too big for their kip (1$US=9000 kip).

When I first got here I’d been in Thailand for 30 days so even though I was using US dollars I was converting that to Baht to figure out how expensive things were.  It seemed really odd seeing the dollars in my wallet and then to be going back to Baht.  Now I’ve got a better idea and am not doing it so much.

There are food vendors about every 10 feet no matter where you go so it is impossible to go hungry if you’ve got money.  Some of them there is no way you would eat at, but they are there.

So far its been more expensive here than I expected, but I was doing there most popular tourist location (Angkor Wat) and it should settle down a little in Phenom Phen and a bunch once I get out of the big cities.  That should give you a little picture of what it like.

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