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Swimming To Cambodia




Spalding Grey – we need you today – has Cambodia changed in any way – what would you say?

With all of the ambiguous, draconian visa and investments laws being bandied about in Thailand many expatriates are considering a move to a more welcoming country.

The Thai baht, against the dollar, is the strongest it’s been in ten years and is about to become even stronger.

It would be nice to live in a country where the exchange rate was not against you – a country where they accepted the American dollar – like Cambodia.

I have heard that more than a few Pattaya residents are moving to Sihanoukville.

A good idea I think. The less people in Pattaya the better. Since I am being nice today, that’s all I’m going to say about the flotsam and jetsam that inhabit the place.

There are many things to be said for the move to Cambodia: a yearly visa only costs two hundred and fifty dollars, no age limit, no need to be married to a local, no mandatory bank account or monthly income required. Just pay the fee and you’re in.

One may buy and operate a business without restrictions like in Thailand, where if you have a boat for rent you have to hire a Thai local to drive it. In Cambodia you can buy land or a house and put it in your name.

A friend of mine even opened his own English school – no college degree or teaching experience needed, not even a work permit.

Sounds good so far. The same friend, Jim, also opened a bar / restaurant with his Cambodian wife and has done so well that he bought a piece of beach-front land and built a modest house near Sihanoukville. Yes, reasonably priced beach-front land still exists there. But a black cloud looms over his idyllic existence. A large resort is being built on the same beach by Cambodian businessmen. Jim expects that any day now his house will be bulldozed down and a parking lot or swimming pool will appear where his home once stood. Compensation not required.

Well, the same thing happened a few years ago to a group of bars on Sukhumvit Road in the middle of the night. The owners had no time to rescue refrigerators, bars, chairs or liquor but they did have a chance at legal recourse.

This might not happen in Cambodia according to no less than five major local and international rights organizations.

There is not even a semblance of rule of law in this country said Basil Fernando, director of the Asian Human Rights Commission.

It is not the law that is king; it is the prime minister who is king in this country. Everything is controlled by one party: the government, the National assembly, the Senate and ninety-nine percent of the village chiefs are all controlled by the Cambodian People's Party. (changed from the Cambodian Communist Party for public relations reasons)

In Cambodia there is naked repression, there is no protection: law is unable to protect citizens, the courts are also unable to protect the people and the police are a direct instrument of the powers that be.

Ever wonder why you don’t see a Tesco-Lotus department store in Phnom Penh, or even a McDonalds?

No large foreign investor can take a chance investing in a building or business without government or state patronage, and this means a pay off.

I don’t know about other countries but American law forbids this and anyway the environment is just too unstable.

With donations from foreign governments being siphoned into the bank accounts of government officials, the average Cambodian stands no chance to better his life and with Hun Sen as prime minister, the rich and powerful will remain so and Cambodia will forever be a third-world country.

There is going to be some development in the capitol however. Most of Boeung Kak Lake, in the north end of town is being sold. Four thousand families and hundreds of businesses will have to relocate, including the backpackers hostels and banana pancake restaurants that crowd a narrow section along the lake. One hundred and thirty three hectors (about two and a half acres to one hector) have been leased to a little known developer, Shukaku Inc. which has a renewable ninety-nine year lease.

The company is headed by Lao Meng Khin, a director of the controversial logging giant, Pheapimex, accused of land grabbing and deforestation in Pursat province. The lake will be partially filled in to make room for a commercial and residential area which will supposedly include shops, hotels, apartments and a university.

According to law, the government cannot give the lake to a private company to develop as it is public property, so this is clearly illegal.

On the other hand, according to Global Witness, Pheapimex is a major donor to the ruling Cambodian People's Party and the owners of Pheapimex enjoy a close relationship with Prime Minister Hun Sen. So it looks like a done deal.

After all of this, it seems piddling to talk about the traffic problems.

If you think the Thai drivers are bad, have not the slightest idea of road safety or careful driving, you have to go to Phnom Penh; it’s actually worse. The streets are choked with cars and motorbikes, every single one intent on getting ahead of the next guy. Many intersections do not have traffic lights, the cars and motorbikes, instead of merging, just go ahead, not giving way and creating a major traffic jam at every intersection. No quarter is given. It’s unbelievable really.

If you do stop at a light, a dozen motorbikes and even cars will drive around you and pull in front of you like a swarm of bees.

You also have to watch out for the big back SUVs owned by the rich gangsters and businessmen.

If your car taps into one of them you better have cash ready on the spot or your ATM card handy.

You can expect a Khmer man to jump out with gun in hand to inspect any damage to his vehicle.

As in Thailand, if you are right or wrong, expect to pay. And as in Thailand if a truck or bus driver runs someone over you can assume that they will flee the scene. <Thailand is improving on this front and while it comes down to the cops who attend the accident, khun farang always being in the wrong is not the way it is these daysStick>

Last week I was walking down a narrow side street in Phnom Penh when a Khmer lady ran over an old man.

She jumped out of her green SUV and attempted to run away but a crowd had instantly gathered blocking her exit and congregated in front of her vehicle. She had to scramble back into her car for her own safety. Then she did the only thing that seemed reasonable to her at the time. She put her car in reverse and ran the man over again and escaped.

Welcome to Cambodia.

Stickman's thoughts:

To say that Cambodia now is probably like Thailand was 30 years ago would be inaccurate, but there are many similarities. I have always felt that one of the major similarities between the two countries, at least as far as Westerners are concerned, is that one should rent, and not buy. This applies to many things…