Monday, April 27, 2009

Life in Cambodia on $1.50 A Day

Life in Cambodia on $1.50 A Day

As the global economy continues to falter, concern is rising for those living on the margins of society. Cambodia has enjoyed more than a decade of solid growth but, as that slows, more and more people are being left by the wayside.

Opposition politicians say corruption means that most of the foreign aid coming into the country is not reaching those in need.

It should be noted that about half of Cambodians live on a dollar and a half a day and while Cambodia has a development plan to end endemic poverty by 2020, the country is likely unable to turn the corner unless it tackles governance and corruption problems.

Friday, April 24, 2009

Cambodian arrivals down 3.4 percent in first quarter, says govt

Written by May Kunmakara and Kay Kimsong
Friday, 24 April 2009

Latest figures up to March confirm that the sector is in decline as Vietnamese surpass South Koreans as top visitors to the Kingdom

Photo by: Heng Chivoan
Foreign tourists stroll around the grounds of the Royal Palace this week in Phnom Penh.
THE Ministry of Tourism on Thursday reported a 3.4 percent drop in foreign arrivals in the first quarter of 2009.

Kong Sopheareak, director of the ministry's Statistics and Information Department, said 622,288 foreigners arrived in Cambodia during the first three months of the year, compared with 644,205 during the same period last year.

The quarter-on-quarter comparison also revealed that Vietnam replaced South Korea as the biggest source of visitors to Cambodia.

The number of Vietnamese arrivals increased by 49 percent, from 53,386 during the first quarter of 2008 to 79,724 in 2009. The number of South Korean arrivals fell from 97,536 during the first quarter of 2008 to 62,633 in 2009.

The number of Japanese arrivals also fell markedly, from 54,149 to 41,745, while the number of American visitors changed only slightly, from 47,612 to 46,616.

The number of arrivals from Thailand fell from 40,611 in 2008 to 27,050 in 2009, making it the eighth-largest supplier of visitors to the Kingdom.

"We have seen that tourists from Vietnam during this quarter have increased, while Thailand has been the opposite," Kong Sopheareak said.

We are in a stable situation ... there will be a slight increase in unemployment.

Both Kong Sopheareak and Ang Kim Eang, president of the Cambodia Association of Travel Agents, said the overall decline was insignificant and paled in comparison to declines seen in other countries, particularly elsewhere in Southeast Asia.

"I don't really think it is a big problem for us," Ang Kim Eang said.

"We are in a stable situation, even though there will be a slight increase in unemployment in the sector. If tourism dropped between 20 and 30 percent, that would be a big problem that we would care about."

He said that the country's political stability was a big factor in its ability to keep visitor numbers fairly level.

Minister of Tourism Thong Khon said he was encouraged that the sector did not rely solely on arrrivals from Thailand.
"Now, Vietnam is the main tourism source for us," he said.

Looking ahead, he said the ministry planned to target potential visitors in countries that had not been significantly affected by the financial crisis as well as to promote the Kingdom's ecotourism destinations.

"We will also try to make it easier for tourists to make it through border checkpoints, especially from nearby countries," he said.

Air traffic
Local media reported last week that the number of visitors passing through Phnom Penh International Airport dropped by 12.5 percent in the first quarter of 2009, while Siem Reap International Airport experienced a drop of 26 percent.

Mao Havannall, a secretary of state at the State Secretariat of Civil Aviation (SSCA), said he did not believe the decline was so dramatic but that he could not provide exact figures.

"My point of view is that the airline industry won't really be affected much because everyone needs airlines," he said.
Kao Sivorn, director of flight operations at the SSCA, also said he believed air traffic had declined somewhat but not to the extent reported in local media.

For example, he said, airlines that typically offered five flights a week might have dropped down to four.

He also said the recent state of emergency declared in Bangkok had not significantly affected the number of travellers arriving from there, adding that Bangkok Airways did not cancel a single flight.

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Cambodian black box from crash will not be released

The Phnom Penh Post

Written by Kay Kimsong
Thursday, 23 April 2009

Crash of PMT airliner in Kampot province in 2007 resulted in the deaths of 22, including Cambodian crew and 17 Korean nationals.

A REPORT detailing data collected from the black box of a 2007 flight that crashed in Kampot province will not be released to the public, officials at the State Secretariat of Civil Aviation (SSCA) told the Post Wednesday.

A Russian-made Antonov An-24 aircraft operated by PMT Air crashed in June 2007, killing 22 passengers, including Cambodian crew and 17 South Korean nationals. South Korean media reported in 2007 that the crash was caused by pilot error, citing a recording of the final conversation between the pilot and the control tower. Cambodian officials have blamed the crash on a combination of bad weather conditions and pilot error, a position reiterated Wednesday by Khim Sophoan, a secretary of state for the SSCA.


A team of Cambodian investigators travelled to Moscow last year to analyse the black box data. The report that resulted from that trip has been released to aviation inspectors and relevant government ministries and victims' families, said PMT President Sar Sareth.

Khim Sophoan, who was part of the investigation team, said the visual and audio data obtained from the black box indicated the crash was caused by a storm as well as the pilots' decision to deviate from the designated flight path. Khim Sophoan and Sar Sareth said Wednesday that the crash was not the result of mechanical failure.

Kao Sivorn, the director of flight operation for the SSCA, said the decision not to release the report to the public was made in accordance with regulations outlined by the International Civil Aviation Organisation, a UN agency that codifies international aviation procedures. Eng Sour Sdey, a government adviser who deals with civil aviation, also cited international regulations in explaining the decision not to release the report.

"In general, they never release the results of such an investigation, even to government officials such as myself," Eng Sour Sdey said, adding that he was allowed access to the black box data only one time last year.

Mao Havannall, a secretary of state at the SSCA, told the Post on Monday that he would chair a meeting in Phnom Penh this week that would bring together lawyers of the victims, airline officials and insurance company representatives to resolve the issue of compensation for the victims' families. No compensation has yet been paid.

He said those affected by the crash had the right to claim compensation in light of revelations that pilot error might have contributed to the crash.

But Sar Sareth said the amount requested by each of the South Korean families - which he said was between US$500,000 and $1 million in each case - was "too much".

The Mekong, Vietnam and Cambodia

From the barren Tibetan highlands, the Mekong river rumbles south through China's Yunnan province and winds its way along the Myanmar, Laos and Thai borders. Then it powers through Laos, Cambodia and Vietnam before emptying in the South China Sea. At 4,350 kilometers, it is the seventh longest river in Asia and, arguably, Southeast Asia's most important natural resource.

Dams built along the upper parts of the river by China in recent decades have wreaked havoc on the river's flow, lowering water levels and damaging its ecology. Still, the river's fertile delta region -- called cuu long or nine dragons in Vietnamese -- is one of the world's largest producers of rice.

Though steep descents and swift rapids make the upper reaches of the Mekong difficult to navigate, its lower part in Cambodia and Vietnam is a gentle ride. It is this section of the river that I travel on the Orient Pandaw, a Pandaw Cruises boat.

Pandaw operates six boats in Asia with a seventh under construction. They ply the Mekong and the Irrawaddy as well as rivers on Borneo, and from later this year, in India. All the boats are built from a late-19th-century design of a paddle steamer operated by the Irrawaddy Flotilla Co. that was once a common sight in Burma. The boats carried everything from tamarind to rice to elephants -- and people.

In the mid-1990s, Paul Strachan found a 1947 version of the steamer called the Pandaw, originally part of the Flotilla fleet, in Mandalay. It was ferrying locals and goods, but badly in need of restoration. He had it repaired and launched Pandaw Cruises on the Irrawaddy. Mr. Strachan's company has gone on to make six replicas, each one hand-finished. Two of those boats, the Tonle Pandaw and the Mekong Pandaw, now ply the Mekong. (The Orient Pandaw has just been moved to Borneo.)

[Cambodia, Vietnam River Trip]

Pandaw Cruises

The trip: Ho Chi Minh City to Siem Reap over seven nights

The fare: $5,137 for two in a main-deck room during peak (high-water) season, from October to March.

The shorter trip from Ho Chi Minh City to Phnom Penh in peak season costs $2,640 for a couple. The fare covers meals, bus transportation, excursions and some alcoholic drinks such as local beer and basic cocktails.


On a Pandaw "steamer" -- the four deck-high boats are actually engine-powered -- there is no mistaking it: You are on a river boat. There are the knob-end metal light switches, an old-fashioned horn that blows before departures and the polished brass and teak throughout. Each of the 30-odd state rooms -- Pandaw boats can carry about 60 passengers -- has a ship-like efficiency that displays more river-boat charisma than five-star hotel lavishness. Still, the navy blue bedding and wood walls and floors make it cozy.

On the Orient Pandaw, the sun deck on top -- shaded by a cheerful yellow awning -- is so inviting that it's tempting to skip some of the land excursions, which some passengers did on my trip. Lounge chairs with navy blue cushions face the shore, so you can enjoy a drink and watch the banks as you coast by. Comfortable rattan sofas take up the deck's middle space, a perfect spot for reading.

Next time, though, I'll make sure the boat I'm on has plenty of indoor common space, as the Mekong Pandaw and Tonle Pandaw do. Unlike the Orient Pandaw, both have a saloon bar, a large indoor area with comfortable sofas where you can read or socialize in air-conditioned comfort yet still see outside.

I boarded at My Tho, a trading hub west of Ho Chi Minh City. As we headed toward Cambodia, one of our first stops was the town of Cai Be, where we visited floating markets, local rice-paper makers, an elegant historic residence known as the An Kiet house and An Binh, an incongruous French-Gothic church.

The next day, we stopped at Chau Doc, a pleasant Vietnamese delta town where we walked through a bustling market and were pedaled around on rickshaws. We also visited a Muslim neighborhood inhabited by the Cham, a group that traces back to the Champa kingdom that ruled the area centuries ago.

During the early part of the trip, the Mekong delta was so vast I couldn't see land. But as we neared Cambodia, the river narrowed and the shores drew nearer, affording glimpses of local life, like kids playing in the water and cattle cooling off in the mud.

Unfortunately I had to disembark in Phnom Penh and missed the rest of the cruise up to Siem Reap and Angkor Wat. I now regret not clearing my schedule -- three days on the Mekong is not enough.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Thai travel lull hits Cambodia

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Written by Michael Fox
Wednesday, 22 April 2009

Officials say measures taken by the government should ease fallout from protests in Thailand and the global economic downturn as tourism suffers

Travellers look at a departure schedule, which shows that most flights are cancelled, at Suvarnabhumi Airport in Bangkok last December.
TOURISM officials said that Cambodia could avoid a protracted tourism slump as a result of civil unrest in Thailand, despite the loss of millions of dollars following protests last year and signs that the latest turmoil has hit domestic travel numbers.

Official estimates put the Kingdom's financial fallout at between US$350,000 and $490,000 lost each day during Thai protests in November and December, which included the closure of Bangkok's Suvarnabhumi Airport.

Ho Vandy, co-chairman of the Government-Private Sector Tourism Working Group, said Cambodia had experienced a drop in tourist numbers from the latest fallout in Thailand as travel agents had sold trips to both countries as a package.

"This affects Cambodia when those tourists cancel their visits to Thailand," he said, adding that each tourist spends on average $700 during a stay in the Kingdom.

Of the 2.13 visitors to Cambodia last year, just over a third - 34.65 percent - arrived via Thailand and 33.36 percent arrived via Vietnam. Of this number, 16.5 percent came by air from Thailand and 16.4 percent from Vietnam.

Minister of Tourism Thong Khon said that Vietnam had since taken over from Thailand as the main entry point for tourists into Cambodia, something which the government has encouraged.

"Now, we cannot rely solely on Thailand - we have one more significant tourism gate, which is Vietnam," he said. "Currently, more foreign tourists come from Vietnam."

Tourism Ministry figures reflect this with the number of visitors coming from Vietnam by land or sea increasing by 51.39 percent last year compared with a 18.3 percent increase for Thailand.

New Zealander Marika Hill is indicative of the trend. She said she planned to visit Cambodia in June via Singapore instead of Bangkok, having been stranded in Thailand for two weeks during last year's protests.

"Ultimately, we can't afford to risk losing time, money and work leave if we become stranded in Bangkok again," she said, adding that the latest unrest had prompted her to avoid Thailand this time.

The impact of the protests on tourist numbers was visible during her last visit to Bangkok, she said, with empty hotels and few foreigners on the streets.

Ho Vandy said the flip side was that people could extend their time in Cambodia as they did not want to go to Thailand.
He said the private sector had urged the government to cut visa prices and fares to Angkor Wat.

In the midst of the global recession and the coming low season, Thong Khon said that the government was looking for ways to promote Cambodia as a destination.

"We have worked to curb the effects of declining tourist numbers by promoting our tourism industry - especially ecotourism - to get tourists from within the region, like from China, where the economy has not been as badly affected by the financial crisis," he said.

The government had taken measures to ease passage at border crossings and promote cheaper travel packages, he said.
Ho Vandy said Cambodia would need to establish a national carrier to boost tourism.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Vietnam helps Cambodia train army officers

19:54' 21/04/2009 (GMT+7)

VietNamNet Bridge - Twenty-one high-ranking officers of the Royal Cambodian Armed Forces (RCAF) received Doctorate and Master’s degrees in military science from Vietnam’s institutes in Phnom Penh on April 20.

Prime Minister Hun Sen presented the Doctorate degree to General Pol Saroun, RCAF Commander-in-Chief and General Kun Kim, RCAF Deputy Commander-in-Chief and Chief of General Staff. Nineteen other officers received Master’s degrees.

The Cambodian officers conducted outstanding research projects and thesis on military science at the Vietnam Infantry Institute between 2006-2008.

Prime Minister Hun Sen thanked Vietnam for helping training many RCAF officers over the past time to improve the forces’ capacity to protect national defence and economic development.


Saturday, April 18, 2009

Living in Cambodia on Less Than $500 a Month

OHow to live abroad in Cambodia on less than five hundred dollars a month for expatriates on a really tight budget!

ther than Pol Pot, the spectacular ruins of Angkor Wot and, according to the Cambodians, Muay Thai style kick boxing, Cambodia doesn’t really hit the map for an awful lot of things - and let’s face it, in the case of Pol Pot maybe some things are certainly best forgotten.

But it is cheap – and there are very few places left in the world where you can live very cheaply, but if you’re prepared to live frugally it can be done here. Prices in the capital Phnom Penh have been rising but you can still live on $500 (roughly £340) a month in Cambodia.

So, if you want to move abroad to escape the recession in the UK, you want to find a more affordable nation where your pension will go far further or you just fancy discovering a very interesting nation – this article about living cheaply in Cambodia may well inspire you!

Rental apartments are difficult to find below $250 (£170) a month, but they are available if you look hard, or use the services of the now famous Art the homefinder, a Cambodian entrepreneur who sources living accommodation for foreigners in Phnom Penh.

The influx of NGO’s, English language teachers and expats who’ve chosen to retire in Cambodia have all helped to push prices up. When you put another $30 (£20) on each month for electric, you can see that renting an apartment in Phnom Penh including costs will run to around $300 (£200) per month. If your budget is really tight there are plenty of cheap and clean hostels where accommodation can be found from $2-$3 (£1.35 - £2) per night, but you will have to share with at least one other person.

As accommodation usually takes up the biggest chunk of a budget, managing to keep accommodation below $300 (£200) is a good start to proving that you can live in Cambodia on less than $500 a month.

So, you have arrived and got yourself sorted with accommodation. What other costs are you going to have living abroad in Cambodia? One of the first ones that’s probably worthwhile sorting out is a business visa. On entry into the country you can pay $25 (£17) and receive a business visa, this allows you to work in Cambodia. With this visa you don’t need to leave the country every few months and you can work if you can find a job - or you could just do as other expats do and just buy a bar! To renew the visa after the first month costs around $250 (£170) for a year, so we’ll pop another $25 per month on the budget. We’re now at $325 (£220) on our budget for living in Cambodia on $500 a month.

As regards eating out in Cambodia, local restaurant prices start from $1 - $2 (£0.70 - £1.35) a meal - but if you’re on a budget then street vendors are great. Two meals a day can run to $25 (£17) per month. Khmer, Asian and international food starts from around $3 (£2) rising to $10 (£7). Beer tends to run at about $1 - $1.50 (£0.70 - £1.00) a bottle and spirits from $6 (£4), and if you want to go bar hopping a tuktuk, (a motorbike and side car or trailer) runs to about $10 (£7) a day. Obviously if you hit the wine list you can pretty soon bump things up to $50 (£34), so street vendors and fruit shakes are the order of the day.

Whilst you probably aren’t going to be saving much, and always watch out for the poverty trap, it is possible to live in Cambodia on $500 a month.

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Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Cambodia and the S.S. Mayaguez lrgacy

Left behind but not forgotten

Lance Cpl. Joseph Hargrove spent his 24th birthday on the island of Koh Tang in Cambodia. He also spent his final day there.

Hargrove was one of three Marines left behind and later executed following an assault launched by the U.S. to rescue sailors of the merchant ship the S.S. Mayaguez who were taken hostage by the Khmer Rouge in 1975.

Thirty-four years later, military officials say Hargrove's remains have not been discovered.

A local politician believes otherwise.

Duplin County Commissioner Cary Turner decided to take up the cause in 2007 of having Hargrove's remains found, identified and returned.

Turner is Hargrove's cousin. He said after seeing the faraway look in the eyes of his aunt - Hargrove's mother - he knew he had to do something.

"Even if it turns out that we never get him, I want to be able to say I've done everything I can," Turner said. "And if we do bring him home, then I can say I did one good thing in my life."

After it was discovered that American hostages had been released, Hargrove, along with two other Marines, Pfc. Gary Hall and Pfc. Danny Marshall, was assigned to protect the retreating force's right flank. Due to miscommunication on the battlefield, the three were left behind and troops did not return to retrieve them as there was no evidence they had survived and the mission was considered too dangerous, according to documents from Joint POW/MIA Accounting Command.

Em Son, commander of the Khmer Rouge forces, ordered Hargrove's execution. In 2000, Son returned to Koh Tang with members of JPAC and identified the site where Hargrove was executed. JPAC, however, did not return to the site to recover remains, according to the book "The Last Battle," by Ralph Wetterhahn and published news reports.

In April 2007, Turner started the journey to "bring Joseph home." He presented a resolution to his fellow commissioners seeking support in recovering Hargrove's remains. After hearing Turner's story, Rep. Russell Tucker, D-Duplin, jumped on board and drafted a similar resolution that eventually went before the N.C. General Assembly. It passed unanimously.

"In the first place, we want to bring our folks back home. We feel sure that he was killed and we'd like to bring his remains back home so that his family can have some final closure," Tucker said. "Anytime a bill comes before the General Assembly, the House in particular, about the military and those that are defending us ... we try to do everything we can to support the military, who defend us daily."

In February 2008, Turner headed to Koh Tang as JPAC returned to the island to search for the remains of Hargrove and others. JPAC excavated the site identified by Son, but found no remains. Turner along with several others conducted excavations of their own to no avail.

Turner returned to Koh Tang in February of this year to continue his search for Hargrove's remains. While he did not unearth anything, the trip was not in vain.

In October, JPAC reportedly discovered four sets of remains on Koh Tang, about 30 yards from where Son initially indicated that Hargrove was executed, Turner said.

Turner believes some of the remains are Hargrove's.

"When they dug up those remains last year, there were four sets of remains - three were identified as Asian, one was identified as American," Turner said.

Turner said the remains reportedly indicate the American was injured above the knee with damage to the bone, the wrists showed evidence of being bound and there was a bullet wound to the head, all of which are consistent with accounts Turner has heard surrounding Hargrove's capture and execution.

"Based on what Em Son said, this matches. The similarities are there," he said.

Turner has two Cambodian sources, whom he wishes to keep anonymous, who confirmed on Turner's most recent trip to Cambodia that JPAC had not only discovered four sets of remains, but that one was American. One of the sources, a member of the Cambodian military, said he heard the remains were that of the "executed American."

Another source, a "high-ranking Cambodian officer," who accompanies JPAC when they conduct excavations, also confirmed Turner's suspicions.

"He confirmed it, and they have no reason to lie," Turner said.

At the end of March, Turner met with representatives from JPAC and expressed his concerns. A high-ranking official within JPAC, who Turner also wishes to keep anonymous, promised Turner he would do what he could for him, Turner said.

"I hope he's a man of his word," he said.

Turner believes JPAC may not want to admit to finding Hargrove's remains because he was one of three "left behind."

"All I'm saying is, ‘Do the right thing, let him come home,'" he said. "We're not looking to point fingers."

U.S. Rep. Walter B. Jones, R-N.C., got involved in Turner's quest, offering support early on. Most recently, he sent a letter to JPAC requesting notification about whether the remains of an American service member recovered in Koh Tang in 2008 had been identified.

"To me, when there's a service person, in this case a Marine, whose family never, ever, had been able to recover the remains to bring the final chapter to the family, I'm going to always extend the help of the office and also my help," Jones said.

Jones received a response on March 20 from JPAC confirming that in October, four samples from recovered remains were sent to the Armed Forces DNA Identification Laboratory for analysis, but those results are pending.

"We've worked with them before regarding Mr. Turner's interest ... and I've found them to be very forthright and up front and I anticipate that they will respond in the next few weeks," Jones said. "I have no question about the integrity of JPAC. They certainly want to return remains. I know that it is important to the families and I think it is important to the country, quite frankly."

Jones also said he has heard that JPAC is understaffed and under funded, which may contribute to the amount of time it takes to process and identify remains.

Turner said he's giving the organization a month before he takes any further action.

"It's in JPAC's lap, I'm waiting for them to make the move. Hopefully they'll do the right thing and fess up and say it's Joseph and send him home," he said. "I'm not going to give up, I'm about 99.9 percent sure they've got him."

Contact Jacksonville/Onslow government reporter Molly DeWitt at 910-219-8455 or

Viettel installs 1,100 base transmission stations in Cambodia

Viettel Cambodia, a subsidiary of Vietnam’s military-run telecoms service provider Viettel, has increased mobile coverage in Cambodia through the installation of 1,100 base transmission stations (BTSs), VietNamNet has reported. The cellco, which launched commercial services in Cambodia under the name Metfone in February 2009, said it would increase the number of BTSs in the country to more than 3,000 by the end of the year with the aim of providing coverage to the whole of the country. Metfone claims to be the only operator in Cambodia to charge for calls on a per-second basis and according to VietNamNet signed up 500,000 subscribers during a three-month trial period, which began in late 2008.

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Kratie kid on path to networking expertise

Written by Hor Hab   

22-year-old Cisco programmer looks to help Cambodia become increasingly tech-savvy

PHENG Sovanvichet, 22, a computer whiz from Kratie province, could soon be leading Cambodia's push to develop IT. 
Currently in the third year of a network engineering course at Dali University in China's Yunnan province, Pheng Sovanvichet looks set to become the first Cambodian to complete the Cisco Certified InterNetwork Expert Routing & Switching course, an advanced networking qualification not available in Cambodia.

The certifications offered by California-based Cisco Systems Inc, a global leader in networking and communications technology and services, are a benchmark standard for IT qualifications. 

Leng Bunny, a Cisco instructor at the National ICT Development Authority (NIDA), told the Post in March that the Cisco Certified Networking Associate (CCNA) degree, conducted in English, could give Cambodian graduates an edge in an increasingly competitive local market. 

"The Cambodian market currently needs these people very much because it is a standard training course, which is necessary for current market demand," he said. 

For his part, Pheng Sovanvichet, who hopes to graduate from Dali University in July 2010 after taking his lab exams in March or April, said he plans to return to Cambodia and work as a network consultant. 

He said he hopes his new-found knowledge will allow him to increase web accessibility in the Kingdom - where internet services are still expensive and relatively sluggish. He has already established an online IT forum (www.khmeritforum
.net) where he shares his networking knowledge with Cambodians.

The Cambodian market currently needs these people very much.

"I want to help improve the level of understanding of technology among Cambodian people," he said. "I want to help Cambodians gain access to reliable, secure, confidential and cheap network connectivity and to have better knowledge of how network technology works."

"It is very interesting to get involved with networks that can help connect people better, and I always imagined seeing Cambodian people having better networks," he added.

Pheng Sovanvichet started his first Cisco certified course (CCNA Level 1) in Cambodia in 2005 at NIDA before moving to China, where he became more closely involved with networking technologies, earning a CCNA degree in September 2007 and Cisco professional degree (CCNP) in February 2008. 

Challenging course
But his current degree, which is yet to be obtained by a Cambodian, is expected to be the biggest challenge. "I have to take two separate tests - for theory ability and an eight-hour exam in a lab for configuration - to pass I need to have a deep understanding ... of how technology works because it has to be applied in concrete scenarios," he said. 
"But I expect to pass at my first attempt because I am working very hard."

Leng Bunny from NIDA said that 64 students were enrolled in Cisco's CCNA courses at NIDA in the first three months of 2009, in addition to the 172 students who completed the course last year.

Cambodia Confirms Location for Multilateral Peacekeeping Exercises

Kompong Speu province will be the main location for Cambodia to host multilateral peacekeeping exercises in March 2010, national media said on Wednesday.

"The three weeks of exercises will see 2,000 troops from 13 countries participate," Chinese-language daily newspaper the Commercial News quoted Prak Sokhon, secretary of state for the Council Ministers, as telling a press conference at the Institute for Peacekeeping Forces, Mine and ERW (Explosive Remnant of War) Clearance in the province.

Meanwhile, the paper quoted the secretary of state as saying that the event will be conducted in the framework of the Global Peace Operations Initiative (GPOI).

GPOI once held such exercises in Bangladesh in 2008, Mongolia in 2007 and Indonesia in 2009, he added.

In early March, Pol Saroeurn, Commander-in-Chief of Royal Cambodian Armed Forces (RCAF), told reporters that Cambodia will host a large-scale ASEAN-U.S. military exercise in 2010.

The event will provide training such as "field tactical and command post operations," but the formal planning and preparation for the exercise will not begin until late this year, he added.

According to official files, 40 Cambodian soldiers participated in a three-week multi-national peace-keeping exercise in Bangladesh in April 2008.

In July 2007, 43 Cambodian soldiers took part in a military exercise for UN peacekeeping mission in Mongolia. 

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

Cambodia to see the worst increase in poverty: World Bank

A new study from the World Bank says that Cambodia will see the biggest increase in poverty in the Asia Pacific region.The study examines the effects of the global recession on that part of the world. 

The World Bank blames a narrow economic base and over dependency on imports as the reasons for why Cambodia will be the hardest hit. 

From the Phnom Penh Post, reporter Steve Finch breaks down the World Bank study. 

Cambodia is set to be the country hardest hit this year by the global economic crisis in the Asia-Pacific region, the World Bank said today, placing the Kingdom among only four countries projected "to experience absolute increases in poverty".

In a report released today, the bank said that Cambodia - along with Malaysia, Thailand and East Timor - would see contractions in per capita income and therefore increased poverty, noting that the Kingdom's weaker GDP growth, which the bank again revised downwards to -1 percent for 2009, would slow poverty reduction across the region.

"Cambodia is the country with the largest projected increase in the number of poor people," the World Bank said.

It projected 200,000 additional people in the Kingdom this year would be pushed below the poverty line - defined by the bank as US$1.25 a day - compared to East Timor, where a further 25,000 were forecast to sink into poverty.

The World Bank in February said that Cambodia had reduced poverty from 45 percent to 50 percent in 1993-1994 - a figure that improved to around 30 percent by 2007.

The report also said that Cambodia would see the greatest GDP growth reversal in the region.

"An expansion of 10.2 percent in 2007 stands in stark contrast to a contraction of 1 percent projected for 2009," it said.

"The difference (11.7 percent) over two years is the largest in the region, and arises from a sudden drop in garment exports and tourist arrivals."

Petrolimex Jet Fuel Co. licensed to import and re-export to Cambodia - Ministry of Industry and Trade licensed Petrolimex Jet Fuel Joint Stock Co (PJF) to import and re-export the jet fuel to Cambodia, regarded as a preparation step for PJF to soon join the jet fuel provision to the domestic market. The event will end the monopoly of Vinapco in the fuel provision to the air firms in Viet Nam.

Petrolimex's PJF will have to invest facilities including container and transportation vehicles and human resources at airports to conduct the service.

Recently, PJF negotiated with foreign petroleum firms on providing jet fuel and finalised necessary procedures to enter the market.

A source from the Ministry of Traffic and Transportation said that as planned, each international airport will have at least two jet fuel providers to create a fair competition in the market.

Beyond Angkor Wat: Cambodia's Hidden Beaches

Sunday, Apr. 05, 2009

Most visits to Cambodia begin with the ancient temples of Angkor Wat or the Khmer Rouge's infamous killing fields just outside Phnom Penh. I'm not saying they're not worth seeing, but on our recent 10-day journey through Cambodia, we visited neither. My husband had already hiked Angkor Wat a couple of months back and, frankly, it just felt too depressing to center an entire vacation around mass murder. So we headed instead to southwestern Cambodia, to the developing coastline, in search of waterfalls and beaches. And we found the people there were just as welcoming as the landscape.

We flew into Phnom Penh International Airport and took a tuk-tuk (a motorized rickshaw) into town. It was a $5, 45-minute, open-air trip on the highway, which probably did bad things to our lungs but helped ease my motion-sickness from our wobbly descent into the airport. It also gave us a nice visual primer of the capital, which we were using only as a way station. Looking back, I would have liked at least another day in Phnom Penh to take in the culture — the Royal Palace and Silver Pagoda, for example — and the laid-back, late-going bar scene. As it was, we had time only for dinner at the Foreign Correspondents' Club (363 Sisowath Quay, Phnom Penh; +855-23-210-142), where we also stayed the night, and to hit up a couple of bars, including Love Orange — a disco packed with teenagers cheering on the drag-queen-lip-synching show.

The next day, it was on to Koh Kong, a coastal frontier town on the Thai border, which until a couple of years ago was best accessed by boat. It is separated from the rest of Cambodia by the Cardamom Mountain range, a dense forest that houses endangered species like the Indochinese tiger and the Malayan sun bear, and used to be a Khmer Rouge stronghold. But a national highway, built with help from the Thais, including four bridges spanning rivers once crossable only by ferry, has cut the drive to Koh Kong from the capital in half — to four hours.

Koh Kong has one paved road, a blink-and-you'll-miss-it dock and an inordinate number of Germans. The main activity for travelers in this beach town is meeting other travelers. Most of the guesthouses and hostels in Koh Kong are run by Europeans and Australians (the proprietor and family usually live on-site) and are good for getting a drink, sitting in a hammock and chatting up your neighbor. They're also good for a cheap ($7 per night) room, if you can endure using a shared toilet. If not, I suggest you stay at the $35-per-night Koh Kong City Hotel (Street 1, Koh Kong; +855-35-936-777) on the waterfront, which is sparse and basic, but has decadent, memory-foam-style mattresses and private, Western-style bathrooms. The front-desk service here is lacking, but you'll sleep the sleep of the dead.

The tour outfits in Koh Kong aren't well advertised, but you can get yourself a seat on an organized excursion if you know whom to ask and don't mind surprises. We stumbled randomly on Otto, owner of a guesthouse called Otto's, on our first night in town. We went to his place for dinner (fantastic fried potatoes) and when we asked for advice on local tours, he pulled out his cell phone, dialed his friend Thomas and booked us instantly on a boat excursion for the following morning. His method was efficient, if mysterious. Even as we boarded the boat the next morning, we had no idea where we were going or what we would see.

There were eight other travelers aboard our long-tail motor boat, seven of whom were German and most of whom were staying at Thomas' guesthouse, Neptune. Thomas, also German, did the entertaining, while our Khmer captain steered with his foot and drank an Angkor brand beer. The first two hours took us south past islands dotted with stilted fishing villages painted in blues and greens and oranges, then through a mangrove forest, into the Gulf of Thailand. There we hit the jackpot: a school of dolphins jumping in the waves.

We stopped for lunch in a fishing village where Thomas had once stayed a night after being stranded at sea. He made friends with the villagers, and now returns often to introduce his tour groups. In general, as tourists, we try not to gawk at the poverty around us, but this was impossible at such close range. About 15 people lined up on the "dock" (really, a front porch) and helped us clamber from our boat over theirs and into their one-room home. There wasn't much dialogue between the groups, given that none of the tourists spoke Khmer and our hosts didn't know English, but there was much smiling and cooing at the babies, one of whom was cooling off in a pot of water. We ate stir-fried veggies and tofu with a cabbage salad cross-legged on the floor. Through the slats, you could see the water a few feet below. The hospitality was free: Thomas brought our lunch, and gave our hosts a case of beer as a token of friendship.

Another sail took us to Koh Kong Island, a dense national forest that is forbidden to recreational exploration. We dropped anchor off a deserted white-sand beach and hopped overboard into the clear, warm sea. The water was probably 70 degrees and not more than five feet deep, with gentle waves that glimmered in the late-afternoon sun. Then, sated and relaxed, we motored home.

The next day, my husband and I decided to find our own adventure. We rented a motorbike for $4 and borrowed a couple of sturdy helmets from Bob, the Australian restaurateur who runs Bob's, in town. Then we headed east about a dozen miles out of town, to check out the Tatai waterfall with two friends we had met on the boat the day before — a twentysomething German woman who was traveling solo in Asia for six months and a dreadlocked guy we called The Wanderer because when asked where he was from he said, "My last address was Berlin, but I am now a man with no address," and when we asked for his name, replied, "I don't believe in names. They are so superficial."

Tatai gushes rapids during the rainy season (May to October), but during the dry time of year the river is low and dotted with warm, fresh-water pools. Families picnicked and swam. And barefoot kids climbed up and hurled themselves off the cliffs in ways that would give most parents I know a seizure.

But the real adventure of the day was the motorbikes. The last time my husband, Keirn, had driven one was 10 years ago in the Philippines. Now that we live in Vietnam, where everyone gets around on scooters or motorbikes, we were keen to practice our driving skills and happy to do so outside of Saigon's swirling, incessant traffic.

We rode the highway, over hills, across a bridge and back. It was exhilarating. But on the dirt access road from Tatai to the highway, we hit a patch of sand and lost control of our bike. Next thing we knew, Keirn and I were lying on our sides, covered in red soil, wondering if we were still in one piece. We were. We had been traveling slowly, luckily on a dirt road not asphalt, and there were lots of people around to help us.

Everyone came running. A group of five women — our saviors — pulled their truck over just past our crash. A few of them hoisted our bike into the bed of their truck, tied it down and piled in after it. My husband and I climbed into the cab with the driver, who turned out to be the proprietress of one of the nicer guesthouses in town, Koh Kong Guest House (Street 1, Koh Kong; +855-16-654-171), and took us to a pharmacy before dropping us off at our hotel.

The Wanderer, it turned out, had trained as a nurse sometime in his mysterious past. It was another stroke of luck for us. I had gouged some holes in my hand in the accident and Keirn had a deep gash on his elbow that probably should have gotten a stitch. But we felt wary of our chances at a neighborhood clinic, so The Wanderer cleaned our wounds, patched us up, and sent us back to our comfy bed to relax.

Which is what we did for the rest of our trip. From Koh Kong, we moved on to Sihanoukville, a three-hour drive southwest. Sihanoukville, named after a former king, is billed as Vietnam's up-and-coming high-end resort town, but, for now, it is more accurately described as a beach-town-for-backpackers. Hostels are abundant here and there are a couple of nice hotels, where you can get rooms for $5 to $400, depending on your budget. We got the last room, a private bungalow, at the one real resort in town, the Sokha Beach Resort (Street 2 Thnou, Sihanoukville; +855-34-935-999;, which was nice enough, but not worth the $200-plus per night.

Sihanoukville's main public beaches, Occheuteal and Serendipity, are lined with cafes that offer lounge chairs by day and become bars night. This shoreline and the roads behind it constitute the town's most popular restaurant and nightlife area, and there's enough litter piled about to prove it. We had excellent Mexican food at the new Reef Resort (Road to Serendipity, Sihanoukville; +855-012-315-338;, a boutique hotel, and practically fell asleep afterward on the huge pillows spread out on the sand at Purple Lounge (at about the midpoint of Serendipity Beach). The town's former main drag, which is a 10-minute ride northwest of that area, is called Victory Hill. The crowd there comprises mostly older Western men and their young Cambodian companions, which is a little creepy, but we had a nice French dinner at XXL (+855-92-738-641).

We pried ourselves off the beach for one day, paying a tuk-tuk driver $30 (probably too much) for a six-hour tour of town. If you like animals, ask someone to take you to the Buddhist monastery, where the legions of wild monkeys will eat out of your hand. And definitely set aside an hour to visit Boom Boom Room (Serendipity Beach Road; +855-12-219-657), where you can load up your iPod or MP3 player with supercheap music.

Recently, Russian developers have taken an interest in Sihanoukville, helming many new projects, including Snake House (a guest house, restaurant and zoo on Mittapheap Kampuchea-Soviet Street; +855-12-673-805) and the town's most impressive bar, Airport (Krong Street; +855-34-934-470): it's an open hangar housing a real Antonov-24 turboprop plane, which makes up the club's VIP section. Airport opens onto Victory Beach, which during the day offers a small, calm, shallow shoreline without the hectic scene found on Serendipity.

Sihanoukville is Cambodia's main shipping port, so there's local wealth here as well. In five years, a handful of new resorts and several middle-class housing developments will have likely sprung up. So, if you like your beach towns simple, cheap and dirty — The Wanderer, for one, thought Sihanoukville was already too bustling — you might want to go there now.

Meanwhile, if anyone wants to visit Angkor Wat, let me know.

Saturday, April 4, 2009

Hope blooms in Cambodian resort

Hope blooms in Cambodian resort

Former residence of the king's mother in Kep
Much of Kep's French colonial era mansions and villas were destroyed

In Cambodia, as the pain of the brutal Khmer Rouge years is relived in a courtroom in Phnom Penh, Petroc Trelawny goes further back in time to revisit the days of the French colonial era - and explores one of their old seaside playgrounds.

The security guard finally appeared, after my driver had spent some minutes shouting and banging the gate.

He was a middle-aged man, who stumbled out of what had once been the reception room window, down the curved ramp passing the crumbling remains of a pair of cast-concrete statues.

A few dollar bills later, the rusty chain around the gate was loosened and I was in.

Ghostly remains

Kep-sur-Mer is what the French called this small town in colonial times. A nice beach, lush forestation, and sea breezes to keep thecolons [colonisers] cool - all this a matter of hours by car from the heat and dust of the capital.

From the end of World War II through until the mid 1960s, French settlers - and a few rich Cambodians - built dozens of bungalows and villas for themselves.

Then came the gradual rise of the Khmer Rouge. It soon became too dangerous to leave Phnom Penh.

At first the contents of the weekend homes were looted, then the doors and window-frames and roof tiles were taken.

What was left was then abandoned to the elements, or set ablaze as part of the Khmer Rouge's quest to eliminate anything to do with an imperial past.


But the buildings were too well constructed to be completely destroyed.

Now Kep is full of ruins, houses with crumbling verandas where pastis was once sipped as the sun set, lovingly tended vegetable plots now overgrown, trees where beds and sofas were once carefully arranged.

Of all the ghostly remains, my home-behind-the-gates was by far the most spectacular.

A grand double-fronted residence, with wide balconies on the first floor and gaping gaps where shuttered French windows would once have stood.

 Perhaps he dreams of a day when Cambodia's situation is more stable, rosier, and Kep-sur-Mer as was, can become a royal resort once again 

But there was something different about this place, and it took me a few moments to work out what. Then I realised. The ruin was surrounded by perfectly kept gardens.

The lawn was trimmed, the shrub-beds immaculate, the white roses carefully pruned.

The young gardener soon appeared, a broad smile on his face as he carried buckets of water.

Round the back of the house was his well, and his toddler daughter, alarmingly amusing herself playing with an axe.

Former bathroom in ruined house in Kep
The powder-blue bathroom has long since fallen into disrepair

I pointed to show that I would like to look inside the house, and he waved me in.

Red and white tiles still covered 60% of the floor. In the central hall, an elegantly curved staircase slowly wound its way upstairs, its banisters long gone.

The walls were riddled with bullet marks  -  there had obviously once been some stand-off here.

The occupant of the master-bedroom would have enjoyed spectacular views of the Gulf of Thailand.

The adjacent bathroom had once boasted a powder-blue suite - most of it gone, or reduced to rubble, save for the lavatory roll holder, which somehow had survived intact.

Mysterious benefactor

Then came a clue as to the ownership of this house. Another bedroom had been turned into a makeshift classroom.

A series of cartoons painted on the wall seemed to poke fun at the government.

In one a spotlight shone on a man in a suit, who looked like Hun Sen, prime minister for the past 25 years. In the beam, the word "transparency" was written in English and in capitals.

On another wall, a blackboard had the words along the top, again in English, HM Norodom Sihanouk, King of Cambodia.

Sihanouk was monarch until 2004, when he unexpectedly abdicated, handing power to one of his sons, Norodom Sihamoni, a former ballet dancer who has spent most of his life abroad.

"King house, king house," my driver told me as we pulled away, waving goodbye to the gardener and his daughter.

In fact as I discovered later, it was actually the villa of the king's mother.

Ruined villa in Kep
The Khmer Rouge abolished money and private property

The king's own residence is on a bluff the other side of town, a '60s fantasy with sweeping picture windows and circular terraces overlooking the sea.

Again the house is crumbling, but the grounds are perfectly maintained.

So who is paying the gardeners? Locals told me that money arrives regularly and discreetly from the royal family itself.

Kep is gradually coming to life again.

French families are staying in the simple hotel on the beach and an eco-resort has opened in the hills.

The grand former colonial governor's house - rather like a Normandy chateau - has been restored and surrounded by chalets, though a financial dispute means the complex is currently locked shut.

Cambodia now attracts over a million foreign tourists a year, but Norodom Sihamoni is king of a nation that is still high up the UN list of Least Developed Countries and suffers from what has been described as "pandemic" corruption.

Recently the IMF announced Cambodia's economic outlook was distinctly gloomy.

But if it is the king who is keeping his gardens growing in this little coastal town, perhaps he dreams of a day when Cambodia's situation is more stable, rosier, and Kep-sur-Mer as was, can become a royal resort once again.

From Our Own Correspondent was broadcast on Saturday, 4 April, 2009 at 1130 BST on BBC Radio 4. Please check theprogramme schedules for World Service