Monday, January 24, 2011

The Hijab in Southern Cambodia

In my subjective and casual observation of some Cham Muslim communities in southern Cambodia, over the past decade the number of Cham women and girls donning the veil has risen from well less than half to a nearly universal practice.

The Cham are an ethnic minority group in Cambodia, distinct from the Khmers. They represent the remnants of the Kingdom of Champa, formerly located in what is now central Vietnam. Champa's history stretches into prehistory, but the kingdom was worn down over centuries of war and finally extinguished by the Vietnamese in the early 19th century. Originally Hindu like the Khmers, most of Champa converted to Islam in the 16th-18th centuries. Survivors of the fall of Champa fled Vietnam, scattering into Cambodia where they were granted refuge and settled in pockets, often along waterways. Several Cham Muslims communities dot southern Kampot province, clustered into certain areas, many hugging the rivers of the coastal area. The main road from Sihanoukville to Kampot (NR3) and on to Kep (R31) passes through many Cham communities, sometimes marked by the presence of a mosque or Arabic writing alongside the Khmer on school signs.

The different ethnic communities can also be distinguished by the dress of the people. Cham men often, perhaps even usually wear a sarong and taqiyah. The women wear sarongs as well. But their use of the hijab has changed significantly over the last decade. To my memory,10 or 15 years ago it was largely for the matronly and older women, similar to the practice of Khmer women wrapping their hair in a krama (a traditional checked Khmer scarf.) A couple of the most distinguishable differences between the two different ethnic groups was the somewhat different way the women draped their headwear and the pattern of the fabric - Khmers universally wearing the traditional checked pattern krama whereas the Cham women often use non-checked patterns and solid colors. Back then some younger Cham women also wore the veil but not as a rule, and it was rarely seen on children.

These days, in 2011, the hijab seems almost universal as I drive through and by Muslim communities along Route #3 in southern Cambodia. It is worn by women, girls and very often children, usually in distinctive traditional hijab styles. And, for the first time, in the last year or so I have seen a couple of women in full cover dress in Kampot province. The surface differences between the Khmer and Cham communities is no longer a subtle one. 

A few related links:

Cambodian Muslim women dropping out of state schools - 2007

Cambodian prime minister tells schools to allow Muslim headscarves - Sept 11, 2008

Islam in Cambodia

An American Mosque in Cambodia

Phnom Penh Post: Concern over radicalization - July 14, 2011

Sunday, January 23, 2011

Friday, January 21, 2011

The curious case of the banning that wasn’t

Two days ago rumors flew that the Cambodian government had blocked all blogspot websites, presumably to prevent access to the controversial blog KI Media and possibly Khmerization as well. Blogspot sites were unavailable through some ISP providers in Cambodia for most of the day.

That night and again yesterday, the Cambodian government denied that it had ordered any such ban. And by the following day blogspot was once again accessible through most ISP providers in Cambodia.

So how did the rumors of the blogspot ban begin?

On the morning of the 19th internet users in Cambodia noted on social media and discussion forums that blogspot seemed to be either partially or wholly unavailable in-country. Some were quick to suggest that an official ban had been imposed. Such a move by the government was not wholly unexpected as they had threatened to regulate internet access before and had very recently expressed strong concerns over the blogspot site KI Media.

By midday tell had it that an ISP provider was informing its customers that it had blocked blogspot on the request of the Cambodian Ministry of Interior. So around 2PM I phoned the provider, spoke to a customer representative and asked straight out, “Have you blocked blogspot?” to which she responded with a quick and unequivocal “Yes…the Ministry of Interior has requested all ISP providers in Cambodia to block all of blogspot.” I called them again a few hours later at the end of the workday, asked the same question and received the same answer, virtually verbatim, sounding very much like a prepared statement. I probed a bit, asking if they might narrow or lift the ban in the future and was told it depended on instructions from the Ministry.

The following day the Phnom Penh Post reported that upper management of the ISP provider was denying having received any instructions from the government and that the outage had been caused by a “technical glitch.” This is curious.

This would seem to imply that the information the customer service reps had been giving all day was the result of some sort of communication breakdown. But if a misunderstanding, how did the reps come to deliver such a specific confirmation of a government ban, right down to naming the ministry and other details of the ban? If it was some sort of miscommunication within the company, it is difficult to imagine the mechanics of it.

Did the company techs tell their customer rep staff there was “a technical glitch causing inaccessibility of some sites” that they somehow misheard as “the Ministry of Interior has requested that all ISP providers in Cambodia block all of blogspot”? That would be quite the misunderstanding. Did some manager simply assume the outage was a result of a government ban as well as all the other attending details and pass that on to the customer reps? That would be quite the assumption.

It would seem that there is more to the story than a mere technical glitch. Perhaps... Testing the waters? Somebody jump the gun or overstep their authority? Idle talk mistaken for a wink and a nod? A subtle move screwed up by loose lips and/or heavy handed techs? An honest misunderstanding of enormous coincidental proportions? In lieu of additional information, what that ‘more’ might be is a matter of speculation.

If nothing else, the episode provided a glimpse of what would happen if such a ban were implemented. Almost immediately there was an outcry from observers both in and outside Cambodia, within hours information on how to bypass the block via proxy servers was circulated, KI Media began to set up mirror sites outside of blogspot and it all turned into a huge publicity boom for the site, acting to promote KI Media rather than suppress it.

All this said, as of today there is no official ban on blogspot (though a couple of providers still seem to be suffering some sort of 'technical glitch') and, to its great credit, Cambodia still has the freest and most open internet access in mainland Southeast Asia.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Cambodia blocks blogspot

If you are reading this you are probably not in Cambodia.

In a huge step backwards, it appears that the Cambodian government has requested internet providers in Cambodia to block all Google blogspot/blogger sites. This has presumably been done in order to ban one website in particular from Cambodian eyes: KI Media.

KI Media is a largely political, opposition-leaning blog that republishes current news stories regarding Cambodia (that it lifts from other sources) and also publishes various opinion pieces on Cambodia. The Cambodian government has complained of KI Media for years, particularly of late, for what it considers to be KI Media's inflammatory, provocative and insulting language and criticisms of the government and government figures.

Personally, I don't like KI Media. It is, as the government claims, inflammatory, provocative and insulting. I would also add: highly biased, vulgar, often racist and having no regard for copyrights and the intellectual property of others. That said, they are, for better or worse, a member of the online media, and a country which respects freedom of the press would not attempt to censor this political voice. Sadly, it seems that the Cambodian government has done just that.

Cambodia is well advanced of its neighbors with regard to press freedom. All manner of websites are blocked in Vietnam, Thailand and Burma. And their print media is no freer. Cambodia stood apart in Southeast Asia, with completely open and free access to internet and a comparatively good record in regard to the print media as well, especially the English language press. (This is not to say that Cambodia has been a model in this regard. There have been some problems including the occasional intimidation of members of the Cambodian press, threats of blocking interneta controversial film banned from showing, and a recent assault on a Phnom Penh Post photographer covering the Boeung Kak Lake eviction story.) But actually blocking blogs, particularly a political a blog, is a new and very large step backwards for the freedom of speech and press in Cambodia. If it has actually occurred and remains in force, it is likely the beginning of a long a slippery slope of internet censorship in Cambodia.

At this point the internet block has only been partially confirmed and there are varying reports of its extent. Cambodia has several internet providers and some seem to have blocked more than others. For example, as of early this morning Telesurf did not appear to be blocking any websites. Some Online users report that they are unable to access KI Media though other blogspot sites are available. But Ezecom users report that all blogspot websites are inaccessible. I called Online and Ezecom here in Phnom Penh and asked about the rumors of blocked websites. Online said that it had not blocked any websites. But Ezecom informed me that as of today, "the Ministry of Interior has requested all ISP providers in Cambodia to block all of blogspot, (which we have done.)"

UPDATE: 10:10PM, 19/1/11 - The Phnom Penh Post has just reported that government officials are denying that there has been any official order to block blogspot. The Ministry of Post and Telecommunication (MPTC) has denied it categorically. The Ministry of Interior seems less sure. Ezecom, the ISP provider that told me that they received notice from the Ministry of Interior to block blogspot, is now hemming and hawing.

Khmer440 discussion: Blogger barred by RCG

EAS Report

Monday, January 17, 2011

Steel Sunset

Sihanoukville Sunset

Koh Pos Island in foreground, from north end of Hawaii Beach, Sihanoukville, Cambodia

Sunday, January 16, 2011

Update: National Route #3 to Kampot

Three months ago I reported on the state of the roads south from Phnom Penh to Kampot and Kep, recommending at the time taking an alternative route via Nation Route #2 (NR2) in lieu of the on-going road construction on the more direct National Route #3 (NR3.) Over the last few months the conditions on NR3 have improved greatly. Most of the construction on NR3 is now complete and the road is wide, flat and paved. A sure sign that NR3 is now the better route, most Kampot-bound taxis and buses have begun to use NR3 again instead of NR2. There are still comparatively short unfinished sections (a few kilometers) at both ends, near Phnom Penh and near Kampot, and several bridges are also still incomplete, requiring short detours. But the trip down NR3 to Kampot can now be made in about 3 hours, perhaps a bit longer, the same or faster than the alternative routes. As road construction seems to be moving along at a brisk pace and is in its final stages, my guess is that NR3 will 100% complete in the fairly near future.

Most direct route from Phnom Penh to Kampot: NR3 all the way.

Most direct rout from Phnom Penh to Kep: NR3 > R31 > R33 > R33a

See the map in my previous post.

Saturday, January 15, 2011

The state of Otres Beach

Umbrellas on Otres Beach Sihanoukville
The near end of Otres Beach, last week
Otres has long been my favorite Sihanoukville beach. Twin sister of Ochheuteal Beach (the next beach south, a 3 kilometer crescent of white sand facing southwest) but much more relaxed and far less touristed than Ochheuteal, largely because it is completely undeveloped and a bit difficult to get to. Comparatively close as the crow flies, it still something of a small project to get there. It was only recently (a few years ago) that the road over the headland from Ochheuteal was opened, and that only to motorcycles. And the back way using the city roads requires traversing 2.5 kilometers of broken pavement. The roads have limited the tourists to only those who really want to be there.

The beach itself is wonderfully primitive and laid back. There are no hotels, spas or shops, not even any running water or, until just last year, regular electricity. Until mid-2010, thatch covered beach bars dotted the full length of Otres, but much more sparsely than Ochheuteal. There were a few basic bungalows on the sand and a couple of places offering kayaks and Hobies. Even the roaming beach vendors (massage and trinkets) were much fewer and far less aggressive than their Ochheuteal counterparts. Otres was (and still is) a place that you can fall asleep in your beach chair unperturbed by crowds, beggar kids and hawkers. The only real drawback to Otres was that it is difficult (and even dangerous) to get back to the main town area come evening. The road is long, lonely and dark, and robberies of those trying to make their way back in the evening are not unknown. Better to come back either before sundown or stay the night at Otres.

Sign with map of Otres Beach Sihanoukville
Map of Otres showing the project area
But such idyllic simplicity in 'Cambodia's premier beach town' could not last. Otres is prime beachfront real estate begging by its very nature to be developed into some sort of 5-star moneymaker. Since the first couple of beach bars showed up on Otres a half a decade back it has been known to most that the government would eventually take it all back for development - that the oceanside beach bars and bungalows were temporary, allowed to exist only in the interim until that development began.

Early last year, it seemed the end was nigh. The on and off talk of development began to concretize. The government delivered notice that all businesses were to clear the beach in a month to make way for a planned development. After negotiations, the government seemed to relent, demanding only that people stop laying permanent foundations on the beach. And offering even greater hope at the time, the city connected the Otres area to the regular electrical grid and allowed the beach businesses to hook in, bringing Otres its first 24/7 power. 

Sign with redition of future Otres Beach Sihanoukville
The development project
But the good feelings were short lived. Within a couple of months, government officials were back delivering marching orders to the beach businesses - 'out and out now.' There were more negotiations and a few small payouts to some of the places to get them move. And then that was it. In July 2010 the bulldozers showed up and started leveling some of the beach bars. The talk turned very dark. The end of Otres had come, it was said. I saw internet postings on forums like Lonely Planet Thorn Tree that "Otres is gone." In fact, just last week a tourist on Ochheuteal told me that Otres was no more. But rumors of her death are greatly exaggerated.

Inside the development area, last week
The Otres development project sits behind long green tin fences, marking its boundaries and blocking the beachfront road. A single sign stands near the entrance, displaying the envisioned future. The beach within the project area has been cleared of all but a thin row of trees, revealing a vast expanse of fine white sand. Not even beach grass remains. For the businesses that were destroyed, the loss was total. But, it turned out that this stage of the project took up only the middle section of the Otres - about 1.2km - to be developed into a park (and renamed "Long Beach"?) All of the businesses in the first kilometer at the near end of Otres were left unscathed, as was another kilometer and its smattering of places at the far end. And a few of the lost businesses from the middle section picked up and moved to either end of the beach. After a nasty punch in the gut, Otres collected itself and began to carry on something like usual.

At the near end, the atmosphere has changed very little from the old Otres. If you don't walk up the beach too far you won't even know the development project is there. Relaxed little beach bars and BBQ shacks still ply their trade. Many of the beach bungalows are now gone, but not all, and little guesthouses have begun to pop up on the other side of the road, off the sand but still only 20 meters from the
Squatter shack on Otres Beach Road Sihanoukville
Evicted villager's huts
water's edge, and presumably safer from city demands to stop laying foundations on the beach. And the far end of the beach became even more secluded as the development cut it off from the main beachfront road. The far end is an island of sorts now, perhaps even enhancing that forgotten tropical beach feel that Otres has long enjoyed.

How long will it last? God and the government only know. There are still rumors of an expanded development project that will take out the remaining businesses at the near end, but no sign or official word of it yet. There is still the very grim reminder of Otres development on the entry road - the sad remnants of the Otres community, local people violently evicted from their village by a land deal back in 2007, now living in a string of squatter huts along the roadside. But for beach goers, for now, Otres is not gone. In fact, save the middle section, it is much the same as before.

Otres Beach Sihanoukville
Otres Beach, 2006

Eviction of Otres village

DAS: Otres evictions, update, February 12, 2008

PPP: Band bids Otres beach bars farewell, February 12, 2010

PPP: Otres eviction talks set for today, July 5, 2010

July 2010, Otres Beach 2010: What does the future hold???

Monday, January 10, 2011

Road Widening

Bulldozer works on Serendipity Beach Road
Development has once again reared its intrusive head in Sihanoukville, this time on Serendipity Beach Road. As it has been for several years now, Serendipity Road from the Golden Lion Traffic Circle to the top of the hill is paved and two lanes, lined with businesses on both sides, most catering to tourists - hotels, restaurant, bars and guesthouses including such well known names as the Monkey Republic, Reef Resort, Beach Road and Utopia. It has long been said that the government would widen the road like it has many Sihanoukville streets over recent years. The talk became a reality last week when government officials, followed shortly thereafter by a bulldozer, rolled along Serendipity Beach Road implementing the development plan.

I happened to be in Sihanoukville at the time and heard of some sort of trouble up on Serendipity, so headed over to check it out. I arrived a couple of hours after the bulldozer, its destructive work already well begun. The machine was moving up the edge of the road, crushing signage and curbside decks. A dozen and a half sour looking policeman lingered in the shade of a tree in front of Utopia and business owners both foreign and Khmer milled about with crossed arms and furrowed brows.

21 meter mark
I spoke to a couple of the owners, none of whom were happy, but interestingly seemed somewhat relieved that it wasn't worse. As I understand the story, the city had delivered notice a week earlier that the road was to be widened to a 40 meter wide thoroughfare, similar to the main street through town. The 40 meters would be comprised of six lanes of traffic and frontage. Three days ago, city surveyors came through the area painting a red line to mark the planned edge of the new road. For many businesses, that red line fell near the midpoint of the restaurant. It was under the pool table at Monkey Republic and mid-bar at Reef Resort.

Much complaining, cajoling and reasoning with the authorities ensued. It all seemed first to fall on deaf ears but then, at the last day, in a seeming act of partial concession, the city reduced the clear area from 40 meters to only 21 meters, bringing the edge of the road back to the front of the main structures of the businesses. Though a couple small places near the road's edge and at the peak of the hill such as Corruption Bar were completely removed, in most cases including all of the larger places, the area lost was limited to the street side seating, garden, signage and walkway, many not even that. Business continues pretty much as usual.

None of the business owners I asked knew for sure if the reduction to 21 meters was permanent or whether there might be further widening in the future. Time will no doubt tell.

Back in the mid 90s when I first came to Sihanoukville, coconut palm trees lined the 2-lane main road (Ekareach Street) from the police station at the top of the hill, through the downtown and most of the way to the Golden Lions. The trees were a varied bunch, some picture perfect, some less so, but still, they gave the Sihanoukville character, arching over the roads, providing little islands of shade for vendors, a playground for the monkeys, and affording the town a 'sea of palms' look - ideal for a tourist beach town.

Ekareach St., from the top of the hill, opposite the VN Embassy, Sihanoukville 1998

Ekareach St., from the same place at the top of the hill, last week

One weekend in 1999 I came down for a couple of days and the first night turned into a late one. I stumbled out of the Moonshine Bar 4:30ish and then up the street to my downtown hotel, The Kampong Som.

At about 6am the 'next morning,' (an hour and a half later,) I was woken by the fitful drone of a distant chainsaw. My head was pounding. I took a swig of water, consoled myself with the idea that whatever they were cutting wouldn't take long, put the pillow over my head and tried to sleep. What seemed about an hour later the chainsaw was still whining, now even louder and closer. I cursed the hotel for its thin walls and cheap windows. 'This is what I get for $10 a night,' I thought. My head still hurt. I drank some more water, stuffed toilet paper in my ears, sandwiched my head between pillows and tried to sleep. But there was no let up in the fact, it would stop intermittently for a minute or two, offering hope, but would flare again as sure as a bad tooth. About 10am I admitted defeat. Between the headache, the noise and my general annoyance, I was up and out. I decided to get something to eat to try to quell the hangover. As I stepped into the hall I ran into a Vietnamese taxi girl from the bar the night before, Mai, a friend. She had just finished her shift so to speak and was on her way to breakfast. We joined up and headed out for a street side noodle stand that sat a few doors away from the hotel.

Stepping out the front door I was assaulted by an uncharacteristically bright hot sun. As my eyes adjusted I was struck near dumb by the scene. The palm trees, and all the shade and shield they provided, were gone...all of them! Well, not gone, but no longer standing. Dozens and dozens lay on the ground along the main street. Sawdust filled the air. The whir of the chainsaw was still audible a couple of blocks away. Every single palm along the road had been felled, exposing a painfully intense sky and rows of monotonous blocky white buildings.

Aghast, I bounded toward the destruction sputtering "What the fuck?!? What the fuck is this??? What have they done???" The place had gone from a picturesque little beach town to a communist-era cinder block city in a matter of hours. Mai walked up behind me, put her hands on her hips and surveyed the street, slowly turning her head back and forth to take in the whole scene. She nodded approvingly. "Very good, very neat, very clean, very good control." Shocked again, I looked at her and blurted "What?!? But the beautiful trees...It took years for those trees to grow...And now look, it's just dust and concrete," to which she calmly responded, "This city, not jungle. This very clean, very good control. See all the buildings. Good order." I was speechless. "Yes, very good. Clean! But..." she continued while shading her eyes from the intense tropical sun, "very hot here. Sun very strong. Come back, go inside, eat breakfast." I looked down the street. The noodle stand was gone. I went back inside.

Later that day I heard that the tree removal was the first stage of a road widening development plan. It took a long time after the trees were removed before the new road actually went in. Years, in fact. At first I was skeptical that it would ever happen. But the two lanes were eventually repaired. A couple of years on, it was improved to four lanes, then a couple years after that, widened to six lanes.

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Monday, January 3, 2011


Cambodia cut rice

It’s the first New Year of the year. Two more to come.

And it’s harvest time in Cambodia.

The monsoons ended a month or so ago. It’s cool and mostly rainless, bringing an end to the primary growing season. Most of the rice has recently been cut and the paddies are dry and turning fallow brown.

Driving through rural Kampong Trach (Kampot province) yesterday I saw several groups threshing rice by hand - the ‘flailing method’ - beating the long stalks against rows of threshing boards and funneling the seed into baskets beneath. Piles of drying rice straw sat stacked in front of houses and bamboo and plastic mats lined the side of the road, covered with new rice seed airing in the sun and breeze. Toward the end of the day, as the sun was setting, women collected the dry seed from the mats into large sacks for storage.

Rural Cambodia is a busy place right now, bustling with harvest work. Not really an ideal time for a New Year holiday. Nevertheless, there will be many celebrations today (Dec 31,) and a certain amount of partying come Chinese New Year in February as well. Cambodians are never ones to pass up on a good holiday, even non-Cambodian ones. But the real New Year here - Khmer New Year (Jol Chhnam Khmei) - is still months away, in April, well after the harvest period has ended and just before the seasonal rains begin, at a time more in sync with the Southeast Asian rhythms of the monsoons and the rice.

Nevertheless, for a westerner like me, today is New Year Eve, my New Year Eve. So, naturally, with three hours to kill driving from Phnom Penh to Kep, I took to reflecting on the year for Cambodia - the news, the big stories, the not so big stories, changes, non-changes, lingering impressions and the state of things. I made a list of whatever came to mind, noting it into my iPhone as I drove. This is that list, with some references added.

* The Preah Vihear border dispute with Thailand was news all year in one form or another – a largely imposed crisis, its current incarnation born of Thailand’s recent internal upheaval. To date, Cambodia has held her own quite well throughout, the Cambodian PM deserving much of the credit for navigating difficult political waters, just bringing the Preah Vihear dispute to a seemingly settled calm... Through there has just been yet another incident spurring yet another crisis. It continues

* China is HERE in the most present tense, inking huge deals in aid, investment and development, throwing money at Cambodia like it grows on trees in China. The US (and the west) lost significant ground in Cambodia as China soared in the zero-sum game of aid/investment-bought influence and favor. ‘No-strings’ money from China won hands down over American-style hard bargaining aid-for-improvements approach. Uncle Sam isn't the only deep-pockets sugar daddy on the block anymore.

* Boeung Kak Lake is almost gone.

* The Japanese drainage system project in Phnom Penh that tied up traffic and parks for two years was completed this year, seemingly with no visible effect whatsoever on the drainage. In my non-expert observation, it floods now same as before, maybe worse. I’m no engineer but I can’t help but wonder if the demise of Boeung Kak Lake might have something to do with it.

* A mid-term year, the next national elections still 2 years away, internal politics were a bit slow. The government is stable and functioning, probably more so than any government since UNTAC. The CPP is in firm and sole control, holding the majority necessary to control Parliament. SRP is still percolating along, being provocative, getting accused, threatened with jail and touring the world. FUNCINPEC and friends burped and gurgled a couple of times.

* Mu Sochua of SRP distinguished herself, winning a big-stakes game of chicken with the government, standing her ground when others may have gone to France. Who has the cajones in that party, eh? Keep an eye on this lady. She’s going places.

* Land grabbing and evictions continue unabated.

* A Khmer Rouge guy was convicted. 'Enough is enough' was declared. And send more money.

* Boeung Keng Kang 1 is now the city's preferred hunting ground of midnight muggers.

* Yet another beach in Sihanoukville - Otres Beach - has been partially closed for development. Now, something like two thirds of the main beaches on the peninsula are either closed or suffer limited access. (Don't fret, beach-goers. There's still plenty of beach in Sihanoukville for you - Ochheuteal, part of Victory, part of Otres and Sokha if you can afford it.)

* Most of the islands near Sihanoukville remain completely undeveloped - beautiful, pristine beaches and untouched tropical jungle. But it’s not going to last. Plans are afoot. Experience it while you can

* An exclusive gym for the employees of 7NG Land Development Group has been erected on the site of the Dey Krahorm village eviction. All 7NG Group staff will be free to play different kinds of sports: football, tennis, volleyball, etc.

* Siem Reap managed to get even more touristy with Pub Street at ground zero.

* There are now several KFCs in Cambodia (Phnom Penh and Siem Reap) and Pizza Hut and Burger King are on the way.

* Koh Pich.

* Cambodia, long given one-dimensional coverage in the international press, got a little more comic book this year – a land of Villains, Victims and now Heroes.

* The rural countryside remains about the same - picturesque, poor, ignorant and traditional.

* The guy throwing bricks at foreigners on the riverfront seems to have stopped, and it turns out none of it ever happened anyway.

* Cambodia's first viral video, oh my.

* Pity tourism is still en vogue - 'volunteering,' orphanage visits, be-Angelina-for-a-day packages - providing potentially lucrative outlets for those who would exploit children and the disadvantaged. Study up before you do it.

* There seemed to be an abundance of sex industry focused Johnny-come-lately journalists, Christian saviors and new NGOs turning up this year – over-funded, under-informed and 10 years too late.

* On that same note, evangelical Christian groups seem to be arriving at an ever increasing rate, most involved in charitable work of some sort, all of them with an ulterior motive - hunting and collecting souls. However they have chosen to help - education, rescue, shelters, etc - it always come back to exposing people to the Word of the Lord Jesus.

* The real estate bubble that burst a couple of years ago remains burst. The Monument to Pointless Development at the corner of Monivong and Sihanouk has been completed

* The tallest building in the Asia was constructed on the riverfront, but sank in the mud and disappeared. (Just kidding, sort of.)

* Kingdom Beer is making a go of it.

* Overland border crossings evolved a little. Poipet immigration seems to have cleaned up it's act. If you can fight your way through the army of visa and money exchange scammers on the Thai side and get to Cambodian immigration, you can get a Cambodian tourist visa for about the right price - $20. The crossing at Koh Kong remains the same, steeped in its overcharging ways. And Prek Chak on the VN border seems to have picked up some of the same habits.

* Police are actually enforcing the helmet laws for motorcyclists and occasionally a smattering of other traffic laws as well. Most people even obey the traffic signals these days, at least during the day. Times change.

* Tourist arrivals are up, though the demographics have changed some. Roads continue to improve. Seems to be lots of small infrastructure projects underway or imminent around the country. Investment, especially Chinese investment, is way up. GDP is up. The country is, in many ways, moving forward.

* The Cambodian riel lost a bit against the dollar but gained it back by years end - settling in around the old standard of 4000R to the dollar. Petrol isn't cheap (US$1-$1.20/liter) but cigarettes and beer still are. A buck for a pack of Marlboros, less for local cigarettes. Can even buy them one at a time. There's still no closing time at the bars...