This will be a relatively short note…primarily to let you know that we have arrived in Siem Reap in northern Cambodia. The journey out of Phnom Penh was eventful as it was morning rush hour — the Guide had made sure we had lots of time, because the roads were clogged. That city has more cars on the streets than Hanoi, and perhaps more per/capita than Saigon. Most are used cars from California, but I really think that some western Canadian auto dealers should team up with the big rental companies and consider shipping vehicles…could be a good business as people now can get loans in Cambodia to buy big ticket items (homes, cars, motorbikes, appliances, etc,
But this isn’t really a business development moment. Back to the journey — got to the airport in lots of time (was even able to have an ice cream before boarding). When it was time to board we were ushered into a mobile transporter and taken to the end of the tarmac — perhaps they were trying to hide the fact that they were using an old Vietnam Airlines ATR72. Now this plane is solid…I know because of the squeaks and rattles and oil drops around the landing gear. It also loads from the rear so there is no real affirmation that it is being flown by real people — but the flight attendants are very polite and they gave every indication that the plane was intended to fly…so we all boarded (and when I say all, I mean every seat…!!)
After the doors closed and considerable shaking and squeaking, the plane did manage to lift off… it was a short flight (aka Edmonton to Calgary / Penticton to Vancouver) and so I didn’t get out my MP3 player, I just continued reading Leon Panetta’s book Worthy Fight (Penguin Books) that I heartily recommend.
Got the book finished as we descended to the airport — actually given the force of the landing the pilot was either intending a landing in a nearby rice paddy (to help soften the impact) or was carrying out hands on tests of the landing gear. It probably was the latter, as the plane bounced at least twice and yet the tires held…
Siem Reap’s airport is undergoing expansion. In the mid-nineties [90’s] there were three  hotels in this city and about twenty thousand [20,000] tourists. There are now over one hundred thirty  hotels and three million [3,000,000] tourists come through here — the majority from about Christmas to Easter. Consider that Penticton…because the entrance to the city is a tree lined boulevard and the river channel has trees as well. In fact there is nary a box store, or anything other than houses and expensive houses (all surrounded by trees) to be seen on this entrance from the airport. And they don’t even claim to be a pretty city!!
After check-in we went for a delightful lunch — the beer was served in bottles that readily reminded me of earlier days with Bruce J, and maybe Jeannine!! (oh, Orlanda could handle it too).
Then we went for a boat ride down a river to Tonle Sap Lake where we saw about one thousand [1,000] floating homes. These people only make their living from fishing (although we did seen a couple of crocodile farms, and some fish rearing pens). It was a delightful ride, although the water seems quite polluted (and with that many homes I’m not surprised). Around the lake region itself (which is very big), about one million [1,000,000] people live.
On the way back we stopped by another educational institution that is training poor, rural and/or disabled people to work in restoration technologies (carving in wood or stone, silk painting, gilding, silver/gold smithing, etc.). It was an amazing facility — they are even doing work restoring parts of Angkor Wat. To date sixteen hundred [1,600] people have passed through the facility and are now working at their newfound trades.
And that brings me to dinner time — so I’m going to split. It’s a special evening as we will be entertained by a traditional Apsara performance (special dancing, unique to Cambodia). As I conclude, let me say that so far today has been a good antidote to the heavy moments in Phnom Penh yesterday. Moreover the traffic here seems slightly less insane…