Crossing Cambodia

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Chasing Cars, March 24, 2010

On a non traffic related matter I recently signed up to Smart internet, they offering some of the cheapest internet on mobile phones. Cheap is definitely not good. Needed just 3 visits to their customer service and now it's working, but soooooo slooooooow. And they have blocked access to KI Media, a seemingly unendless amount of news stories.
'While trying to retrieve the URL: The following error was encountered:
  • Access Denied. Access control configuration prevents your request from being allowed at this time. Please contact your service provider if you feel this is incorrect [sic]'.
Anyway on Cambodia's traffic front. Yesterday's (23 March 2010) Phnom Penh Post provided an opposition parliamentarian a couple of columns to allow him to publicly complain about the lack of redress within the Cambodian legal system. Remember his son was shot after a traffic dispute in Phnom Penh's center. Though at the time it was a bit ambiguous about the cause of the dispute, it is tellingly that the police have been unable to arrest the killer despite having his name.
' “... the police have not got any clue about the suspect’s whereabouts. I request that the police speed up their work in this case so that justice can be brought to my son,”...'
However it does seem weird that a parliamentarian thinks he can jump the line. Injustice is common within the country and the legal system is only working for the rich and well-connected. If anything this parliamentarian should know this. Or not?
  • How the law sometimes 'works':
    'A 33-year-old man is facing prosecution after he was accused of involvement in a Wednesday traffic accident in Phnom Penh that killed a 30-year-old garment worker and a 13-year-old boy. However, authorities speculated that the man might not be sent to court if he agrees to pay US$4,500 in compensation to the victim’s family. By law, accused perpetrators still face court action even if they agree to out-of-court monetary compensation. But another driver who was allegedly involved in the same accident was not sentenced after he paid up'.
  • In and on forums on Cambodia one of the most often asked questions regards transportation and if buses run between x and y, and how are they? Andy B. reviews on his blog his recent trip with paramount to Siem Reap: '
    If you want to do the bus trip between Phnom Penh and Siem Reap then don't choose Paramount Angkor Express, as their bus that carried me between the two, leaving the capital at 6pm, was one of the most uncomfortable I've ever been on. And believe me I've been on some crap buses'.
    After receiving a comment praising the same company he adjusts his views:
    'the bus he [bus driver] was in charge of had seen better days and needed some new screws fitted. By comparison the Mekong Express bus to PP was considerably better'.
  • A small article (22 March 2010) in the Phnom Penh Post on how the number of accidents is up. As usual the article is full of statistic wonders.
  • The Australian company hoping to earn a buck off Cambodia's railroads has found out that the going will be tough:
    'David Kerr, CEO of Toll Holdings Group Cambodia (THGC), asked the government to put regulations and infrastructure in place, which are needed to fix the country’s railways'.
    Should have thought that before signing up ...
  • A promise is what? Cebu Pacific had promised to start to fly to Cambo land this April, but nothing seems to be in the pipeline. This thread on Khmer 440 seems to suggest that it's not such a bad thing ...
    'Cebu Pacific Air is the worst airline I have ever flown--huge delays, booking hassles, canceled flights with no advance notice, refunds that never arrive, and horrible service ...'
  • Promises? That's what they hope what will get the Sihanouk airport up and running.
    'Sihanoukville airport is still struggling to attract airlines due to the enduring slump in the regional travel industry, according to an official at Societe Concessionaire des Aeroports (SCA), the French firm that manages the Kingdom’s airports.
    Still, not a single airline has agreed to flights to the airport despite the offer of zero percent airport tax.
    SCA’s Chief Planning Officer Tanguy Bertolus said Tuesday that new national carrier Cambodia Angkor Air (CAA), a joint venture between the government and Vietnam Airlines, was showing reluctance to fly to the recently renovated airport due to the difficult economic climate.
    “Cambodia Angkor is a subsidiary of Vietnam Airlines and the Cambodian government, and they are not really keen right now to take risks and open new lines,” he said'.
    That's goobledigook. The company has only been existing for 12 months and the situation when they started was probably worse than now. So why are they backtracking?
  • More tourist related info. As in the previous editions of CC the ... 'boat cartel' ... Though they call themselves a Water Transport Association, they have been trying to cream off the boat owners by imposing themselves and getting the tourists to foot the bill. The way it works:
    'Ly Puthy, association president, said a letter thumbprinted by all members would be sent to the Tourism, Interior, Public Works and Transport ministries, and to Phnom Penh Governor Kep Chuktema, requesting that Rin Naran – owner of the Chamkar Sne boat – immediately join the association'.
  • Talking about boats. Why all the fuss about tourist boats?
    'Two women died when a boat sank on the Mekong River in Prey Veng province on Friday, police said, the most recent of a string of such incidents throughout the Kingdom prompting officials to issue warnings about the dangers of overloading passenger boats and other vessels'.
  • Tourism helps? After visiting Cambodia in 2007 (by bicycle) Dan Austin decided to get help in, by donating cycles to children. In Cambodia of course, in Uganda, in Peru. The organisation 88 Bikes, gets a (very positive) roll call on CBS News. 88 is the cost of donating a bicycle.
  • Has someone picked up on this? Phnom Penh is to become clean? Cambodian Beginnings has a short blog entry.
    'However, as of next month Phnom Penh City Hall intends to rectify the state of it's streets. 5000 riel fines (US $1.20) will be administered to anyone seen discarding rubbish in public places. The boulevards are wide, tree-lined and quite beautiful in some places. Perhaps this fine will go some way in returning Phnom Penh to it's hayday of being the 'Paris of the East' in the 1950's'.
  • Elsewhere in the city the officials are trying to prevent anarchy from amorous bulls.
    'Police in the capital’s Dangkor district have seized 15 wayward cows and bulls after a recent spate of incidents in which lustful bulls have vigorously pursued potential mates, disrupting traffic and endangering passersby, officials said'.
    This even made the international press. Or better said the Malaysian press.
  • A clinic in Phnom Penh was closed down due to complaints following a traffic accident. Or not?
    'The Health Ministry has opted to shut down a medical clinic that was accused of negligence in its treatment of a man who succumbed to injuries sustained in a traffic accident last week, the director of the Phnom Penh Municipal Health Department said Sunday.
    “The association ran a health-care business without approval from the Ministry of Health and was shut down,” Sok Sokun, the municipal Health Department director, said Sunday. “It will be allowed to reopen only after it receives an official license to operate from the ministry.”'
Just outside Phnom Penh

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Phnom Penh: Streetwise

Out since February 2010 is the Streetwise Phnom Penh street directory produced by Cambodia Pocket Guides. On sale at various points in the city (amongst others Monument Books and Lucky's supermarket) it costs are $5. For this price one gets a compact 80+ pages street guide as well as extensive description of how one should navigate Cambodia's capital.

The publishers themselves mention on Expat Advisory Services:
'We believe the guide should prove indispensable for anyone seeking help and advice as to how to navigate Phnom Penh’s increasingly congested streets, especially the newer business and residential areas outside the centre of the city'.
But is it any good? Worth it's value?

What others say
Cambodia Beginnings believe's so:
'this map-nut is excited to have another navigational aid at her disposal; I'll now point with a lot more confidence; and the motodops can just drive'.
Andy B, Phnom Penh's premier expat blogger:
'I'm not sure how often I will look at the directory, but it's a good addition to the 'city map scene' and exceptionally well presented. Though I must take issue with the spellings of Wat Onalom and Wat Botumwatdei - I have never seen those spellings before for two of the city's main pagodas. Well done those Pocket Guide folks'.
But's that about the extent of the online reviews, so let's get this expert to look at this....

The maps
First of all, the format is great; the cheap, free, folding maps of town are quite cumbersome, prone to flying away and come with invitations to visit girlie bars. And yes half of the city is off the map anyway.

But then, how often does one need to travel off these folding maps anyway? And how does Streetwise Phnom Penh help?
For example I play football a lot and sometimes need to find places such as Khemera field (north of town), Mekong field (behind Northbridge) or the 'over the bridge' places. Streetwise Phnom Penh does cover these areas but though it can mention every one of the exponentially expanding number of Phnom Penh's minimarts, these football fields are still out there somewhere, waiting to be found and correctly identified.

Furthermore with the main part of town shifting west, it seems an omission to miss covering the area uptil and beyond the airport.
Possibly another mapping suggestion to improve on, would be to include a wider overview map; apparently a ring road (with toll) is under construction (see bridge construction site north of PP towards Pursat) but this is outside of the coverage of Streetwise.

The degree of detail depicting the center of Phnom Penh city is great and much info is provided. This is certainly a boon to local residents seeking something specific and already comfortable with Phnom Penh's lay out. However tourists (and with them the moto drivers) will probably be overwhelmed with the many details and have failure tracking the right street.
Then the advantage of much detail will also result in the disadvantage as changes in the city are so quick; such that they will quickly render the map out of date, at least if you need to find Phamrmacy Y, Restaurant X.

The layout of side by side maps can be advantageous over folding maps but one needs to beware of the jump between the facing pages, the maps are made to overlap each other, meaning traveling from facing page 1 to another means a slight readjustment is required.

The information
Besides the maps there are another 20 pages of information included, which covers the history of the city, tips for getting around, places of interest, Cambodia's road rules and what the future of Phnom Penh might look like.

Certainly adding to most expats knowledge on town, though the section on street names is only for aficionados.

Getting around
Getting around is certainly in too much detail; as always sites of traffic jams change by the hour, day, season or vintage. And traffic lights are cropping up on the alternatives as fast as a crew can set up a wedding tent.

In depth knowledge
This section mentions amongst others that the British ambassador's residence is 'splendid' (cheers to him/her). Covering no less than 4 pages, this is a waste of money. Who is interested in this?

How to get around
Here though pedestrians get a little coverage, the guidance seems to be steering readers to motorized transport options.
Cyclists are seen as crazy so it seems, requiring
'optional knee and elbow pads'
'vital face masks'.
Having cycled up and town for four and a half years I've yet to have a scratch. And why would you need a face mask?
Funny though if you see how many motocyclists end getting cut up (and that's the real picture I am getting) that they are not advised to use the optional knee / elbow pads ...
And why to cyclists require a sturdy lock and the motorised version not? I can't even count how many of my (temporary) friends who have had their motocycles stolen ...

Law and Order
No less than 2 pages explaining the difficulties of getting by the Cambodian law. Considering what's included on this blog on this subject 2 pages might be a let off. The publisher could have kept it short, i.e. like the traffic jams, the interpretation of the law changes hourly, daily, seasonally , etc., etc.

The future
Two pages on Phnom Penh's new tomorrow no less. It presents a rather rosy picture of the future. And much info on non-transport issues. It even claims that the
'city fathers'
are busy planning the new city layout, which I seriously doubt. Since 2000 not much activity has been seen other than paving the dirt and accepting the odd gift of a bridge here and there.
There is serious talk of a mass transit system? Define serious. Again these are donors giving advice and hoping the government chooses their option using a soft loan to pay-off the donor's host country companies ...
Bicycle lanes? Dream on, if anything the officials are closer to outlawing pedestrians and cyclists. Anything to prevent your Lexus from scratching ...

Overall call
  • I like it, it certainly adds info not yet available.
  • It's shelf life I'm afraid will remain limited and no doubt other publishers will copycat the issue less the 'schmuck' which I'm afraid adds little to the maps.
  • Possibly a bit too expensive ...
  • Then again I'm a map freak...

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Chasing Cars, mid March 2010

During the past month steps have been announced to get the general public to comply to a couple of paragraphs of the traffic law as well as suggestions being made to expand the law. Helmet fines would rise 6-fold.
'The fine has been set too low, which means drivers have not stopped their bad habits. They seem to look down on the traffic law,” he [Him Yan, director of the Department of Public Order at the Interior Ministry] said'.
The idea actually comes from Handicap International. The article also suggests that higher fines will lead to more unreasonable police.
Note also in this article the photo with caption implying the offender is paying for a mirror offense. That despite the photo showing that the offender does have a mirror. An editorial mistake?

However some problems are overlooked. Poor compliance is due to poor law implementation. Go anywhere outside the capital and you'll soon see compliance to the law drops to single figures, even police don't care. Nor is there any law enforcement once the sun drops, even in Phnom Penh.
Additionally, much is made of visible law enforcement. Probably one of the biggest dangers is running red lights about which nothing is done ...
The Cambodia Mirror argues the same point of poor law enforcement in Cambodia in general. It uses the recent license plate drama as reference.
Anyway the police are positive:
'.... 10,859 motorbike drivers had been stopped during the first two weeks of February because they lacked mirrors or helmets'.
That said Khmer 440 forum once more adds some real life detail. A forum poster describes how to nail a culprit. Then follows more experiences with law enforcement.

'officials have delayed a decision on a long list of proposed amendments to the Kingdom’s traffic laws'.
Officials need more time ...
  • In a never ending list for regulating everything, the government would like suits for moto drivers in Phnom Penh. Not a three piece though. '
    “We want to give safety to the tourists and make the city look good,” Chreang Sophan said, in explanation of the motivation for creating the uniform'.
    Siem Reap already has experience with $10 suits:
    ' ... uniforms had identification numbers on them, and that no moto or tuk-tuk driver had committed crimes against passengers since the uniforms were introduced [in 2002]'.
    That's no reported crimes ...
  • The national airline buys a new aircraft, it's first. No price is mentioned nor who the seller is. Hence, CC believes that the price is too expensive and that the seller is closely involved. Funny though as CC would like to check some recent info, the airlines site is in error (mid day March 11, 2010).
  • KI Media has a link to a strange article. Apparently a Korean company has been awarded a contract to
    'design and supervise the improvement of two national highways and one local road and the construction of a detour'.
    The former shouldn't be too hard.
  • Construction of the road to Pailin is not going according to plan. A Chinese company somehow isn't coughing up the money required according to a Phnom Penh Post article.
  • Stan is writing again on Kampot. This time he blames paving for flooding after rains. Though the authorities blame clogged drains. Whatever, it's probably due to the local government.
  • How many times can you make the news with the same project? A signing ceremony was held in March 2010 for a project begun in 2007! A project to improve Cambodia's railways, but that we knew already.
    Bigger news though is that something is really happening. I've seen new sleepers in Takeo and disappearing rails between Takeo and Kampot.
Kep station
  • Possible real news on the rail front for Cambodia comes from China via SMH ( 10-03-10). They know somehow that
    'A third network [of high spped trains] would extend south through Vietnam, Thailand, Burma and Malaysia'.
    Is Cambodia missing the train?
  • Phnom Penh's tourism boats are another recently regulated category. The Association of Phnom Penh Water Tourist Transport (essentially a government organisation) believes in order, not in competition. This contradicted by the Phnom Penh's port director. The Ministry now also wants the boats to be licensed (how much will that cost? All extra costs will be charged to the users ...).
    Anyway a few days later 5 members of the association were quitting. There complaint, surprise, surprise:
    'business went down'.
    The associations reply? Clear off!
    Now the government will be stepping in or so says the Phnom Penh Post (4 March 2010).
  • A spike in car registration? Would the Phnom Penh Post have expected a decrease? Now only 1.13 million vehicles were registered.
Finally, we all know how whacky Cambodia's transportation system is. A photography book by Conor Wall and Hans Kemp gives examples of moto's and their freight. The issuing is accompanied by an exhibition in the FCC.
More examples of whacky moto's are available from Life in Cambodia.
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