My most recent visa run from Thailand was to Siem Reap Cambodia. Trish and I choose our exit destinations arbitrarily, by the cost of discount airline fares, hotel room sales and to avoid specific hassles and unusual expenses…like the cost of VOA. Visa on Arrival costs add up quickly when you include the costs of processing through intermediaries. We prefer countries which do not charge to enter or have a low cost visa on entry procedure. Cambodia is one of those.
For anyone who doesn’t understand the ‘visa run’ terminology it is the fact of life for those of us ‘farang ex-pats’ living in Thailand who must leave the country on a strictly administered immigration schedule to maintain our status. Wether in Thailand on a multi-entry tourist visa or a long term work visa you still have to leave the country occasionally.
Thailand has closed the gap on progress much faster than has Cambodia due to a benevolent and progressive king, compared to Cambodia being beaten down by a multi-decade war of communist ‘enlightenment’ where millions were murdered. They are only beginning to recover from the socialist experiment brought on by the Khmer Rouge Army. The differences between the two countries are shockingly apparent. Thailand is a modern marvel where millions have been lifted out of poverty, Cambodia is a third world backwater where millions live in atrocious poverty and ignorance.
As in most third world countries Cambodia is a society where stark contrast exists between the wealthy…and the absolute poverty of everyone else. Opposed to Thailand where there is a growing middle class, Cambodia has no middle class and little opportunity for people to improve their lives.
What I found disturbing was the sheer number of NGO and Governmental International Aid workers who are living in a colonial fantasy of their own creation, undoubtedly funded with the aid money that should have been directed to the poverty stricken locals. The lifestyle includes serfs, servants and sycophants. With little money flowing where it is needed most the streets and markets of Cambodia are mired in filth. The countryside is medieval. I fear Cambodia’s progress may be suffering under the weight of a two pronged attack from another invading army, delusional backpackers and myopic self serving social workers.
A walk through the wet markets where 99% of the peoples food is disbursed through local hands shows conditions that are five minutes away from a major disease outbreak. The lack of sanitation or running water and sewage facilities is atrocious in a country where aid dollars flow through in the hundreds of millions. And yet despite the obvious filth, thousands of aid workers lounge about in air-conditioned offices, reside in beautifully renovated colonial homes and are driven around in $50,000++ vehicles, while wasting organic garbage and human waste is strewn through the streets. There is no garbage collection services and no public toilets and people openly relieve themselves in the river or between buildings.
The aid workers should be organizing an army of street sweepers. They should sell a single vehicle each to plumb a mile of sewage drain. A months rent could easily be donated to pipe fresh water and lay tiles in the produce, meat and fish markets so that these area’s could be easily cleaned. I didn’t like to walk through the filth…I’m sure the Cambodians don’t like it either. Being there forced me to ask “Why isn’t anything being done to combat such an obvious problem?”
Cambodia is a popular place for tourists of all stripes, especially Siem Reap because of Angkor Wat. The tiny downtown strip called Pub Street is festooned with all the sordid trappings backpackers like, it resembles another boozy Euro Asian version of Khao San Road in tawdry Banglamphu Bangkok. A sober person couldn’t avoid seeing that the lives of most Cambodians receive no boost or benefit from the tourist crowd Rasta’s or their bucket list pretensions. We need to be more mindful of the people whose country we have invaded.
Cambodians are desperately poor through no fault of their own. They are engaging, sweet, unspoiled and genuinely good hearted people. I admonish anyone who is there to profit from their misery and ride the back of their lower standard of living. If you do find yourself in Cambodia, try to feed a few children. The cost of a meal or a little out of pocket charity is less than the price of a beer. And to the ‘social worker elite’… charity is about the people you serve…not about serving yourself.