Friday, July 22, 2011


Kep, Rabbit Island and a short work week in Cambodia

Friday morning it is and the weekend has already started for the Corporate Service Corps team in Cambodia. Our friends at ABV will show us Siem Reap and the famous Angkor temples, and since the road trip from Phnom Penh to Siem Reap takes some time we ended the week early, and will only be back at work next Tuesday.

But first things first: I have yet to tell about our fabulous trip last weekend. We had decided to spend some time on the beach and rented a van with driver to get us to Kep, 150 km south of Phnom Penh and once a fashionable seaside town for the rich and famous. During the Khmer Rouge regime many buildings were badly damaged, and Kep’s unique architecture was largely destroyed. Nowadays Kep is famous for the crab market, and becoming popular mostly with locals again, but the ruins remain.

We left Phnom Penh early after breakfast and headed south, alongside fields where farmers were planting rice or plowing with oxen teams, through the small villages where the residents were offering their products for sale, gathering on the local markets or sipping coffee at the restaurant. Everyone seems to be selling something, from agricultural products to hardware and construction material to telephones, from dusk till dawn, seven days a week. The small stores usually house the owner’s home in the back of the store, and the garage for the motorcycle too. Many of the housings offer little more than a bed and a television set, so not surprisingly the community life mostly happens on the streets.

One reason for the popularity of mobile phones in the rural areas – even the smallest agglomeration of houses has a phone shop – is a mobile payment service provided by Wing that works over the phone, so rather than transferring money through a “classic” bank people now transfer funds between mobile phones.

By now we are used to seeing complete families on a motorcycle, children squeezed between the parents or hand-held on the side, but we couldn’t have imagined what cargo can go on a motorcycle, or how many people fit in a car. People are quite creative and brave when it comes to transportation.

The Central Market in Kampot offers a variety of goods, from textiles to household articles and all kinds of food. The air is filled with a mix of scents, and the grilled meat and spices smelled quite tempting.

We continued our trip to Kep, where we had lunch with plenty of shrimps and seafood and a skinny chicken before transferring to our hotel for the night. The Raingsey Bungalow had five comfortable bungalows for us and a swimming pool, just what we needed. Later Bertrand, Patricia, Wolfgang and I went for the scenic 8 km trail through the Kep National Park. We saw squirrels, butterflies and a huge millipede of some sort, but no monkeys although there should be some in the park, and other wildlife too. Our dinner was seafood again at one of the restaurants near the crab market, in a very basic setting but close to the sea and with good food at reasonable prices.

Sunday was another beautiful day. Two boats brought us over to Koh Tonsay, or Rabbit Island, an uncrowded island with sea, sandy beaches, palm trees and sunbeds, what more could you ask for! We spent the entire day here, swimming, playing frisbee and “organic bocce” with a coconut and fruits we collected, and some folks had massages on the beach also. Much to our surprise, the tiny little restaurant in the area where we had settled not only offered the heavily promoted pancakes with bananas but had a full menu card with beef, chicken, pork, fish, shrimp and vegetarian curries, desserts, and cocktails, quite remarkable for a place with one room, with water coming from a tank and with an open fire place in the annex for cooking. The boat ride back was somewhat bumpier than in the morning, and we had to go in one boat this time together with some local passengers, all after walking across the island because the winds had become too heavy on the other side of the island. We made it back to Kep safely and wet and were fortunate that the nice staff at Raingsey Bungalow would let us use their showers and the pool again. We concluded the day with another dinner at the crab market, seafood and fish and pizza in two adjacent restaurants, and returned to Phnom Penh around 10 p.m.

The following week at work was fairly busy: I completed my web security assessment and held two training sessions for the staff, one about web security and one about productivity and getting things done, roughly following the methodology outlined in David Allen’s book by the same name. Working on my community project, I struggled to find an electronic payment service provider which supports merchants, or in this case charities, located in Cambodia. The big ones like PayPal, Amazon Payment Services and Google Checkout are not available for Cambodian organizations, so our list is now narrowed down to SBC Bank, which has a solid and well-documented payment gateway interface but the fees are more suitable for business customers, and Ammado, a payment service targeted at non-profit organizations. At least we have some options to go forward with, and the team agreed with the goals and timelines for the project at the kickoff meeting. Stay tuned!

On Thursday evening the IBM Vietnam General Manager, Mr. Vo Tan Long, invited our team to a dinner meeting at Boddhi Tree’s Umma restaurant. Bertrand and Natali had worked with the restaurant staff and created a fine dinner, and we enjoyed a nice selection of appetizers, main courses and desserts from the buffet and a good glass of wine. Apart from the official dinner, the group of people eating out at night got smaller and smaller. We tried some restaurants on 240 Street this week, including the Sugar Palm, the Tamarind with its nice rooftop terrace, and the stylish corner wine bar. Some folks even explored all the “forbidden places”.

We had no spiders nor any other culinary surprises this week, so let’s see what we can find on our way to Siem Reap!

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