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Written by Lung Ling on 20 Oct, 2004
Cambodia is a country in ruins, still reeling from the effects of the war and the intense bombing it suffered so many years ago. Land mines still litter the countryside, and every month, they claim new victims, including women and children, whose only crime was…Read More
Cambodia is a country in ruins, still reeling from the effects of the war and the intense bombing it suffered so many years ago. Land mines still litter the countryside, and every month, they claim new victims, including women and children, whose only crime was walking through the woods and stumbling upon one of these nasty little devices that has been sitting there, in some cases, since before they were born. When you cross the border into Poipet, you will immediately feel the shock as you see a gauntlet of at least a dozen beggars, each missing a limb, looking up at you with sad eyes and looks of despair. Yet, the most despairing of them all, was the man who had no face left after his own particular encounter with a land mine. Begging is their last resort; there is no government assistance there, no food stamps, and none of the safety nets that we in the West have become accustomed to. Giving them a few coins won't hurt.
Along the same vein, many seasoned travelers will warn you not to give anything to the many homeless and hungry Cambodian children that wander the streets on both sides of the border. "If you give one of them a single baht," the story goes, "you'll have a whole horde of them after you." There is some truth to that, but you have to have a heart of stone not to give these poor urchins a little something. Many have no parents and obviously sleep in the dirt every night, and eat only what they can beg or find on the street.
It's a tragic subculture. Among the land mine victims that beg at the border, more status is accorded to the one who has lost the most body parts, because he will get the most sympathy and the greatest amount of coins in his jar. The poor children that run throughout the area begging, although they have not fallen victim yet to this particular tragedy, are well aware of the culture of the limbless. Yet, they are still children, and they run, laugh and play, and are quick with a smile for the exotic-looking Westerner standing in front of them. One particular young man, probably about 8 years old, had approached me for spare change, and figuring I was one to like a good joke, stuck his arm under his tee-shirt upon his approach. He gestured at his "missing arm" and held out his remaining hand, smiling broadly. As I laughed out loud and reached for my change purse, his little friend came running up from behind him and pulled his shirt up to reveal his intact limb and they both laughed at the gag, and were both rewarded with 10-baht coins. One must become familiar with the concept of black humor at an early age in order to survive the mean streets of Cambodia.
A few minutes later I saw the two, happily walking down the street after visiting the food stall. The smiles on their faces, as I watched them eat the lunch my spare change had bought them, were worth a million dollars. Of course, true to the warnings I had received, I was indeed besieged by a horde of street urchins who had seen me giving out coins, but one cannot witness such poverty without doing something. The best way to be prepared for this is to fill a change purse ahead of time with all the coins you care to give away, and then give them away till the purse is empty. Holding up the empty purse after you have gone through the change will get across the idea that the well has run dry.
Getting through Cambodian immigration isn't particularly difficult since the forms are both in Cambodian and English, but it can be time consuming, and the immigration office is an open-air deal with plastic chairs, not designed to be comfortable for the country's temporary guests. It is…Read More
Getting through Cambodian immigration isn't particularly difficult since the forms are both in Cambodian and English, but it can be time consuming, and the immigration office is an open-air deal with plastic chairs, not designed to be comfortable for the country's temporary guests. It is usually extremely hot, and a long wait can be almost unbearable. As soon as you get out of the tuk-tuk in Arannyaprathet, you will be approached by a well-dressed young Cambodian gentleman who will offer to help you get through the maze and simplify your entry into the kingdom of Cambodia. This enterprising entrepreneur will fill out the paperwork for you, take you to the required offices, and expedite your way through the lines. He requires a tip, and will also require funds with which to tip the government officials on the Cambodian side for allowing you to go to the head of the line. I know, it sounds a little shaky, but it can cut your wait time from an entire afternoon to about 15 minutes, and every time I have used these services, they have delivered as promised. Make sure to take two passport photos with you, as this will be required in Cambodia for your visa. There are passport shops in the town of Arannyaprathet if you forget to have them done before you set out.Close