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Ek Satya’s ParkJiSrun FC won gameweek 14 of the Cellcard Fantasy League with a stunning 122 points, the top tally so far this season, in no small part thanks to his superstar captain Luiz Suarez of Liverpool for 48 points.
However, Satya is a Phnom Penh Post employee and is ineligible for prizes. Cell-card staff member Peoupisey Peng is also forbidden to collect the bounty despite grabbing 117 points with his team East Lion FC.
Thus, E Bunthen’s The Phantom FC on 114 points is declared the winner and will receive a $20 phone voucher and T-shirt from sponsors Cellcard.
In the concurrently run Cellcard Facebook Fanpage competition, the rollover prize of $30 of phone vouchers was finally claimed by Ea Khunso-cheat, who won the lucky draw of eight contestants who correctly guessed that Arsenal would win 2-0 and Mesut Ozil would score last.
Phu Quoc has been contested by Cambodia and Vietnam for decades, and it’s no wonder: the tiny ocean paradise boasts unmarred beaches and bags of charm. But by the end of the decade, Vietnam’s government expects the island will attract more than two million visitors a year.
Amelia Woodside roamed the beaches and bars.
After a four-hour ride we staggered out of the car and blinked at the deserted border-town casino: the point where Cambodia ends and Ha Tien, Vietnam, begins.
The driver buoyantly pointed to the “border”, marked by two dirt-stained pillars. This was as far as he would go, he said, before dumping our bags in the rust-coloured mud and driving off.
Men on motorbikes descended from all sides. In less than 10 minutes, I was on the back of one, with two legs wrapped around both my bags, strapped on either side of the moto, as the sun turned the rice fields flamingo pink and my oversized helmet slid over both eyes.
We were three girls fleeing from Phnom Penh with visas and without working phones, about to enjoy four days on Vietnam’s largest island, Phu Quoc.
The island, home to some 100,000 people and nearly 59,000 hectares, is an hour’s ride by boat from Ha Tien. They depart several times a day, which was just as well seeing as we missed ours by 12 minutes.
No matter – we walked about a kilometre over the bridge to find Ha Tien Floating Restaurant, which serves grilled baguettes, fried eggs and charges nothing for corkage.
When we finally made it aboard the wooden vessel at the port, rakishly named The Superdong, it looked as if it was originally designed to truck hooch down the Mississippi River but was somehow marooned in an Asian border town.
Phu Quoc lies mere miles from Cambodian shores and the island has long served as a bone of contention between the two countries.
Originally under the dominion of the Khmer Empire, the island was scooped up by the French as part of its colonisation of Vietnam from 1862 to 1953, and gifted back after Vietnam gained independence.
Today, some Cambodians continue to refer to the island by its Khmer name, Koh Tral.
Each night we spotted ships skirting the coastline – locals speculated they were military ships involved in surveillance.
It’s no wonder both countries want to claim the island: Phu Quoc’s sleepy beauty has often been compared to Phuket, before the latter earned itself a notorious reputation. If Phuket is known for rowdy backpackers, Phu Quoc is famed for a dark and pungent nuoc mam fish sauce and its tangential geopolitical import.
Shadows of the past
Conflict has left its mark on the island. As we approached the shore we spotted sunken blue tombstones. They bear the names of French colonials who occupied Phu Quoc in the 19th century. A little more than a century later, in April 1975, shortly after the fall of Saigon, Pol Pot’s Khmer Rouge forces briefly invaded the area, whose northernmost tip is ten miles from the Cambodian shoreline.
But the most haunting reminder of the island’s past is the skeleton of Vietnam’s largest prisoner of war camp, located on the island’s south point, near a US naval base. Coconut Tree Prison, or Nha Lao Cay Dua, was built by the French in 1953 and repurposed by American and South Vietnamese forces in 1967. Thousands of prisoners of war are believed to have died behind its walls. You can visit for less than five dollars. We didn’t.
Today, locals live a more peaceful life, caring for pepper vines and catching fresh seafood. Tourism is, increasingly, another source of income. Long Beach, a 12-mile strip of sand running south from the island’s largest town, Duong Dong, offers accommodation to suit a wide range of budgets.
We bunked at Beach Club, 15 minutes south of the airport. Built right on the beachfront, the club has six rooms and four bungalows; all with a sea view – prime real estate to watch the sunset. A room is $35 while bungalows go for $45. Prices are negotiable during the rainy season.
If you want to know everyone involved in running the joint by the time you depart, this is where to go. Family-owned and run for nine years, the restaurant serves flavoursome vegetable curries and tasty squid pasta. Look out for the vibrantly coloured fruit shakes, too.
Nearby, Anna’s Spa offers a spine-tingling hour-long Thai massage for $16.
A few caveats about Long Beach: packs of aggressive dogs roam the beach at night and riptides are sneakily camouflaged by calm evenings. And be careful if you stay at Beach Club during the rainy season: on our last morning we woke up with water tickling our ankles; our possessions, while soggy, were thankfully saved thanks to our hosts’ loud wake up call.
Duong Dong, the island’s chief fishing port on the central west coast, is where to hang in the daylight hours: the only place with cold beer, salty peanuts, and a few stray Australians. It houses a night market packed with food stalls selling lobsters mixed alongside pearls. Try the steamed clams marinated in lemongrass and flavoured with the island’s white and black pepper smashed inside the shells – it’s a dish lauded by the locals. Large drafts of Saigon beer paired with roasted prawns coated in garlic and butter also make a delectable combination.
Half a block from the market is Moe’s Bar. Doors sprawled out in a welcoming gesture, the joint serves a strong dose of Americana alongside a soundtrack of international tunes. The bar gets its name from The Simpsons’ Moe Szyslak, a grouchy character with an ambiguous ethnic origin, and images from the cartoon series coat the deceptively cavernous interior. A large projector screens HBO against the bar’s marigold walls.
Phu Quoc’s answer to Moe is Mike, who hails from a town about two kilometres outside of Paris. He opened the place six years ago after a brief sojourn from Saigon turned into a long-term stay. “Open seven days a week until the last person standing rolls out,” he told us while leaning against his wooden bar.
Big speakers and free Wi-Fi easily wile away an afternoon. Add a double-decker bacon cheeseburger into the mix, rated a seven out of 10 by a travelling companion with sophisticated taste, or sip a well-concocted gin fizz (only 65,000 dong, amounting to a little more than $3).
Don’t miss Rory’s Beach Club and Bar, owned by two charming Australians. Rory contends he’s got the biggest deck on the island, grinning widely as he described any life worth living in Asia as worthy of “a leap of faith”.
Open late, seven days a week, the bar with its wooden deck and strong, half-price mojitos and mango daiquiris, draws the coolest international crowd on the island.
Now or never
But like Thailand’s once unspoiled beaches, Phu Quoc won’t remain untouched for long.
The island is in the process of a rebranding. Advertisements for new resorts and condos litter the shoreline. Glossy billboards laud the healing power of days spent relaxing under coconut palms.
Since the opening of Phu Quoc International Airport in December 2012, flights can travel non-stop from Thailand, Singapore, Japan and Hong Kong to Duong Dong, the island’s first international airport.
By 2020, the island is expected to net 2.3 million visitors a year, according to the Vietnamese government, which approved a “master plan” for the “development” of Phu Quoc in 2004.
Perhaps the best illustration of creeping tourism came on our second night at Beach Club.
As we tipsily toed the water’s edge after leaving behind new friends, we spotted an arched shape jutting from the ocean.
It was a larger-than-life mermaid statue, with startlingly defined breasts, illuminated by light leaking from the empty resorts. Beside it was a posse of equally bizarre Disney-esque dolphin statues.
The generously endowed statue was an odd contrast to the quiet repose of local women fishing on the docks and bored taxi drivers playing with trilling radios - a lifestyle still dictating its own time on its own terms. Is this the shape of things to come?
It’s time to go to Phu Quoc. Go before the dense foliage thins and the salty shapes held between the hinges of clamshells are overharvested. Go before the sound of traffic begins to compete with the waves and the mostly uninhabited northern sliver of the island is overrun with more and more thatch-covered bungalows.
Go before Phu Quoc’s soulful whimsy is lost.
I was interested to read, in the article “Group calls on gov’t to probe deaths” (The Phnom Penh Post, November 29) that the ASEAN Parliamentarians for Human Rights have called on the United Nations to make its own investigations into the deaths of Mao Sok Chan and Eng Sokhom.
On October 10 the Post carried an article “Where Cambodia can lead”, which was jointly written by Jean-François Cautain, the European Union ambassador, and Wan-Hea Lee, the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights. At the time I thought this article was rather fulsome in its praise, implicit and explicit, of the Cambodian government.
When the authors wrote “The Kingdom of Cambodia continues to be an example in the fight against the death penalty and can be legitimately proud of the way it has drawn on lessons from the past . . .” this could only be seen as referring to the present government rather than the state as a sovereign entity.
Indeed the article went on to specifically commend the Royal Government of Cambodia for its stance on the death penalty at international level.
It was somewhat ironic that the same edition of The Phnom Penh Post carried a report of the death of Sok Chan, an innocent passer-by, shot dead when police started firing live ammunition when they themselves had not come under fire.
It was merely good fortune that more people were not killed, for at least nine others were wounded.
One of the main reasons Mr Cautain and Ms Wan-Hea Lee used to support their argument for the abolition of the death penalty, the sanctity of human life, must surely apply when well-armed state forces are deployed in times of political unrest, and I think one may have expected that both the EU and the UN local representatives would have been more critical of the government’s use of force than they have so far shown themselves to be.
Ms Wan-Hea Lee is quoted as saying there is “no excuse for excessive force from either side”, but no one can seriously take the view that the political opposition has the means to take on state security forces.
Indeed, the whole tenor of the campaigns it has organised have been peaceful. The ending of the death penalty may be something worth working towards.
Surely, however, diplomatic supporters, before lauding the government of any abolitionist state, should look at the whole picture of deaths which occur when police, paramilitary or military forces are deployed against civilians.
My Vote, My Life read the posters and banners in Freedom Park. The EU and the UN should be doing all they can to preserve the second, both in and out of the Cambodian judicial system.
LET THERE BE LIGHT
Panasonic this week donated 1,500 solar lanterns to Unesco to be handed to the Apsara National Authority for distribution to the poorest villages in the Angkor park. In a press release Unesco said, “It is opportune to have this donation during the 20th anniversary of the International Coordinating Committee for Angkor (ICC-Angkor).”
Anne Lemaistre, head of office and Unesco representative in Phnom Penh said, “The solar lantern donation to the Unesco office reflects the continued strategic partnership between Unesco and Panasonic, specifically in the utilisation of technology for societal contribution. Through collaboration and innovation, we can work together towards environmental and cultural preservation.”
Michiko Ogawa, group manager, CSR Corporate Citizenship Group, Panasonic Corporation said, “Availability of light and electricity affects quality of life. Without light, children aren’t able to study effectively at night and access to urgent medical treatment in rural areas with poor electrical infrastructure is limited as well as difficult.
“People can potentially get trapped in a cycle of poverty as they are unable to cope with such societal problems. The Solar Lantern is one way Panasonic aims to lend support to those in the base of pyramid areas through innovative technology.”
PROTEST DEMONSTRATION WARNINGS
Siem Reap hoteliers traditional occupancy dip in the immediate days leading up to Christmas won’t be helped by international travel cautions regarding the proposed CNRP protest demonstration to be held in town next Tuesday. For example, Fodors advised, “There is going to be a political protest rally in Siem Reap on Dec 10. Might be a good day to head out to temples instead of shopping or visiting the museum in Siem Reap proper. Other spots for a day trip away from town might be Tonle Sap, Banteay Srei, Koh Ker, Phnom Kulen.”
TOURISM SCHOOL’S NEW AMPHITHEATRE
A leading hotel trend in 2014 could be a surge in the conventions or meeting market, the MICE (Meetings, incentives, conferences, and exhibitions) segment. Three to four years ago the only real conference centre in town was at Sokha, but several major hotels have installed infrastructure to cater to this market.
Now the Paul Dubrule Hospitality and Tourism School, founded by Paul Dubrule, the co-founder of the Accor group represented in town by Sofitel, is also entering the fray.
In its most recent newsletter, the school announced that construction of an amphitheatre that can accommodate up to 400 people began in September and is scheduled for completion in August 2014. According to the newsletter, “The main purposes of this venue is to hold lectures, conferences and other events that will directly contribute towards the development of our educational strategy and therefore to the progress of the hospitality and tourism industry in the Kingdom of Cambodia.”
The newsletter adds, “The construction crew has been working relentlessly braving the late monsoon and the building foundations are already in place.”
Social Worthiness: The NGO Journeys Within Our Community, which has offshoots such as Journeys Within Boutique Hotel and Journeys Within Tour Company is seeking a fundraising and communications manager. In a nutshell, the job is all about ensuring that the organisation’s “$200,000 annual fundraising goal is achieved.”
More Chinese tourists: Siem Reap province and China's eastern Jiangxi province signed a five-year memorandum of understanding on Saturday November 30, with Siem Reap governor Khim Bun Song and Jiangxi province vice governor Xie Ru agreeing to cooperate in a number of sectors including tourism, agriculture, trade and investment. The strategic partnership – note that nobody nowadays enters into ordinary partnerships because “strategic partnerships” sound more grandiose – is of course tipped to result in more Chinese tourists in Temple Town.
In Peter Tan’s article in the Post (November 12), in the final topic he stated that “there’s a growing number of very talented college-educated students” with whom he has worked.
I too have worked with many of these students for 19 years in Phnom Penh, as a physics graduate from London University. These students are certainly bright and talented, but in the present situation they cannot compete with the best, just because the opportunities are so rare.
Mr Teo goes on to say that there should be a focus on the STEM fields (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics). I could not agree more.
Not only are these the backbone of any developed society, but a search of the websites on “UK Stem Teaching” makes the statement that the STEM fields today actally drive the economy, and the increased focus on these fields is largely responsible for the beginning of the recent unexpected improvement of the UK economy.
These students here today do not stand a chance, as long as the Ministry of Education teaches these STEM options using the textbooks that were written a very long time ago and are not appropriate in the 21st century.
In all my teaching here (in the English language) I use the Foundational Physics Course that we developed at the University of NSW (Australia), whose source was a set of the American university text books used worldwide.
These foundation courses are common in every university and have been brought down to a level of difficulty appropriate for students in Grades 10, 11 and 12.
The other, simpler option is for the ministry to make contact with the Singaporean Ministry of Education to see how and why Singapore is always in the top two or three countries in the world in science and mathematics education.
Of course, Singapore did have Lee Kuan Yew at the helm, and Cambodia has not been so lucky.