The article "Land mines imperil Siem Reap tourism boom" (PPPost, March
30-April 12, 2001) certainly raises points that should be discussed by all, and frequently.
But holy smokes guys, I thought that I was reading an article put out by the Thai
media, with the shadowy intent being to discourage coveted tourists from spilling
over into Cambodia, instead of the PPPost.
Yes, the numbers of tourists are up and hopefully (for the Cambodian economy) this
trend will continue, but folks have been riding around the rural areas of Cambodia
for a number of years already and every one of these travelers that I have met is
equipped with some sort of information regarding the ongoing land mine problems in
Cambodia and the possible risks that this poses to travelers.
The article states that the Post visited three bike rental shops and not one of them
was able to provide any written or verbal information concerning the dangers of land
mines or UXO (unexploded ordinance). This is not the case, from my experience anyway.
The friendly Mr. Ly of Lucky-Lucky! Renting Motorcycles on Monivong Boulevard is
the person at the shop that always deals with foreigners who rent bikes there. He
asks each and every customer where he or she intends to go with the rented motorcycle,
unless it is the small city-style bikes. I have happened into the shop a number of
times as this gentleman is advising would-be rural Cambodia travelers about the dangers
of land mines in the countryside, giving them tips on how to avoid the mines and
areas that may be best for the more inexperienced Cambodia traveler to avoid altogether.
The fairly recently released guidebook that I co-authored, Adventure Cambodia, contains
information about the land mine problems in Cambodia, with warnings about land mines
in each area of the country (which sadly is all too many areas), what to look for,
and what to avoid.
To sound the alarm bells by implying that this is a new hazard that is putting travelers
to Cambodia at an unacceptable risk is a disservice to Cambodia and the long awaited
and still hoped for economic recovery here.
This country is dirt-poor, as we all know, and there just isn't much in the way of
job opportunities for its people. Having travelers venture outside of the usual tourist
circuit is undoubtedly one of the very few opportunities that Cambodia has at the
present time to get some new money trickling through the regional economies.
The government believes (as reported in the Post numerous times) that tourism is
Cambodia's best shot at bringing money into this impoverished country.
The danger landmines and UXO present to travelers moving about Cambodia is actually
very minimal, provided the traveler follows some basic rules. If followed, you will
be safe in your travels:
ï Stay on the well-worn roads and pathways where you can see that the locals have
been walking, bicycling or driving (footprints, tire tracks). If you do not see this
obvious evidence of people using the road or pathway, stay off it, as there is probably
a reason the locals are not traveling on it. If you come upon a section of road where
the tire tracks disappear, look to the sides as that means the locals have chosen
to detour around a section of road, probably with good reason, such as bad road conditions
or possible land mine concerns. Follow the detour around that section and you will
ï Try to obtain information regarding the next section of road that you plan to
travel on from the locals. Get a good guidebook that covers the whole of Cambodia.
If you are in an area that possibly still has undiscovered land mines present or
a marked, but not yet cleared mine field and you must relieve yourself, either stay
on the road or pathway to do your deed or wait until you come to a village or town
with safe toilet facilities.
The article mentioned Angkor Dirt Bike Tours, which is run by a couple of friendly
ex-pats with a lot of experience in traveling around and about the boondocks of Cambodia.
For those folks still spooked by articles like the one that just appeared in the
Post, but still feeling the urge to break out of the typical tourist haunts and explore
the real Cambodia (and meet the extremely friendly rural Cambodian people), this
may be the ticket for you. For information, e-mail Ben or Zeman at email@example.com.
I am not affiliated with this outfit, but I know the service they offer is a good
one and it is good for Cambodia as they help in getting some travelers moving around
The Cambodia of today is safer to travel in than most parts of the world, certainly
Latin America, the Middle East and most of the former Eastern Block countries. As
an American, I feel much safer traveling about Cambodia than I do in much of the
United States. So as advocates of a peaceful recovery in Cambodia and for the benefit
of the masses of struggling Cambodian people, let's not scare people away with sensational
looking headlines that don't reflect the whole story of travel in Cambodia. Let's
instead continue the work of building awareness of safety issues, as well as the
very important task of speeding up, for the sake of Cambodians, land mine and UXO
clearing operations. It can all be done.
- Matt Jacobson, Phnom Penh