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Backpackers deterred by violent images

Backpackers deterred by violent images

HO CHI MINH CITY - The opinion of numerous backpackers in Ho Chi Minh City is

that Cambodia is too dangerous for travel and many have canceled plans to go

because of international news reports of kidnappings, killings and continued

problems with the Khmer Rouge.

Tourists interviewed at Kim's Cafe, a

popular backpacker and expatriate hang-out in Ho Chi Minh City, indicate that

press reports of Cambodian problems have had an effect on travelers planning to

see Southeast Asia.

If their opinions are representative of backpackers

in general, then this is significant for Cambodia. Backpackers generally worry

less about danger than other types of tourists.

Sarah Miner, a tourist

from Australia, said: "I decided not to go to Cambodia after reading an article

in the Travel Section of the Independent in Melbourne [Australia] about the

kidnappings of three westerners. The article advised against travel in Cambodia

so I am spending more time in Vietnam.

"But a French girl I know left for

Cambodia yesterday. She didn't think it was a problem.

"I got a copy of

the T&T weekly magazine. It's published in London and contains general

gossip from around the world advising backpackers. They said it wasn't safe to

travel in Cambodia."

Alan Mozes traveled to Vietnam after spending months

on a film crew in Malaysia. He said: "Three months ago my friends and I made

plans to go to Angkor after Malaysia, but we have canceled them.

"The

Malaysian papers are not alarmist about the situation in Cambodia, but they are

saying that things are not as good as they were three months ago. The take in

the Singapore Straits Times, which gives the government line, and the

International Herald Tribune is that things are not so good now [in

Cambodia]."

Other travelers are not so confident. Jorgen Oulund, from

Copenhagen had originally planned to spend two weeks in Cambodia, until he read

about the deaths of the peace marchers.

He said: "I will spend the time

in Thailand instead. In Denmark we heard that it is very dangerous on the roads.

We heard about the kidnappings and the theft of Land Cruisers. Five or six

months ago a friend of mine drove through a fire fight between Funcinpec and CPP

soldiers." Yaron Shlomi, from Tel Aviv, Israel, said: "The American and Israeli

Embassies [in Ho Chi Minh City] warned us against traveling to Cambodia. We

heard about the kidnapping of the Australian and talked to people coming from

Cambodia. They said that there were people walking the streets with loaded

Katyushas (Russian made anti-tank weapons). It sounded a lot like

Lebanon."

In spite of the majority view among back-packers, there is some

reason for hope. Tourists who have gone to Cambodia learn that in spite of the

fact that kidnappings and deaths occur, risks can be minimized, and the stories

that get press attention worldwide do not reflect the general conditions in

Cambodia. These latter tourists are finding that Cambodia is still a travel

bargain and a unique travel opportunity.

New Zealander Alison Kapina, who

went to Vietnam from Cambodia, said: "For me the decision to go to Cambodia was

very easy, though I knew about the abduction of Elizabeth Foster. I have friends

in Siem Reap and Phnom Penh. That helps me to understand the real

situation."

"Though the perception in New Zealand is that Cambodia is an

Asian version of Dodge City, a bit like the old west, my friends told me that if

you are careful you should have no problem. They told me not to go out at night,

and to use more common sense about what you do."

"I had no problems.

Cambodia is a beautiful country, but tourists don't understand that you can

travel safely there."

At the Capitol Hotel, the number one choice for

backpackers arriving in Phnom Penh, owner Pan See Pon said on June 28:

"Occupancy is up in the last few days. Twenty three backpackers took the boat of

Siem Reap yesterday. Pan said: "During the Pailin offensive our occupancy fell

to 20 or 30 percent of normal. It stayed low through the months of April, May

and the first part of June. Things did not improve until last week."

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