As Cambodia's online infrastructure gets more sophisticated, students are turning to cafes in greater numbers for work, play or simply keeping in touch with friends and family
TANG CHHIN SOTHY/AFP
Cambodian youths use the internet at a cafe in Phnom Penh.
Business is roaring for internet cafes in Phnom Penh as students flock to research school papers, chat with friends and explore the growing online resources available in Cambodia.
Sem Samnang, owner of Lucky Sky internet cafe, said he gets as many as 40 or 50 regular users each day.
"I can earn up to 150,000 riels (US$37.50) or 200,000 riels every day," he said, adding that most of his customers are students. He charges 2,000 riels per hour of usage.
"Students come here to study, or they talk online with friends and download music," Sem Samnang said.
Bak Phaly, who studies information technology at Norton University in Phnom Penh, calls the internet a "world library" that provides vital resources for students who sometimes cannot get the study materials they need from professors.
"The internet is very important because it has millions of documents," Bak Phaly said. "I spend more time now at internet cafes to get what I need for my studies."
What Bak Phaly needs, however, is not always school related. "I like to use the internet to talk with my friends or download new songs," he said.
OUR ACCESS TO THE INTERNET ALLOWS US TO HAVE OUR OWN PERSONAL LIBRARY.
Internet cafes and roadside shops in Phnom Penh do a brisk trade in mobile phone and music downloads, while Justice X Wars II (JXII), an online role-playing game introduced in early 2008, provides users with a broader range of Khmer-language entertainment opportunities.
Bak Phaly said the internet gives him the freedom to learn about anything he wants. "If I want to visit Malaysia, I can type it into a search engine and learn all I need to know," he said.
Kong Samrach, a student in the Royal University of Phnom Penh's computer science department, also saw the internet as a "personal library" that frequently took the place of missing school materials.
"We can find what we need and improve our knowledge."
He added that he keeps up with friends living in the United States and has looked into the availability of e-learning courses that would allow him to study online at universities in the US and in Europe.
"There are schools that offer internet courses and training certificates, as long as I can afford the tuition," Kong Samrach said.
So Khun, the minister of posts and telecommunications, said Phnom Penh has nearly 11,000 internet-capable computers in cafes throughout Cambodia.
"Most of the internet cafes are in Phnom Penh," So Khun told the Post by phone on Thursday.
"In the provinces, there are fewer users because of problems with the availability of steady electricity."
He said Cambodia's internet connection speeds are gaining ground on those of neighbouring countries, but the number of users still lags far behind. "Less than one percent of the population regularly uses the internet," he said.
That number is likely to rise as Cambodia's online infrastructure expands.
Cambodia currently has six registered internet service providers, according to the Ministry of Posts and Telecommunications, with an additional 31 scheduled for approval through early 2009.