How Cambodia Handled COVID Better than the US!

I arrived in Cambodia on September 2018 after having lived in Thailand for nine years.  I had inherited a large sum of money from my mother and decided this was the time to retire.  Why did I leave Thailand and decided to retire to Cambodia?  I had done my research and Cambodia made the process of retirement easier than in Thailand.  There is also a 90-day check in requirement in Thailand that is more or less unique to Thailand.  In Thailand, every ninety days you have to check with the designated government office for your area NO EXCEPTIONS!  This was often a time-consuming process and the form had to be filled in perfectly.  Also, if your application was late then onerous fines would follow.   Nine years of showing up to a government office had made me quite sick of this process.

In Cambodia you apply for a visa once a year via a travel agent and she or he handles all the paperwork.  Also, I felt I had kind of done Thailand and wanted to explore somewhere new.  I would add that in even the nine years I had been in Thailand I had noticed a difference in how foreigners were perceived by Thais and they had transformed from friendly to borderline xenophobic.  The official slogan is bad guys out and good guys in.  The problem is that who is a bad guy and a good guy can often be arbitrary and whimsical.  Also, I had been to Cambodia and the absence of overly aggressive touts which are everywhere in Thailand but especially Pattaya was a welcome change.

Finally, the endless argument among expats as to whether goods and services were cheaper in Cambodia that in Thailand.  In my view if you wanted to shop then Thailand was the place to go.  The variety of goods in Thailand from the latest Japanese goods to the most obscure Middle Eastern trinket was available and aside from greater selection than Cambodia.  Prices for goods were comparable to Cambodia.  Services NOT goods however were significantly cheaper in Cambodia that Thailand due to the lower wages of the Cambodians than the Thais.  Overall, I would say Cambodia is cheaper.

I was also looking for a city that was safe, green but large enough to be fun and Siem Reap fit this criterion like a glove.  Siem Reap is the urban entrance way to Angkor Wat and I had been there before and the city struck me as a good city for an old man not necessarily a young lusty one.

One cannot mention Thailand without discussing sex tourism.  Sex tourism exists all over Asia but is really in your face in Thailand. Many cities in Asia have a red-light district but one can say that to some extent cities such as Pattaya, Thailand are red light districts period but this is the topic of another book and many such books already exist.

In my old age I had mellowed, grown spiritually, something happened psychologically and I had become more emphatic towards the working girls of the world and the working girls of Thailand in particular.  But again, the topic is the narrower one of describing from a first-hand POV how COVID affected Cambodia.

My first reason is to update the world in general and Americans in particular about the history of Cambodia since the Killing Fields or more accurately the Cambodia Genocide.  The was the systematic genocide by the Khmer Rouge of 1.5 to 2 million Cambodians between 1975-1979 and is the event all Americans want to discuss when talking about current Cambodia.  The Killing Fields are many fields throughout Cambodia in which the Cambodia Genocide occurred not a single place.  The Killing Fields are generally highlighted by some sort of marker or temple.  The maker is often a large plastic see through container filled with the skeletons or skulls or the victims of the Cambodian Genocide. The skeletal remains of the victims are generally those unclaimed.  1975-1979 was when I was in high school and I am an old man of retirement age so while this event is worth remembering, its also worth remembering most Cambodians were born after the Cambodian Genocide and this is a topic of tours not general conversation.  However, every family has an older relative that was affected by the Cambodia Genocide.  COVID ON THE OTHER HAND IS A TOPIC OF GENERAL CONVERSATION NOW!

As I have stated I arrived in 2018.   The first official imported case was in Sihanoukville in January 27, 2020 so there was about two years between the arrival of myself and COVID.  Siem Reap pre-COVID was a fun place.  Pub Street, the local tourist district, was booming and every night was a party.   However, by 2020 there was a general awareness that COVID was an international event but generally perceived as a Phnom Phen problem since this is where most of the cases popped up.  However, tourism took a precipitous drop in Siem Reap.  Chinese account for around 90% of the tourists in Siem Reap.  The pattern is a day at Angkor Wat followed by a night drinking at Pub Street.  Chinese tourism to Cambodia slipped 86% in 2020 according to the Phom Post March 25, 2021.  Siem Reap largely relies on Chinese tourists.  The topic of conversation among the Cambodians became one of how long the tourist slump would last. The staff at my apartment make around 75 dollars a month and there was a 30% cut in wages.  No new tourists were coming in but tourists “trapped” by COVID remained.  The COVID situation was generally better in Siem Reap than back in their home countries.  There was no lockdown until 2021 and that only lasted two weeks.  More and more places required masks to enter and social distancing signs were everywhere.  The Cambodians dutifully followed instructions and wore masks especially when a 250 USD fine for not wearing a mask in public was imposed.

The only two people in Cambodia that I know that did not wear a mask in public were both pro-Trump Americans but even they gave up as more and more markets and stores required a mask to enter.  Then came the vaccine in July of 2021.  The vaccine was given free to the Cambodians by the Chinese and then free to the foreigners by the Cambodians.

There was a special day for foreign vaccinations at the provincial hospitals.  Cambodia is very Facebook savvy and uses the Facebook site Siem Reap Expats and Locals to make announcements to expats.  I arrived early in the morning and was done by lunch time.  There were stations and the process was quite orderly.  This was in contrast to the vaccine chaos I watched in the US on a regular basis on CNN, the two pro-Trumpers refused the vaccine insisting that the vaccine contained a microchip that would ultimately led to a global dictatorship. Later vaccine cards were issued to the expats that got the vaccine.  The Cambodia vaccine card is safely kept in my wallet but enforcement of the vaccine card is not being enforced unlike the mask requirement.  For a little while some malls required a check in with you cell phone but this was only briefly enforced.  I often don’t carry a cell phone since it rains a lot in Cambodia and carrying an electronic cell phone that can be damaged by rain is always a gamble.  For some reason the water proof containers so common in Thailand during Songkran, a Thai water festival, are not available in Siem Reap.

A Cambodian female friend asked me what I learned from COVID and I answered we need to strengthen global governance to handle what promises to be future global challenges such as climate change and embrace multilateralism.  The Cambodian gal answered that she learned that little old underdeveloped Cambodia handled COVID better that the US and I have to agree with her.  As of now the number of fully vaccinated Americans is 58.9%. As of now 79.1% of all Cambodians are fully vaccinated.  I guess the US is better at sending people to the Moon, wasting trillions in Afghanistan and demonizing China than vaccinating its own people.

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