Oct 21 2011
Driving around Siem Reap on Friday afternoon felt almost like a journey along Memory Lane, so long it seems since you used to reach your destinations with eyeballs swimming in dust. Throughout most of town, the floods that have plagued Siem Reap for six long weeks have almost entirely subsided, and the watery streets are back to their usual dusty selves (see here if you’d like to donate to help recovery). The transformation, for everyone who’s been wading through the murky mess for so long, feels almost freakish.
If you’re venturing out of your hotel and around town, be warned that some areas are still a little bit tricky, in particular the lanes to the southeast of town in between Wat Damnak and the Ring Road, where I managed to find the muddiest road in Cambodia. A big thank you to the six local women who hauled me and my bike out of the morass, without even laughing once.
The road down to Chong Kneas and the Tonle Sap is still awash in places though, as with so many other roads in Siem Reap now, that’s hardly the real problem anymore. In Cambodia, as elsewhere, roads are considered an investment in the future, though this tends to be restricted to the futures of the road-building companies who do such a poor job they have to be called back in again usually within six months to a year of laying anything. Since getting the job depends less on your capacity to actually do it than on who you know… well, it gets boring talking about this after a while. To add to the shame of it all, this willful incompetence creates what amounts to an informal tax on the Cambodian people, albeit one that accrues to the benefit of manufacturers and suppliers of spare parts for motorcycles and other vehicles instead of to the government.
And so, the roads around much of town look like a petulant giant has taken his monumental sledge hammer and pounded them to a pulp in a fit of giantly pique. There are holes that can fit entire trucks in them, and the road to Chong Kneas is particularly bad. If you’re going down there, prepare to be bruised. The same can be said for High School Road, and the north river road, on the eastern side though to a much lesser degree. The road directly alongside and behind Wat Damnak is absolutely punishing, and you can’t help but wonder how anyone is going to get down there on a bicycle for a while.
In the town centre and along Route Six however, the roads have held up bravely, except for the one linking Sivatha Boulevard to Pokambor Avenue (at the junction with Hospital Street), but that’s always a disaster. While Route Six is also fine, the road linking that with High School Road is a virtual honeycomb of mud and puddles.
Outside of Siem Reap on the other hand it’s a different story, and much of the surrounding countryside is still flooded. A local pilot assures us that at least the prison is completely surrounded, Alcatraz style, meaning we should all sleep safer in our beds, so that’s nice.
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