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Thursday, November 23, 2006


Noticing the differences

Coming back to Thailand after spending nine months in Cambodia is an amazing experience. When I go to Thailand straight from Australia I become aware of what Thailand doesn't have. Coming from Cambodia I become aware of what Thailand has.

The first thing I notice of course is the big, new, modern airport. Yes, Pochentong airport has been modernized but the new Bangkok airport makes Phnom Penh look like a country town. Even before I left Bangkok airport I was noticing in the car park the bulkier looking cars that are apparently the latest models. I guess these are not being sold in Cambodia yet or if they are, they're not very common.

Bangkok has super-highways and multi-level expressways. It also has major traffic jams. Phnom Penh's roads are pot holed. Back streets are simply not sealed at all and most of Cambodia's highways are no more than two lanes.

Bangkok and many of Thailand's cities have footpaths that are meant for pedestrians to walk on. Occasionally they are cluttered with vendors stalls. But in Phnom Penh footpaths are where drivers park their cars. Pedestrians have to mix it with the traffic on the busy roads.

The first time I visited Bangkok, some years back now, I was amazed by the high rise buildings that from the raised expressway extend as far as I can see. Now I'm amazed at how many new ones are going up. Phnom Penh is still mostly only a few stories high.

Bangkok has prosperous-looking businesses everywhere. I used to think Bangkok was a dirty city but compared to Phnom Penh it's amazingly clean and green. In Bangkok big Western-style shopping malls, supermarkets and department stores are everywhere. Phnom Penh has just a few small supermarkets.

In Bangkok I have a choice of cinemas showing the latest English language movies. I've not discovered any such thing in Phnom Penh.

Yesterday I caught a bus from Bangkok to Khon Kaen. It was a two level bus but passengers only sit upstairs. I got the front seat which meant I had an empty area in front of me where I could not only keep my bags safely but also stretch my legs fully. Such luxury.

I spent last night in Khon Kaen, in an army camp, believe it or not. And by the way, I have seen no sign of the military outside the camp and the country is going about its business smoothly and with enthusiasm. Post-coup Thailand is much the same as it was before.

Now I am in Mahasarakham. There is much new building going on in both the towns and the countryside. Everywhere I'm reminded of the prosperity of Thailand. And I read that the Thai baht is at its highest level in eight years. This, of course, means my Australian dollar doesn't go quite so far as it did when I was here before.

Living in Cambodia long-term, the poverty becomes less obvious. Now, when I think of my friends in Cambodia I feel sad for them. And yet, I wonder if this is misplaced. Despite their poverty, on average the people I know in Cambodia are no less happy than the people I know in Australia which is of course even more prosperous than Thailand.


After the slow internet connections in Phnom Penh I was pleased to be able to connect to the network in my friends' Bangkok home and use their broadband. When I lived in Mahasarakham previously I found only one internet cafe that would allow me to connect my laptop. This afternoon I caught a sorngtheaw out to that cafe. It seems to be under new management but they were still happy to allow me to connect. Unfortunately this connection is s-l-o-w, slower than the one I used in Phnom Penh.

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