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Monthly Archives: January 2011

Summary of trip until now


Wine bragging rights

During my last day in Cambodia I dramatically increased my wine bragging rights.


After drinking Shiraz wine in Shiraz (alcohol is strictly forbidden in Iran). I can now proudly add: wine from the only winery in Cambodia. The good news is that it tasted quite ok! The total production is just 10.000 bottles per year, so am proud to join this exclusive club (for $1).

Meanwhile, at the Pepsi factory in Battabang


Who said that visiting temples is boring?


Musical interludes / Olafur Arnalds

When you’ve got unlimited time, you only do the things you like. One of the things which makes me truly happy is music. As a kid, my piano teacher famously told my parents that he was happy taking their money, but that the lessons were a waste of everybody’s time…

I’m faithful to my favorite artists, which means that I regularly forget to listen to sufficient new material. In any case, I hope that these musical interludes will help you discover a new band or two, or reappraise your own music in a slightly different light. Recommendations for new music are always welcome!

Band: Olafur Arnalds

I had heard about Olafur Arnalds through her collaboration with Sigur Ros, but had never had the time to give her a proper listen. Until now. For the classical classical music fans his music is probably over the top. For somebody like me, his music makes me imagine scenic movies with few spoken words, incredible hurt and hopeless hope.


Recommendation: during quiet moment





A tale of love, hate and credit cards

After a tough week, I was relieved to go to a quality bar. Everything was just right: an attentive American girl, behind the bar, a guy who was writing a book next to me. Slowly the bar filled up with friendly expats from the many NGO’s that dot he area. I’m not surprised that I hadn’t really noticed her, a shy, well dressed Asian girl. Only when she struggled to move her chair past me and the writer, I finally looked up and caught a glimpse of her.

After a mini birthday celebration brought the extra boost to the night, our bar started to close. It was clear that the party would continue and I was tempted to join the rest of the party. It was only when i wanted to pay my bill when I noticed that my wallet was gone.

My wallet contained only $60, but much more importantly: my bank card and a credit card. A frantic search of the now empty bar showed that the wallet wasn’t to be found. I was 100% sure that I had the wallet over there, as I had showed off my super cool business cards ( http://us.moo.com/products/minicards.html ) in the bar. A quick deduction made it clear that only the shy Asian girl could have been the culprit (I sat in a corner where nobody else had passed etc.). The bar lady joined me in a quick search of the dodgy bars in the city, but we both were unsure how she looked, so our search turned up with nothing.

As my mood soured, I contemplated less friendly options. In the end, I approached all the TukTuk drivers, ladyboys and the like and promised them a large reward if they would bring the cards to my hotel. Surprisingly, one of them suggested to go to the to the tourist police at the border of the city. Which is where I spend the next couple of hours. Afterwards, I had to call in order to block my cards etc. I finally went to bed at 05.00.

I had booked a boat to sail 6 hours to my next destination. The pickup for the boat arrived at 06.15 in the morning However, I didn’t go as the police needed even more time to file a full complaint. The rest of this day was filled with strategies for getting access to my cards and money.

To my great surprise I received the following email:
On 26 jan. 2011 at 14:13 Chean Lean wrote the following:

Hi Amsterdam i would like to ask you about something? last night when i live from my house go to visit around town i found your Master Card and name Card on the Rout so if you want your Master Card back please contact me by this E.mail. so if you have your phone number please send me by this E.mail.

Best Regards.

Was it a trap? How did he get my email address? Why didn’t he give his own phone number or his own address?


I quickly replied, but got no reaction back for the next couple of hours. When he finally called, we spoke briefly. He quickly told where we should go. The hotel owner of my hotel and her daughter offered to drive me there by car. In the car I bombarded them with questions: who would do the talking? Should I offer a reward or would he ask for one? What was a fair reward? Etc. When we finally arrived, all my defenses dropped immediately: a friendly looking guy came up to a large porch. He introduced me to his manager an Australian lady who started talking about the stories I had written about my trip. Meanwhile Lean got the wallet with the credit cards, gave them to me and explained how he contacted me through the business cards in my wallet. The hotel owner and daughter chatted as well and during a busy moment I asked his manager what she thought was fair reward. She explained that Lean is saving for a motorcycle and named an amount.

I then thanked Lean for his honesty and friendliness and then quickly explained how big my troubles would have been without him. I then added 50% to the amount his manager had named and promised I would make him famous through this blog. Lean: this one is for you.

Please share & promote this story about a friendly honest man in Cambodia, so Lean receives the fame he deserves.

The power of power

It was about 14.30 and I was running late. And not that I hadn’t done anything, riding the bike for an hour to catch the sunrise this morning had just worn me down. ‘Fortunately, I’m exactly have way’ was my last thought before a loud bang signaled an end to the progress on my bike. It was in the middle of nowhere, but the people of the small house I had passed 30 meters before were already walking in my direction. They spoke no English, but from their body language I could see they were looking for a solution. The mother of the house jumped on her scooter, I was directed towards the hammock, everything was going to be ok.

I quickly started playing with the kids, testing which game on my iPhone appealed most them. When the mother returned 5 minutes later she had brought an older lady along who came equipped with a big bag of tools and she started working straight away on my bike. I happily played along with the kids and could see from a distance that she was an experienced tire fixer.

When the bike was nearly fixed she indicated the price: $5. Which isn’t much for European standards, but in Cambodia where the average salary is less than $40 per month this is a lot of money. Through two kids, who had arrived on a scooter, I told her that I really appreciated her work, but that $5 was out of the question. I can pay a maxi….when she walked over to the bike and let all the air out from the tire. I checked my wallet and saw that I didn’t even have $5 in change. Almost $3 was all I had. The next alternative was $10. She obviously didn’t have change for such a high amount. And this was assuming that I was willing to pay the money.

A western looking guy drove by on his bike. I halted him. He was Spanish and and I changed a loose euro for a dollar (I knew one day it would come in handy).

In the end, I paid $4 for repairing a flat tire. I drove on my bike and was quickly overtaken by the two guys on the scooter. After 3 minutes something felt wrong. I quickly checked my pockets and immediately noticed what was missing: my beloved iPhone. Tears came to my eyes, my pictures, my private diary, my music: my life! I quickly concluded that the guys on the scooter somehow must have taken it. I raced back to the house where my bike was repaired. When I arrived I saw the little boy playing with my iPhone while seated next to his father. With an enormous sigh of relief I took the iPhone and drove off again. I was in a hurry as I was late.

What did I learn? Obviously, that I should agree the price up front. Secondly, that teaching somebody about overcharging tourists is not so smart when you’re helpless in the middle of nowhere. That the right price is equal to what the seller is maximum willing to pay (and not what is ‘fair’). And most importantly: the power of power. I saw something change in that woman when she realized that (for the first time in her life?) she had near absolute power over a rich western man. She transformed on the spot from a submissive 3rd world woman dressed in rags into a ruthless business woman. A feeling of self-esteem that I hope will stay with her forever.

Ps: I could have paid her $10 of course and it wouldn’t have changed a thing in my trip. However, when I donate money I want to do it out of free will, not by force. 
Pps: I will dedicate a separate post to technology in the 3rd world

Angkor Wat sunrise: a picture tells more than a thousand words

The sunrise at Angkor Wat is stunning. The majestic temple is lit from behind by a sleepy sun. The most enchanting moment occur when the reflection of the sun can be seen in the pool right in front of the temple. All this is decorated with the sound of ancient drums in order to scare the moon away. Unfortunately, those drums didn’t prevent (literally) thousands of tourists of trying to capture the moment on camera. I would guess that more than 10.000 pictures of that sunset were taken on this day alone.


The sad news is that probably 100% of these pictures are crap. People using mobile phones and their flash in order to capture this beautiful moment. 99.9% of the people present couldn’t have seriously thought that they were really making a reasonable picture.

So why do people show up taking pictures anyway? For the enchanting moment? Surely, being packed together with 1000’s isn’t that enchanting. Is it the ‘shared experience’? Then why do they stare mindlessly into their camera’s viewfinder? Are they to lazy to Google the picture? Surely it would have been easier than leaving your bed at 05.00. Is it having ‘your own’ picture of exactly that moment in time? Maybe it’s that.

And just for the sake of it, here’s my special moment:


Angkor Wat: the best tourist trap in the world

Most tourist traps I’ve seen are about a natural phenonomen. The beaches in Goa are a great example: beautiful, but superficial. The tourists who go there fit that profile too.

I’m now in probably the best tourist trap in the world: Angkor Wat / Siem Riep. Sure it has all the bad things of a tourist trap. Sports bars with the English soccer league, more tourist buses than I can count and a terribly busy main street.


At the same time, all these people come to see one of the greatest monuments of our planet. Imagine gigantic temples which were covered for centuries by jungle, (ab)used by the Khmer Rouge as an army base and filled with little hideaways where you can let the natural & human beauty take hold of your soul.

The ‘tourist trap’ side brings even more advantages: want a fish massage? It costs $3. Arrive late on a Friday night without a hotel? In ten minutes and for $10 you’ve got a western quality hotel including breakfast. And no need to feel guilty as wages apparently are higher than in the rest of the country. And as every tourist pays $20 entry fee per day, the restoration work gets funded too.

Isn’t there anything bad about this tourist trap? Sure there is. The guide’s only dream in life was to own a Lexus RX 300 (the car of choice of the rich and powerful in Cambodia). Authentic human-human conversation is difficult to find and the prostitutes probably would have chosen a different job if the would have had a real choice.

Let’s call it the best of the worst.

Welcome, whoever you are!

I just checked the statistics for www.gijsbos.com. The shocking news is: the stories that were written for family and a couple of friends have been read 65.000 times in more than 16.000 visits!

Thank you for taking the time to read what I’ve typed on the small keyboard of my iPhone. I hope you enjoy what you read and that you’ll be inspired to make a similar or completely different trip.