Wayward Pines and the balcony highdive

Gated communities are very much like the cantonments that were set up on the outskirts of Indian cities during the days of the British Raj – a place for whites to live peacefully without being bothered by the natives. In Thailand these gated communities are called “Moobahns” and the people who live in them are called “Moobahnians”. The Thai word “moo bahn” means “village”. Which is ironic considering that the last thing a resident in the Wayward Pines Moobahn wants to see near his house is a Thai villager (unless the villager is cutting the lawn).

Moobahnians on facebook, like their British Raj antecedents, are not very bright to start with. In addition they tend to be very old, it is estimated that the average age of a facebook local community member is 86. They have very little knowledge of anything beyond their compound wall. On facebook these old fogies form tight knit groups that reinforce their own prejudices and imbecilic beliefs. A perfect petri dish for the senile dementia virus. Plus being old, and nearer to God, they think they need to do something to compensate for a pointless life of self indulgence. This, of course, makes them the ideal target for a Phishing attack.

Its easy enough, any boy can do it. In fact the average Chinese 12 year old (or an American 18 year old) has sufficient computer skills to pull off this scam. Just make a website clone of, say, the Chumphon Evening Gazette, (which normally carries banal features about local road closures and special offers at Tesco – stuff the old fogies love). There is even a software tool that will do this for you. Into the clone you insert an new element: somebody’s daughter/best friend/pet hamster has been robbed/injured/raped by natives, and is now in jail/hospital/the vets, please go to http://www.scamhosters/givemunny.com. Here the fogy will be asked to make a bank transfer to Connery Scamman to help pay medical bills/hire a lawyer/buy a ticket to fly the animal home.

To find out what happened next, go to Private Tye, a satirical Thai site that should become required reading for anyone contemplating living in Southeast Asia.


The tek-tek and the tiger

Screen Shot 2016-03-17 at 1.08.25 PM.pngThis is a tek-tek, as it’s called by the  tribal people of Ratanakiri; in Vietnam just across the border it’s the Nguoi Roung, and in Borneo it’s the Batutut.

When I first heard of it I thought it was a version of the neak-ta, the Cambodian spirits who own specific forests and hills and so on, but it’s far more physical:

 American soldiers in Vietnam had encounters with what was described as “an orangutan-like creature” … A veteran of the war, now a special investigator for the U.S. Customs Service, who was in Bangkok to investigate the illegal reptile trade, told us that 2 men in his platoon had had their heads torn off by the powerful beast.

(From “The Soul of the Tiger”, in Save Virachey National Park on Face Book).


Tribal children caught on the Habitat ID camera-trap in Virachey. This was four days away from the nearest village – an expedition of over a week, then. An adult in the background, but their approach to child-rearing is markedly different to ours. Possibly these are the tek-tek-makers, although more probably the carving was done by tiger-poachers.

So it’s a cryptid, which is another way of saying nobody knows. The carving was photographed by Greg McCann, a conservationist, who saw it in a remote corner of Cambodia where the borders of Laos and Vietnam meet. “Remote” means days away from the nearest village, the nearest human. There was more than just the carving, too – this is the Phnom Penh Post’s write-up:

It was a loud evening deep in the jungle, the crickets, frogs and odd cicadas were busy playing their usual nighttime symphony. A group of trekkers were getting ready to bunk down for the night.

“My friend was zipped up in his hammock and beginning to doze off, when he noticed that all of the insects had stopped making sounds: the jungle went completely silent,” said Greg McCann, a field coordinator for Habitat ID, a conservation group working in Virachey National Park, where the trekkers were camping.

A few moments later, a horrid smell engulfed the camp – the trekkers all emerged from their tents to find its source. A minute after that, the smell had gone and the insects and frogs returned.


Virachey National Park is one of Cambodia’s last wild places, and Greg McCann’s task is to set camera traps to discover what it holds. Someone has said that Virachey might as well be ground zero for the Earth’s sixth mass extinction event (100,000 species every year), so it’s important:

McCann and his team have been able to document populations of iconic mammal species on the brink of disaster: Asiatic black bear, sun bear, gaur, dhole, stubbed-tail macaque, sambar deer, clouded leopard, and binturong among many others.


In Virachey

The jungles of Laos and Vietnam have been largely hunted out, and Cambodia isn’t far behind – Here’s Our Mr Nixon describing a visit to the pepper plantations near Kampot in the early 1950s:

We took the same road leading to Kep … turned left at a fork onto a dirt road … the road narrowed down to a mere path … made our way on foot … the jungle was thickly populated by tigers and wild boars…”

Screen Shot 2016-03-21 at 4.36.10 PM.pngNot any more it isn’t – now it’s simply thickly populated. People are the problem, they refuse to share and won’t play nicely. But they can also be the solution:

Habitat ID is hoping to create an ecotourism model around Virachey to incentivize the local populations away from the illegal logging, poaching, and mining that is decimating the ecosystem. … “Virachey is truly one of the last bastions of wildlife in Indochina [says McCann]].  And with its upland savannah hills it is one of the most beautiful places in Southeast Asia.”


Kevet tribal house – expeditions into Virachey set out from and return to this village.

Whether the tek-tek still roams those hills I do not know, but Virachey is worth saving even without head-ripping cryptids. It’s getting late – in the 1990s there were tigers in the forests, but they’ve go the way of the tigers of Kampot. If you’d like to learn more, visit the Save Virachey National Park website – updates, videos, stories, invitations to join forthcoming expeditions, and a donation button towards the bottom of the page.


Save Virachey National Park

• Chelsea Chapman, Tek-Tek, the Yeti of Cambodia, Phnom Penh Post, 8 November 2014

• Save Virachey National Park, Facebook.com

• Aaron Lowinger, Fundraiser for Habitat ID in Virachey National Park, Dailypublic.com

Our Mister Nixon

The half-kilometer tower


The tower is at the very top of the table. Photo from Phnom Penh Post.

Today the first sod will be turned for the construction of a half-kilometer  tall skyscraper in central Phnom Penh. That’s  113 floors of luxury, consisting a 6-star hotel, apartments, high-standard office spaces, and a mall. All going well completion will be in 2019, at a cost of $1 billion. All this despite the fact that relevant ministry hasn’t yet received an application request, let alone granted permission.


Let us assume that it gets built. One thing on my mind is what happens if there’s a fire? Back in 1999 the Post addressed this question:

Some simple rules dramatically increase survival chances. The first: don’t have a fire between 11am and 1pm or 5pm and 7pm because the firefighters are not available during meal breaks, says their chief.

The second: have substantial amounts of cash to hand out because the firefighters don’t put out fires unless paid, say past victims.

And finally: try to live near Wat Phnom or the Ministry of Interior because they are the only two places where fire engines have 24- hour access to water.


Diamond Island (Koh Pich) fire station.

That, of course, is almost 20 years ago; the new tower will be just over the bridge from Diamond Island, which has 24-hour access to everything and the most modern firefighting equipment in the kingdom. Still, I doubt that even the best-equipped fire trucks in the world have ladders long enough for this. How do mega-towers handle rescue?

Of course, the tower will have all the latest in safety measures – smoke detectors, sprinklers, all that. I have no doubt it will – prestige developments take these things seriously. How does Phnom Penh in general measure up on that front? The Post addressed this much more recently, in 2013:

… fire safety is effectively up to the discretion of property owners … no basic fire safety code exists in practice … [no] policy or … regulations for the safety systems of skyscrapers … 10-storey Basak Tower luxury apartment building on Sothearos Boulevard [has] fire extinguishers [n]o smoke detectors [has] sprinklers on the corridors … [c]orruption … dodgy dealing prevents effective enforcement … many building owners put lives at risk by cutting fire safety costs….

There are plenty of high-rises in town already. “Before, there were never high buildings. Now there are a lot. When there is a fire [in a high building], there will be a big problem.” Read Bennett Murray’s article in the sources, it’s very illuminating.


People use extinguishers to put out fires, Koh Pich, National Fire Prevention and Extinguishing Day, 22 Feb. 2016 (photo: Phnom Penh Post).


• Siv Meng, Government eager to kick-start mammoth tower development, Phnom Penh Post, 13 March 2016.

• Samreth Sopha, Firefighters fiddle as Phnom Penh burns, Phnom Penh Post, 5 March 1999.

• Bennett Murray, Fire protection, a case for alarm?, Phnom Penh Post, 15 March 2013.