Phnom Penh’s roads are so bad that tour guides—a normally cheery bunch who boost the city as part of their jobs—say they are ashamed to take tourists to some places.
“It takes us around 45 minutes in a taxi to go [the 11 km] from Phnom Penh to the Cheung Ek killing fields,” said Eang Phalla, a guide with Diethelm Travel.
She said tourists always ask her why the roads are so awful. “I tell them that Cambodia was at war until recently, and the gov-ernment was busy dealing with the Khmer Rouge,” she said.
“But I came up with those good answers only to save the government’s face.”
Long Leng, operations manager for Phnom Penh Tours, said most of his customers want to see the genocide museum at the former Tuol Sleng High School and Cheung Ek.
“They charge tourists 2000 riel for Cheung Ek and $2 for Tuol Sleng,” he said. “I think if they have the will they can use these contributions to fix the roads.”
Phnom Penh Governor Chea Sophara said the criticism is justified. “What they say is right. I feel ashamed too.”
But, he noted, the city is working hard to improve infrastructure, including roads, and the plan is for 80 percent of the work to be done within three years.
“We really want to get the work done in one year, but we have to work within the budget we have,” he said.
Beautification efforts, particularly along Phnom Penh’s popular riverfront, have already been made as the city braces for an expected tourist boom in coming years.
Tour guides were also critical of their own linguistic abilities, saying a number of tourists have suggested they study foreign languages abroad to improve their comprehension.
“Our guests have unlimited questions, so it requires the guide to have [extensive] general knowledge,” Eang Phalla said. “One of the main problems is the language. We do not understand them 100 percent and they do not understand us 100 percent either.”
Officials at the Ministry of Tourism said they agree that both the general knowledge and language skills of Cambodian guides must be improved if the tourism business is to thrive.
Thong Khon, secretary of state for the ministry, said the question of improving guides’ skills will be discussed at the ministry’s annual conference on tourism May 2-3.
There is some good news, however. Long Leng, of Phnom Penh tours, said surveys of their clients showed that 95 percent say Cambodian guides provide good service, while only 5 percent have complaints.