formerly "The View From Up Here"

Formerly titled "The View From Up Here" this column began in the Liberty Gazette June 26, 2007.

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March 6, 2018 Owning a Business in a Communist Country (part VII in a series)

The Liberty Gazette
March 6, 2018
Ely Air Lines
By Mike Ely and Linda Street-Ely

After a great visit to Phnom Penh, we boarded Cambodian Angkor Air for a thirty minute domestic flight to Siem Reap. Such a short hop is most economically served by the popular ATR-72. There’s a training program in Houston for this airplane, a twin-engine turboprop.

We reserved a room in a traditional Khmer wooden house belonging to a local family, a young professional couple with two preschoolers. They arranged for private transportation from the airport so when we arrived we looked around for our sign. A young man who introduced himself as Alex (his American name) escorted us to his tuk tuk. We hopped aboard the romantic carriage and away we went through lovely Siem Reap.

We’ll have more to say about our experiences in Siem Reap, but one thing that got our attention was that despite a communist government, entrepreneurism is alive and well inside the Cambodian people. They have spirit and drive, and hospitality seems to come naturally. So while we can’t wait to tell you about sticking our feet in fish tanks to get a pedicure, exploring Pub Street, the markets and temples, the floating village, and the circus, we must start with Alex. He was, after all, with us for every adventure.

His real name is Sophal Chea. He’s twenty years old and lives in a small village outside Siem Reap with his brother and grandmother. Like most Cambodians, he has significant gardens, growing lemongrass, rice, as well as orange, banana, and coconut trees. And one cow, so far. His English is pretty good, and his people skills are excellent.

When we first met, Alex shook our hands and said, “Welcome. I’ll be your driver during your stay.” We had learned in Phnom Penh how competitive the tuk tuk business is. While Siem Reap is a smaller city, it’s heavily dependent on tourism, where the motorcycle chariots fit in well to serve visitors. By working with a homestay and claiming his clients upon introduction, Alex is ahead of his competitors, and he doesn’t have to park along a busy street asking passers-by if they need a ride. Nothing wrong with those who hustle for their business, but Alex is employing a more sophisticated approach advertising on travel sites and social media. So if you plan a trip to Siem Reap (and you should!), look for Tuk Tuk Okay. You’ll find Alex’s business in hot demand.

On our first full day, he took us to tour five wats (temples). Most of these are ruins, but the biggest, Angkor Wat, is in great shape for its age. Built in the twelfth century, it remains the largest religious monument in the world, the complex occupying about 400 acres. Wall carvings of traditional stories, kings, Hindu gods, and Buddha, are vivid. These humongous stone temples were built with the help of elephant labor to bring rocks from distant mountains.

After climbing through the ruins, Alex brought us back to our homestay to rest up for more escapades, which we’ll tell you about next week.

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