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Phnom Penh / Cambodia

Posted in Latest of Asienreisender, Places with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on December 18, 2014 by Thim Kwai

Phnom Penh, the Cambodian capital, was once considered as the ‘Pearl of Asia’, a small Paris in Southeast Asia, due to the efforts of the French colonialists to make the place a representative center for it’s administration. Before it was merely a wooden village at the swampy banks of the Tonle Sap River. Sadly, the former elegance of the city has faded away with it’s cruelsome history in the 20th century and the reconstruction since the 1980s in a cheap, ugly, postmodern manner. Nevertheless, when visiting Phnom Penh one can experience some reminiscences of the old times. For many visitors the megacity is nowadays attractive also as the business center of Cambodia and alluring for it’s notorious nightlife.

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Mosquitoes in Southeast Asia

Posted in Animals, Latest of Asienreisender with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on July 27, 2013 by Thim Kwai

Health Concerns

Tourists and Travellers who come to Southeast Asia are usually very concerned about safety and health. It’s generally more safe here than in most other parts of the world and generally easy to remain healthy; the dangers are mostly overestimated or self-caused.

Nevertheless I want to point out one potential threat here.

More dangerous than all the scary animals like tigers, cobras, king cobras, crocodiles and so on are the mosquitoes (Spanish / Portuguese for ‘little fly’), or at least a few certain kinds of mosquitoes who transfer dangerous diseases. The verymost kinds of mosquitoes do not transfer diseases, although, in more seldom cases, they can cause various other infections when transmitting bacterias, viruses or other parasites into the human body.

Various kinds of mosquito – transmitted tropical diseases are malaria, dengue fever, chikungunya fever, yellow fever, West-Nile fever, Rift-Valley fever, encephalitis and more. Some mosquitoes transfer parasitarian worms who can live in the human vascular system. Even HIV/AIDS can still not be completely excluded from the list of diseases transmitted by the nasty insects, but it’s at least considered highly unprobable.

Apart from these health threats mosquitoes are simply annoying and can spoil enjoying time or cause sleepless nights.

Mosquito Habits

The oldest known mosquito remain discovered until now is some 79 million years old. It’s imbedded into a piece of amber.

Although generally very small animals, some of them reach a size of more than 15mm.

The number of different kinds of mosquitoes in total vary between 2,500 and 3,500 species, they appear worldwide except in the polar regions and in deserts. They breed at waterplaces of all kind. In the swamps of Siberia, Canada and the north of Europe they appear in the summer month in masses and are much bigger and their bites leave a much bigger impact on the skin than the ones in Southeast Asia. Therefore they are much less dangerous in the north than in the tropical regions of the globe. Particularly the anopheles (malaria) mosquito is a very small representative of his kind. When sitting on walls or the skin it’s body shows a peculiar angle of some 45 degree to where it sits on, what makes it distinctive from other mosquito types.

Mosquitoes do not feed from blood, but from nectar and fruit juices. Only the females suck additionally blood. They need the containing proteins for their eggs. A ‘blood meal’ of a female mosquito is sufficient for around 100 eggs, who are layed two to three days after it. In their lifespan, which lasts several weeks, a female mosquito can produce 1,000 or more eggs in her life. Though, there are also kinds of mosquitoes who don’t bite humans but exclusively animals, and a few others who don’t bite at all.

They lay their eggs one by one on the surface of calm, preferable clear water. The development from egg via larva and pupa to a flying mosquito takes about two weeks.

Their rostrums contain two canals. One is injecting a protein containing saliva for a first, external digesting or preparation of the blood, through the other canal the mosquito sucks it’s meal up. The injected protein leads to a small allergic reaction and the well-known itching swelling. If the bite hits directly a nerve, the bit can trigger a small pain. It’s, by the way, said that the bite of a female anopheles (malaria) mosquito is particularly itchy.

Everybody made already the experience, that some people attract mosquitoes more than others do. That has to do with the human smell, which attracts the animals. The smell of lactic acid and other substances on the skin and in sweat serves for their orientation. When they are already close to humans, they also orientate visually and on body temperature.

That explains an observation frequently done while hiking in the jungle. Jungle trekking is a sweat-driving activity. Soon many mosquitoes are attracted and buzz around one’s head.

Male mosquitoes are in average 20% smaller than females, and they have bushy tentacles. As already mentioned males are not able to bite.

Most active mosquitoes get at warm, calm days without direct sunlight. When it gets too windy, they can not navigate anymore. That’s why they have problems with ventilators. When it’s too cool (10 degree or less) they get numb and paralized. They particularly dislike air conditioners.

Mosquitoes can fly over distances of several kilometers. Their speed can be considerable; it’s sometimes remarkable how quick they can disappear when being hunted. They manage to fly closely along walls, tree stams etc. to get cover and their trajectory is often very twisting and unpredictable. If the wind is favourable mosquitoes can fly as high as a hundred meters.

Mosquitoes are generally most active in the evening around sunset, sometimes in the morning, but can additionally appear at all times at day and night. Malaria mosquitoes are night active, while the ones transferring dengue are day active.

Mosquito Control and Practical Prevention

Fighting mosquitoes has a long tradition. For example the drainage of swamps detracts the basic for mosquito reproduction. An oil-film on breeding-waters stifles the mosquito larvaes. But it’s damaging the ecosystem as well, as many other approaches do. The problem of chemical treatments is always that not only the targeted mosquitoes but a lot of other species are also affected, if not whole biotopes. In many Southeast Asian countries DDT is still in use, while it is abolished in western countries since years (Stockholm Convention) and well known for it’s desastrous side-effects.

Another problem of chemical treatments are the growing resistances. DDT, supposed to be a superior mean against malaria in the 1950s, lost more and more effeciency over the following years being used.

Gentechnical approaches try to modify mosquito genes so that they can not reproduce anymore. Another approach is to make the mosquitoes themselves disease resistant, so that they can not serve as a host and transfer diseases as malaria and dengue fever anymore.

Dragonflies are very effective, hunting and eating mosquitoes at all stages of their development (eggs, larvaes, pupaes and adults). A number of other animals, insects, amphibians and fish eat mosquitoes or their spawn.

In Thailand I have seen the application of pesticides (presumably DDT containing) in great scale by troops of communal workers who used massive sprayers all along the river banks of the Mekong River and the inner town of Chiang Khong. Considered that all the housings, kitchens and restaurants are mostly open, it’s a very brutal way of dealing with mosquitoes. Not to mention that the pesticides get into the drainage system and the river later. Besides I didn’t see a relief in the mosquito plague in the following days.

There are many methods to prevent and fight mosquitoes in all-day-life, but still many people don’t care for that. First it’s helpful to avoid standing waters like little pools, flowerpots, tyres and so on catching rain water whenever possible, or to set little fish (like guppies) in them who eat their larvaes. It’s good to keep kitchen and kitchen surroundings clean, particularly from rotting fruits or fruit remains.

Above all one needs is to carry always a repellent in the pocket. Repellents are available in many shops in most places for small money. If you see mosquitoes around or you get a bite already, it’s best to use it immediately. The beasts target mostly for the ankles. At nighttime it’s best to apply a repellent on all parts of uncovered skin.

The most repellents are based on DEET. DEET is a chemical which is in use against mosquitoes since 1946 (developed by the US army, used much in the American Vietnam War) and since 1965 sold in the civil sector. The repellents I find in Southeast Asia are often pretty weak, containing 7%, 11% or 13% DEET. In western countries repellents contain 30%, sometimes up to 50%.

It’s yet not completely clear why actually DEET repels mosquitoes, but it has to do with the smell. Either the part of the human smell which attracts the mosquitoes is blocked in their reception, or the smell of the DEET itself causes the insects to stay away.

Side effects of DEET are possibly allergic reaction, insomnia, erratic mood swings and receptional irritations. It’s recommended not to be used by pregnant women and babies (below two years old).

One does not necessarily need a mosquito net. At warm nights a mosquito net queues the air and causes stifling air. On the other hand a mosquito net prevents from more than mosquitos – namely other animals who may creep around and might find the way into ones bed.

Know…

This is only a part of the illustrated article ‘Mosquitoes in Southeast Asia’. Read the whole article on Mosquitoes in Southeast Asia by Asienreisender.

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Criminality & Safety in Cambodia

Posted in Countries, Latest of Asienreisender with tags , , , , , , , on July 20, 2013 by Thim Kwai

Cambodia is a country with widely empovered masses of people. Anomie is everywhere and the country has a long tradition of authoritarianism and brutalization. The crime rate is therefore high and one should be aware here of the main risks, including that of traffic or other accidents.

Most of the criminal issues are petty criminality like ‘snatch and grab’ robberies, mostly committed by bypassing motorbikes to other road users or to people who put valuables on tables in restaurants and so on. But also burglaring and armed robberies occur and sometimes murders. Many people have guns and other weapons and it doesn’t matter if it is a Cambodian or a foreigner, a life means little in Cambodia. On the other hand is the homicide rate in Cambodia with 3.4 murders per year per 100,000 people clearly lower than in neighbouring Thailand or the USA (both at 4.8 / year / 100,000 people).

It’s remarkable how careful the local people are locking their houses and flats. All the windows are usually equipped with an iron grid, and hotel and guesthouse staff warns guests frequently of people who might try to grab valuables with their hands or sticks through an open window with a grid when such belongings are in range. Also upper floors are mostly protected with barbed wires etc. to protect rooms, balconies, upper terraces etc. from climbing thieves.

Many rural parts of Cambodia are not under control of the police. Walking around after sunset is much more dangerous than in daytime. The waterfront of Sihanoukville is known as a particularly dangerous stretch – tourists happened to be robbed or even murdered there, already. Sihanoukville is counted anyway as one of the most dangerous places in Southeast Asia, and a number of westerners were murdered there in the last years. Some of them might have been involved in obscure businesses, but others defenitely not. Banditry even on more frequented overland roads can happen after sunset.

One should also be aware of pickpockets who are mostly active at places where many people are around as market places, bus stations, tourist sites etc. Sometimes such guys approach very friendly and touch their victims in a way like placing a hand on one’s shoulder to distract him from picking somewhat out of the pocket.

ATM fraud happens reportedly sometimes. Anyhow the card data are spyed out and unauthorized transactions are made afterwards. Also raids after leaving an ATM can happen. It’s always a good idea to have an eye open before entering an ATM and to check if it is maybe under observation by other parties.

I just mention fraud, scams, lying and cheating besides, for these include usually minor crimes compared with the ones mentioned above. Cheating happens in many varying cases every day. To lie is part of all day life. Important matters have always to been proved. Some scams can turn out very dangerous, though.

Traffic provides a permanent risk for anybody, since almost all Cambodian drivers drive obviously carelessly and, as I often saw, intentionally risky (see also the chapter ‘Traffic‘ above). It seems that nobody cares for any rules of safety here, it’s all under the law of the strongest, so particularly motorbike accidents are a threat, but also car, bus and boat accidents. Pedestrians should be very careful, because there are only few sidewalks and they are not safe, either. Motorbikes and cars drive on them. Besides they are frequently blocked with parking vehicles, foodstalls, shops, workshops, piles of rubbish or interrupted by building sites or deep holes.

Landmines and unexploded ordnance are in some rural parts of the country a threat, particularly for local peasants and playing kids. Hiking tourists face a certain risk when leaving the tracks; that could also include walks over rice paddies. Particularly Battambang, Banteay Meanchey, Pursat, Siem Reap and Kampong Thom provinces are partially contaminated.

Along the Cambodian – Thai border at Preah Vihear, Oddar Meanchey and the Banteay Ampil district of Banteay Meanchey province were and are sometimes armed incidents between Thai and Cambodian armed forces. The border there is partially under dispute. Also these border areas are partially contamined with land mines.

It’s said that police officers at police stations sometimes charge foreigners 20, 50 or 100 dollars for filing a report. In reverse they do nothing for the victim to get his or her belongings back. I wouldn’t trust at all into the competence of any policeman here.

For foreigners who get deeper involved into Cambodia as residents and start dealing here in business affairs or buying real estate they will highly probable face unexpected difficulties. Business disputes can lead to harsh and violent actions by local business ‘partners’.

Another point to mention here are the medical facilities and hospitals in Cambodia. There is practically no reliable, qualified hospital, doctor, staff etc. in Cambodia who meet western or anyhow reasonable standards. In case of ending up in a Cambodian hospital the chance is high to leave it in a worse state than entering it. The closest alternative one has is to go to neighbouring Thailand; particularly in Bangkok are good clinics and hospitals.

When getting medical care in Cambodia or elsewhere in Southeast Asia the medical institution will ask for cash immediately.

Know…

This is only a part of the illustrated article ‘Cambodia’. Read the whole article on Cambodia by Asienreisender.

Keep yourself up-to-date

Check the list of recently published articles on a great variety of Southeast Asian themes. All of them are richly illustrated: Asienreisender