Raffles Amid the Protests

On Jan 4th the ruling party here banned all form of street protests and gatherings. But yesterday protesters took to the streets to protest the turning down of a licence for a non government radio and TV station.

The locals like in Vietnam take their lunch around 11a.m. so the protest came past Raffles at about 10 a.m. on it’s way to the Ministry of Information almost next door.

We were on the breakfast veranda overlooking the street breakfast Veranda Raffles Phnom Penh

As you would expect the breakfast is huge with table after table of different choices and the customary profusion of waiters and waitresses.

As we sat enjoying the meal an hail of gunfire broke out and the protesters started to run back past us. The military police had opened fire on the crowd using rubber bullets, smoke bombs and some tear gas. They then baton charged them to disperse the protest.Several people were injured and many bloodied

It reminded me of  that part of the book Doctor Zhivargo as the elite danced at a ball while the cossacks charged the protesters. Here are the clips

and

We were part of the elite this morning tucking in to hearty breakfasts while just 200 metres away peaceful protesters were being beaten with sticks and riot shields. I don’t know enough yet about the politics of the country to start to understand it but maybe I won’t moan about the BBC Today programme quite as much when back in the UK or the simplistic Italian TV fare dished up over non state controlled airwaves. Mind you James Naughtie ….no don’t get me started.

The baton charge coincided with a report published by the US Freedom House which ranked Cambodia as “not free” one of 48 countries in that category. The report cites that here ” basic political rights are absent” and ” basic civil liberties are widely and systematically denied “. It talks also of the ban on the right to assemble and a suppression of human rights since the disputed general election last year.

But enough of politics let’s take our usual wander around this holel the way we have the others.

The Raffles boasts two pools. This is what they call the play pool

Playpool Raffles Phnom Penh

That side of the play pool in the picture is always in the shade and the other side in the sun. Now that is service !!

This is the main pool

IMG_0472

oh and the view from the bed chair

Bedchair Raffles Phnom Penh

Our bedroom overlooks the play pool and has a pleasant balcony almost at pool level.

You have already seen the view from the breakfast table up the top of this blog .

One thing I must show you is the turndown service that happens every night. Now I am old enough to remember when even in European hotels this service was the normal part of staying in an hotel. These days few even in the Far East offer the service at all but it is a Raffles tradition

Turn down Raffles Phnom Penh

Not only is the bed turned down and the towels used for your evening shower replaced but slippers are laid out by the bed, a bottle of water and a glass placed on your bedside table, the room cleaned again, the bathroom completely wiped down, any clothes you left lying around hung up or folded neatly, the desk rearranged tidily and of course your PJs folded and laid on the bed. The bedside lights only are left on to make it really cosy when you stagger in from a night on the huge cocktails in the Elephant Bar.

Ahh the Elephant Bar so called because of the wall and ceiling paintings of elephants

Elephant motive

and home to a long list of celebrities including Jackie O and Somerset Maugham .

The place is now crawling with NGO personnel who seem the mainstay of the economy as almost every charity seems to be present here in Cambodia. Not only do they drink here but many apparently live in this hotel as well.

I was in Sri Lanka just after the tsunami  and was also amazed there to find the Hilton Club floors in Colombo full of NGOs living the high life . I asked one why he wasn’t at “the front line” as it were where all the trouble was down on the south of the island. “Have you been there?” he asked, “no where decent to stay and no good bars either.”

This seems very similar . It is big business now the charity game with lots of various national government monies flowing into them making them political as well as charitable schemes.

My trusty Luxe Travel Guide to Cambodia tells me of the Elephant Bar is ” more NGO than Jackie O ” which is rather clever and also very true. Her glass still with her lipstick, does adorn a glass cabinet just outside the bar. ,

In my youth I drank in various great hotel bars like the Long Bar in the old Raffles in Singapore where the Singapore Sling was born, the Long Bar at the Stanley Hotel in Nairobi which was already truncated from it’s original and now sadly gone and the rooftop bar at The Acropole Palace in Athens . I loved the feel of those places. Most great hotel bars are now priced way above what I am prepared to pay for a drink I can get outside for well under half the price. So it is nice to be back at one that certainly in happy hour is very affordable with beers at US$3, house cocktails at US$4 and special cocktails at US$ 6 and they come with three different snacks as well.  That said I’m not sure I’d be too happy funding such prices from my own charity donation nor have my tax money paid by my government  to a charity  that was happy to have its people expense it for entertaining or worse still stay at the hotel and charge it to the charity.

Last night we listened while a few NGO types moaned into their cocktails about the unfairness of their lot when diplomats got more leave per annum than them and more flights home each year as well. I guess join the elite few who pass the Civil Service Exams in the UK and change jobs would be my advice !!

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