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Cambodia’s endangered cyclo trade receives boost from PM Hun Sen

PHNOM PENH: Cambodia’s Prime Minister Hun Sen launched a foundation on Saturday (Jan 13) to preserve the country’s remaining iconic cyclos.

Speaking at a ceremony attended by more than 300 cyclo drivers at Koh Pich in Phnom Penh, Mr Hun Sen announced a number of benefits for those still working in the struggling rickshaw industry.

Cyclo drivers who register under the foundation will gain several benefits, including free medical treatment at public hospitals and a subsidy of US$52.50 to cover vehicle rental fees and meals each month.

Each driver will also be eligible for two new sets of clothing every year, the prime minister said.

“(I) hope that our cyclo drivers’ livelihoods will be better than before,” he said.

Along with donations from other donors, Hun Sen also personally contributed 500 million riel (US$125,000) to the foundation and promised to add a further US$20,000 every month.

Based on the funds in hand, the programme is set to run for two years. However, the prime minister said he wanted to make this foundation permanent to ensure the trade survives into the future.

“We have enough funds to run this from today onwards,” Hun Sen said. “In the near future, we also have to think about the good preservation of our cyclos. We have to preserve our cyclos.”

Cyclo was a popular mode of transportation among Cambodians. But today the three-wheeled rickshaw is struggling to survive as cars and motorcycles have overtaken them on the streets.

In the capital Phnom Penh, the iconic cyclos have become a rarity. Most of them exist solely for tourists who, unlike most local commuters, enjoy the city sightseeing at a slower pace and in a more traditional way.

Their popularity has been in sharp decline since the early 2000s, with many cyclo drivers seeing their income dwindle by more than half.

“Fewer commuters rely on cyclos nowadays. I can barely make ends meet,” said El Nget, one of some 250 cyclo drivers in Cambodia who still pedal for money. In his heyday, the 61-year-old used to earn US$15 a day. Now, the most he can get is US$5.

Like other cyclo drivers, Nget’s customers are tourists. In fact, they are the main reason these vehicles can still find their place in the congested capital.

Records kept by the Cyclo Conservation and Careers Association (CCCA) show about 1,500 cyclos were roaming the streets of Phnom Penh in 1999. Today, there are only a couple of hundred left.

“Only tourists can keep them alive,” said CCCA executive director Im Sambath. “We don’t expect their numbers to go up in the future.”

Tourists contribute about 70 per cent of Cambodian cyclo drivers’ incomes, while the rest comes from local commuters, according to Sambath.

These rickshaws were first introduced in Cambodia in 1963. Today, most of them are used to take foreign visitors to popular tourist attractions in the capital such as the Royal Palace, the Independence Monument and the National Museum.

“These days, we rely mostly on tourists. If there are no tourists, cyclos will be finished,” said Long Sokhuoy, who established the Cambodia Cyclo Association in Phnom Penh in 2014 to preserve their existence and increase their drivers’ income through tourism. “Cyclo may be slow but it gives tourists a chance to enjoy the city.”

In her first visit to Cambodia, tourist Rashima Bhatia from London said the Cambodian cyclos reminded her a lot of her ancestral home India, where she used to take a similar vehicle to go to school.

And since both of her sons were born in London, Bhatia said she wants them to experience the traditional means of transportation when they have a chance.

“It`s something which my children have not seen. So I want them to experience how it is,” she said.

“It is dying out. And the new generations do not want to work so hard; that is the problem.”

After having his first ride on a cyclo in Cambodia, her 19-year-old son Varaul Bhatia said he hopes tourism would be able to keep these iconic vehicles alive.

“It’s an interesting form of transportation,” he said. “You don’t get it in a lot of western countries. But I think having it is a very nice thing.

“If you are in a rush, I don’t recommend it. But if you’ve got time, I think it is a great way to see the city. You see everything and you can hear the sound. You get the full experience of being in the city. I don’t think you can get that in a car or on a bike.”

While many cyclo drivers continue to quit their career, Nget does not plan to stop pedaling anytime soon.

“I will drive it until I cannot do it because if I just stay at home, I’ll have nothing to eat and no money to spend,” he said.

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Philippines raises alert level at Mayon volcano

MANILA • The Philippines has raised the alert level at its restive Mayon volcano for the second time in less than 24 hours, from "increasing unrest" to "increased tendency towards eruption" within weeks or even days.

"This means that Mayon is exhibiting relatively high unrest and that magma is at the crater and that hazardous eruption is possible within weeks or even days," the Philippine Institute of Volcanology and Seismology (Phivolcs) said in its latest advisory yesterday.

After three phreatic or steam-driven eruptions and 158 rockfall events between 4.21pm on Saturday local time and 7.25pm yesterday, Phivolcs said Mayon's summit crater "is now exhibiting bright crater glow that signifies the growth of a new lava dome and beginnings of lava flow towards the southern slopes".

Already, the authorities have ordered the evacuation of residents within the 6km radius permanent danger zone and a 7km extended danger zone on the southern flank due to the danger of rockfalls, landslides and sudden explosions or dome collapse that may generate hazardous volcanic flows.

More than 900 families were ordered to evacuate from villages near the volcano, a tourist attraction in Albay province because of its near-perfect cone shape. The volcano is more than 300km south-east of the Philippine capital of Manila.

Mayon's most destructive eruption was in February 1841, when lava flows buried a town and killed 1,200 people. It last erupted in 2014, spewing lava and forcing thousands of people to evacuate.

"The public is strongly advised to be vigilant and desist from entering the 6km radius permanent danger zone to minimise risks from sudden explosions, rockfall and landslides," Phivolcs said.

It also advised people experiencing ashfall to cover their noses and mouths with a damp, clean cloth or dust mask. It added that aircraft must avoid flying close to the volcano's summit.

Those within the slope of the volcano but outside the 6km danger zone were told to take precautionary measures against possible roof collapses due to accumulated ash and rainwater.

Phivolcs chief Renato Solidum said the volcano appeared due for another eruption as it has been displaying abnormal behaviour since late last year.

Separately, thousands of residents of an island near a Papua New Guinea (PNG) volcano have been evacuated after escalating eruptions triggered fears of a possible landslide and tsunami, the authorities and reports said yesterday.

The previously dormant volcano, more than 500m high, on the northern island of Kadovar off PNG, erupted on Jan 5 with all 600 residents evacuated. But volcanic activity significantly escalated in recent days, culminating in a big blast last Friday, the Rabaul Volcanological Observatory (RVO) said.

"The rocks were glowing red... previous to this blast, it was observed that the fracture, which was apparent in the initial aerial photos, running from the summit dome down to the coast, had apparently widened," the RVO said.

PNG Prime Minister Peter O'Neill warned yesterday of a possible tsunami. "The terrain around the (Kadovar) volcano is very steep, so this increases the risk of a large landslide that could trigger a tsunami," he said, referring to the danger of landmass entering water at a high speed.

Mr O'Neill added that flights had been cancelled and all ships and boats not involved with the evacuation effort were to keep clear of the area.

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The best destinations to visit in 2018 as voted by tourists worldwide

Japan's beautiful Ishigaki island has been hailed as the top trending destination of 2018, according to tourists worldwide.

The sun-soaked hotspot topped the list in TripAdvisor's annual Travellers' Choice Awards for 'Destinations on the Rise'.

The winning destinations are chosen based on holidaymakers' reviews across accommodation, restaurants and attractions, with TripAdvisor experts also take into account a year-over-year increase in booking interest.

Ishigaki came out on top for 2018, closely followed by Hawaii's lusciously green Kapaa in second place, and Kenya's Nairobi taking the third spot.

But there's good news if you don't want to travel far, as a host of European destinations also made the list including Riga in Latvia, Gdansk in Poland and Nerja in Spain.

"While this year’s results show a broad spread of the world represented, with winners located in five different continents, it’s Eastern Europe which is dominating as a 2018 hotspot," said a TripAdvisor spokesperson.

"For UK travellers this is great news – with Eastern Europe so close it’s easy to pop over for a weekend trip at pretty low cost. For example, you can book a hotel in Gdańsk for an average of £47, and a round trip airfare will set you back as little as £116."

Check out the top 10 below for some major travel inspiration...

1. Ishigaki, Japan

With its white sand beaches, crystalling waters and landscapes ranging from mountains to mangrove forests, it's not surprising that Ishigaki has proven a hit with visitors.

The island boasts some showstopping coral reefs making it a popular diving destination, but it's also a firm favourite with foodies thanks to its soba noodles - called Yaeyama soba - made of flour instead of the more traditional buckwheat.

Average hotel price: £114 per night

2. Kapaa, Hawaii This small town is tucked away at the base of Nounou Mountain on Kauai, aka The Sleeping Giant. Kapaa is filled with hotels, shopping centres and restaurants - but the Kinipopo Shopping Village is particularly popular with tourists thanks to its local eateries and shops selling small keepsakes.

Kauai boasts some seriously breathtaking landscapes too such as the iconic Weeping Wall with its ethereal falls.

Average hotel price: £185 per night

3. Nairobi, Kenya

Nairobi National Park is a must-visit destination if a safari holiday has always been on your bucket list, but the city itself also offers plenty to see and do.

Travellers have praised the city for its thriving nightlife and bustling markets, not to mention the mélange of restaurants will tempt your palate in this former Maasai watering hole.

Average hotel price: £80 per night

4. Halifax, Canada

Canada celebrated its 150th anniversary last year, and it seems the country is still enjoying the tourism boost that came with the celebrations.

But we're not talking the usual suspects such as Vancouver or Toronto - instead, there are other cities also coming to the forefront including Halifax.

The port city is renowned for its maritime history, not to mention it offers a plethora of arts, theatre and a strong craft brewing culture.

Average hotel price: £106 per night

5. Gdansk, Poland

Prince William and Kate Middleton discovered some of the highlights in Gdansk when they visited for a royal tour last year - and no doubt the royals' trip helped to catapult the Polish city onto most travellers' wishlists.

Not to mention it's incredibly cheap if you're after a great .value city break in Europe .

Located on the Baltic coast, the port city offers some spectacular views of the landscape, but even inland everything is picturesque from the colourful building facades to the bustling shops and restaurants.

Average hotel price: £47 per night

6. San Jose, Costa Rica

San Jose del Cabo is located on the southern tip of Mexico’s Baja California peninsula and boasts picture-perfect beaches alongside eye-catching colonial architecture.

Unlike its sister town Cabo San Lucas, this city offers a much more relaxed vibe for those who want a city break without too much hustle and bustle.

Average hotel price: £49 per night

7. Riga, Latvia

If you've only got a short amount of time in the Latvian capital, make sure you head to the breathtaking Old City where you'll find plenty of museums, eye-catching architecture and a bustling nightlife.

Riga's Town Hall Square continues to be a hit with tourists, not to mention that the city is ideal for exploring by foot.

Average hotel price: £50 per night

8. Rovinj, Croatia

Most tourists head to Dubrovnik or Split when holidaying in Croatia, but if you've got some extra time it's worth paying a visit to this fishing port on the west coast of the Istrian peninsula.

The old town is packed with cobbled streets and piazzas, while the city's cliff face position means you can get some beautiful views of the sea front.

The 14 islands of the Rovinj archipelago set just off the mainland are also ideal for those who want to go exploring a bit further.

Average hotel price: £81 per night

9. Nerja, Spain

It's also proven a hit thanks to its sandy beaches and cliffside coves tailoring to a range of beach holidays whether you want to soak up the sun or go exploring.

If you only visit one think, make it it the Cueva de Nerja, a cave which boasts unusual stalactites and stalagmites.

Average hotel price: £72 per night

10. Casablanca, Morocco

Casablanca boasts plenty of eye-catching monuments and landmarks (Image: iStockphoto) From Casablanca Cathedral to Villa Des Arts, culture vultures will be spoiled for choice in this breathtaking port city which is a haven of museums and galleries.

And of course fans of the hit film starring Humphrey Bogart and Ingrid Bergman has long attracted crowds of film fans too.

Average hotel price: £75 per night

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