No, she is not my girlfriend!!!!

Trip Start Jul 22, 2009
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Trip End Ongoing


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Flag of Cambodia  ,
Saturday, February 5, 2011

Yesterday morning I get up at 6h30 and go outside at 7h00 to tell Mr. In, my tuk-tuk driver, that I am expecting someone to join me for a day of touring and that we will be leaving at 8AM.

On the 4th floor of the hotel, the rooftop, they serve a free breakfast. I grab one of the empty tables, the remaining ones fill up quickly and the 3 other seats at my table are the only remaining empty ones. Then guess who shows up? No one else but the old French couple that I sat next to on the boat yesterday. What are the odds?

Just before 8h00 I go back outside. I'm chatting with my tuk-tuk driver when at exactly 8h00 Chanlae shows up on her moto. Then the problem starts. Chanlae had mentioned last night that her brother drove a tuk-tuk and could drive us. I told her then that I had already booked one for the day. Problem is? Her brother has also shown up with his tuk-tuk. Then the dilemma. Go with the original driver and have her upset with me for not helping her brother out and maybe change her mind or go with her brother and have Mr. In upset with me for changing my plans. After the hotel owners (husband & wife) get involved and all the Khemer arguments fly, I shrug my shoulders and say that it's only fair to go with the original plan. Chanlae is OK with this and parks her moto.

The plan for yesterday was to start far and work our way back towards Siem Reap. The first destination is Kbal Spean, a spectacularly carved riverbed set deep in the jungle. This is located 50kms away. It doesn't seem far by North American standards but it quite a trek by tuk-tuk. Mr. In had told me he was charging extra for this long trek. No problem. This gives me a lot of time to find out more about Chanlae.

I already knew from the night before that she had 4 brothers and 4 sisters. I now find out that the reason she was not working on this day was that she had quit her job. She returns to University on Monday after being off for 3 months. She is also taking accounting like her friend and hopes to work in a bank. Her parents actually live 2 hours away by moto. Later we find a map and she shows me where they live.

I find Chanlae quite shy. I'm still surprised that she came. I ask her why she decided to come. She won't give me an answer. We arrive at Kbal Spean. We start hiking the 1500 meters into the jungle. Glad we came early, though by now the temperature is already over 30 C. I take a few photos, some of her and she took one of me. We hike back out and grab a bite to eat. Something very local cooked on a small fire. Something I wouldn't have tried on my own. Though, I've eaten a lot of things lately that I never thought I would.

With this food we sit in a restaurant and also get something to drink. It's actually quite nice having someone along who speaks the local language.

We then jump back into the tuk-tuk for our ride to Banteay Srei. This Hindu temple is considered to be the jewel in the crown of Angkorian art. It is a temple dedicated to Shiva, cut from stone with a pinkish hue and includes some of the finest stone carvings on earth. On the way out from visiting the temple this woman on the grounds selling refreshments says something to Chanlae. I'm definitely the topic of conversation. Chanlae looks at me and starts laughing uncontrollably. Then she won't tell me what the woman said. Actually, there have already been a few situations where someone said something to Chanlae and I was the topic of conversation.

This stop over, Mr. In asks where to next. I tell Chanlae that she can decide. There are too many temples to visit in one day. Chanlae decides on seeing Bayon and Mr. In mentions seeing Ta Prohm on the way. Off we go. That site visited we stop for some more refreshments. We've walked a lot already. Here a little girl selling bracelets won't go away without me buying something. She tells me to buy something for my girlfriend. I say she's not my girlfriend. Then she says, buy for your wife. Same answer.

At this time we discuss further plans for the afternoon. Chanlae mentions that seeing the sun set from Phnom Bakheng is a must do. I mention to Chanlae that after that we can return to Seim Reap and the hotel, she can go home to freshen up, then we can go out for supper. There was definitely something lost in translation. At the mention of going back to the hotel she starts saying, No, No , No. Don't think she realized that her moto was parked there.

On the way to Bayon we make a quick photo stop so that I can shoot Spean Thma . We see Bayon then head to Phnom Bakheng. It's still too early to climb the mountain so we grab an ice cream and sit by some restaurant stalls (which are everwhere) and souvenir shops. More of, buy something for your girlfriend. And more of, No, she's not my girlfriend. Can't a man and a woman in Cambodia just be friends?

Throughout the day I started noticing something. It seemed to me as though Chanlae spoke to all the locals as though she knew them. Either she is just extremely friendly or this is just the way the Cambodian people are. Though one recurring theme was the topic of me. Most of the time Chanlae related that the women were all smiles and seemed to congratulate her because I was "handsome" .

At this stop Mr. In mentions that there will be an additional charge for waiting until after sunset. I ask how much. He says $5.00. I say, No Problem. Little did he know that I had already decided to pay him more due to the long distances driven. I also pull out some Canadian Flags that I had in my day pack. We attach 4 paper flags to various places on the tuk-tul and he puts two Flag stickers on the moto. I also give him a 2010 Canadian Olympic pin. He's quite happy.

Chanlae and I climb the mountain and then to the top of Phnom Bakheng. It was a spectacular sunset. On the way back to Seim Reap Chanlae and I decide that we are both too exhausted for supper. She indicates that she had a lot of fun today and was "happy" and that she would like to do something with me the next day. We agree to do some touring using her moto. I ask her again why she decided to go touring with me. Still no answer.

On my way to my room I notice a young Cambodian woman waiting outside the door to one of the rooms with an older tourist. I had seen them together earlier. I had actually seen quite a few couples like this today.

A quick shower to wash away all the dust and dirt from the day and I went to bed even though it was only 8 PM. I was totally exhausted.

Up at 8 AM this morning as Chanlae was coming at 9. I had checked the Lonely Planet guide for ideas and someone had also told me that something interesting to see was a Silk Worm farm. I had highlighted the Angkor National Museum in my initial research and found that maybe the Cambodian Cultural Village might be a good stop. The Silk Farm was on the same road as the Cultural Village, only further.

Chanlae has no idea what I am talking about when I tell her about the Silk Farm. I tell her it's on the same highway as the Cultural Village. She's been there. We take off and get to the highway. I motion that we need to turn left. She turns right. We ride a long way and don't pass the Cultural Village which isn't more then 3 kilometers outside of town. I ask Chanlae to stop. I tell her we need to go in the other direction. To her the highway goes in only one direction, the one towards her parents place. She's also a very cautious driver. She wasn't driving much over 40 km/hr, even on the highway where everyone was passing us. We head back through town and pass the Cultural Village. She smiles and giggles. I then motion that I can drive. She's very much in favor of that.

We arrive at the Silk Farm and get a personal tour. The tour guide explains to me in English and then in Khmer to Chanlae. She's very interested in the whole process, from the feeding of the worms, to the cocooning, to where they kill 80% of the worms in the sun as the thread is broken if the moths hatch. We see how there are two layers of thread and how they remove it. The inner layer is what Fine Silk is made of. Once this is removed there remains only the moth in it's shell. The guide shows us the inside of the shell and tells us that they eat this. He eats one, then Chanlae does, and then I do. It tasted like corn.

We then saw how they spool the thread, dye it and then we went to the workshop where a few workers were making scarves on a loom. The guide tells us that each farm worker is trained for 6 months in the whole process and then they can decide which job they want. They get paid $30 per month as apprentices and $120 after that. The tour over we get some ice cream.

I then drive us back towards the Cultural Village. We are too early as it doesn't open until 2PM. The Lonely Planet guide said it opened 8AM. We head back into Siem Reap and I tell Chanlae to chose where to stop for lunch. She picks a restaurant where her friend works. Throughout lunch Chanlae is looking at her friend and won't look me in the eye without laughing or giggling. She still hasn't told me why she's decided to join me for 2 days of touring. But at some point in time she does tell me that if I ever come back to Cambodia and contact her that she will be mad at me.

I ask her what she wants to do next, whether she's tired, or whether she's had enough of me. She finally understands that when I talk of going back to the hotel that it's only me and that she goes to her place. She still wants to see stuff. So we go to the Angkor National Museum. This is the first time I've been to a Museum with someone who reads the details of all the displays as much as I do. Chanlae is a very intelligent woman and very curious. She always had this funny look on her face whenever she couldn't remember the word she wanted to tell me in English. She would get quite frustrated.

We both thouroughly enjoyed reading up on the history of the Angkor civilization. Though she mentioned that she had learned some of it in school but had forgotten. The museum visit over, it was time to decide what to do for a few hours. At 7h15 tonight there was a concert called Beatocello put on by Dr. Beat Richner at the Children's Hospital. When I mention supper, she mentions home. She'll pick me up at 6h45.

At 6h45 she shows up. We ride to the hospital. These weekly concerts are fundraisers for the Kantha Bopha Foundation. Check out this link www.beatocello.com and please make a donation to this worthy cause that funds the health care of children in Cambodia.

The concert was part cello and part fundraising spiel. After the ousting of Pol Pot, the King of Cambodia asked Dr. Richner to come back to Cambodia and re-open the Children's Hospital he had been running prior to getting kicked out of the country. He agreed. In 19 years they have opened 3 other hospitals for the children of Cambodia that provides free health care in a country where corruption and bribes is a given.

There was a video showcasing the work being done. I found it very difficult to take in. The suffering that these children must endure is heart wrenching.

After this Chanlae and I stopped to eat at a very local place. More looks and discussions in Khmer about "me". I also ate more food that would not have been on my personal menu just a few short years ago.

I finally received an answer from Chanlae as to why she decided to come with me touring these two days. The first night we met she liked me. She also said at this time that her English would be much better in one year if I came back. Guess she won't be mad at me anymore. This was also the reason she had a hard time looking at me straight in the eyes, and laughed whenever someone made a comment to her about me. But she's definitely an accountant through and through. She's focused on her studies, is smart enough to know that common sense would dictate that a couple days hanging out is all that this was going to be, and that it didn't matter what anyone else thought or said. Having fun and being happy was all that mattered.

We then headed back to my hotel where we said, "I'll see you, when you see me" (something Greg had said in Phnom Penh the other day).

I guess we never did say goodbye.
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