Puk the tuk tuk driver

Trip Start Jan 05, 2007
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Trip End Feb 18, 2007


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Thursday, January 18, 2007

A 6am landing into Cambodia........When I looked out the window during the sunrise and saw a delta turn into farmland with scattered temples and palm trees, I knew I was in for something good, I could sense it. The airport at Siem Reap was a large, beautiful traditional-style building that reminded me of landing in Tahiti (only no girls to greet us with Frangipani flowers). Erica and I had both done e-visas on-line, so we went through a bit faster than the other tourists. Still, it took some time. Couldn't really get the immigration man to exude any warmth, but that's pretty much the norm with airport officials anywhere. There was a moment of panic when he pointed out that Erica should be a man (according to her printed out e-visa), but after a few tense moments, he granted Erica the luxury of remaining a woman and allowed her to enter Cambodia by simply crossing it out and changing it to "female". We were in.
Outside the airport there was a sleepy array of Cambodians, the nicest looking one holding up a sign that said, "Welcome Gillian and Erica". Welcome Gillian and Erica! I was beside myself, but couldn't bring myself to take this picture, afraid I would embarrass the sign holder, who turned out to be "Puk", our friend and ally for the next four days. I had booked us into the Auberge Mont Royal, and Puk, we found out later, was the manager's younger brother. After Puk managed to heave Erica's mammoth suitcase into the trunk of the car, we drove for about 15 minuted to the lovely hotel. Bouganvillea greeted us, as well as a fishpond, traditional style furniture, and a beauiful bartender named Bi (more later......). Our room was palatial, as we had opted to splurge for the deluxe room, which gave us three queen sized beds, a view over the red tile roofs of Siem Reap, and a bathtub. We couldn't believe our fortune. (All for $50, including breakfast).
The first day we spent with Puk driving us around Siem Reap, and we made an incredible stop at the Old Market, which was packed on a Sunday. The very center of the market was filled with food stalls crowded with people cooking over open fires, and fish, meat, vegetables and anything you could imagine surrounding the periphery. It was a bit overwhelming, especially the smells eminating from the various unchilled seafood items. I tripped over something and looked down to see the shape of a man crawling in the detrimus of the market flloor on an amputated limb, the other leg with the foot up in the air. In the chaos and confusion, life goes on.
Erica and I made our way to the silk stalls, where we found more overwhelming colors and textures. Bought lovely silk scarves for what seemed like everyone we knew, silk panels, and silk shirts. Went back to find Puk and back to the hotel, then out later that evening with Puk and the tuk tuk to Pub Street. It was definitely the place to be for tourists, crammed with restaurants, Internet places, and bars, but still not too obnoxious and right next to the old market. We had our first beer at the Red Piano bar and people watched for hours, had dinner and waved to Puk as he drove around the neighborhood until we were ready to go home.
The next morning we decidede to go to Angkor Wat on our own (with Puk and the tuk tuk, of course), and spent the morning wandering around the temple with only a guide book in hand. Saw monkeys drinking out of coke cans, lots and lots of inappropriately dressed tourists, and of course beautiful carvings and temple wonders. We climbed up the death defyingly steep steps to the center of Angkor Wat, and then watched the Japanese tourists and ladies in high heels attempt the same. I was happy to find a handrail on the other side, or I am not sure I would have made it down.
Back to the hotel for a swim, lungh and a snooze, then back out to another temple to ride the elephants and watch the sunset. About 2 million other people had the same idea, so we just walked up the hill, looked at the view, and walked down again with busloads of Koreans. Out to the Elephant Bar in the Grand Angkor Wat, then to the Laundry Bar on Pub Street.
For the next couple of days we had a guide, and man whose name we never quite figured out. He said one thing, but his name tag said something else, and other guides called him by a third name, so we just called him Kie. So, off we went with Kie and Puk in the morning to Bayon, where large faces were carved into the stone. It was a beautiful temple comlex and turned out to be my favorite. I had one of those moments at Bayon where I suddenly felt incredibly lucky to be where I was and to see what I was seeing. An very old woman monk in a long white robe sat on the corner of a temple, and the sun was lighting Bayon's many faces. It really was breathtaking.
After our usual swim, lunch, and nap, the four of us headed out again at 4pm for the long, long tuk tuk ride to the largest freshwater lake in Asia to see the floating villages. The ride started off nicely along the river in Siem Reap, past wooden houses, all up on stilts, with half the household (cooking, wood, supplies, animals) on the earth floor under the house, and the other half (sleeping quarters and...?) inside the house on the upper floor. We then rode past bright green rice paddies and eventually ended up on a bumpy, thin, dusty strip of land leading out to the lake. What was on either side of this narrow rode was an eye opener for me. Fishermen and their families lived in shacks and complete filth, the children playing soccer with flip flops among the strewn plastic bags and garbage. (I am sure they tried to keep things somewhat clean, but what can you do when there's noone picking up your trash?) This bumpy, dusty, smelly (fish paste everywhere), disheartening ride lasted about half an hour, and I kept thinking the whole way, what is the best way to help these people? our guide said the average life span was 45 years old.
Once we reached the end, we left poor Puk to wait for us, and he did not look very happy. Kie had arranged a long tail boat for us, captained by an ancient man (definitley older than 45, I think?) who poled the boat out into the river, then motored us out into the lake. There we found large collections of houseboats (just like Lake Union!) that fishermen live on and move in and out of the river according to the water levels. Some were actually painted with brightly colored patterns and had huge pots and pans for cooking hanging up outside. Others even had flowers and plants. Erica and I got off the longtail boat at a sort of floating restaurant to climb up to the top for the view. It was something to see what we later found out were Vietnamese women in their longtail boats, trying to sell whatever they had ( a banana, a shirt) to the newcomers to the lake. They would see a new boat arriving and paddle like mad, babies attached to bosoms and other children following in their own vessels, usually a big silver pot or bowl and a paddle (we called them Kid in a Wok). They would brag the boat as if they were crazy and plead out to the tourists to buy something, anything. Then they would calmly paddle away and continue on talking, eating, or just hanging out. They seemed desperate to me, but I wasn't really sure in the end.
After about an hour we got back to Puk, only running out of gas in the longtail once, gave the boat driver a tip, which seemed to make him incredibly happy. (I think it was only a couple of dollars). Then back along the road of horrors (yet still beautiful people), along the river and home.
More about our last day in Siem Reap later...........
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Comments

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I feel as though I were with you.
Oh, Wait... I was there with you. Reading this takes me back the the wonderful time we had in Siem Reap. I wish I was there instead of back at work, but until I meet Bob the bills still need to be paid. Have a super fantistic time on the reat of your trip. Miss you.

L.

Erica

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