Incredible Angkor

Trip Start Aug 25, 2003
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Trip End Jul 23, 2004


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Friday, October 24, 2003

We spent four more days in Bangkok after the Royal Barges rehearsal. We were there for the final day of the APEC summit, witnessed major roads completely devoid of traffic (very post-apocalyptic-feeling) for the passage of the head honchos, saw a small but fervent anti-US demonstration, and ate several times a day at May Kaidee's vegetarian restaurant. The food is good enough to make the most dedicated meatatarian crave soybean curd. Bangkok, except for the chokingly constant air and noise pollution, is a great city. We didn't stay on Khao San Road, the infamous backpacker mecca (or hovel; depends on who you ask), but I did buy a fabulous Mr. T T-shirt there, and we spent more than a few hours people watching. Most of that time was frivolous, except I did come up with one universal truth: the time span in a person's life when the wearing (sporting? acquiring?) of dreadlocks is a good idea is very individual. In my case, for example, that time span would have been a few hours in 1991, when I went to the Reggae Festival in Charlevoix. Out of that context, I would look like I was nesting a bald eagle; it just isn't a good look for me. Others, though, have an almost infinite dreadlock time span, as characterized by the "long-timers" on KSR. This is the extent of the insight I gained in Bangkok. Time well spent, yes?
Our trip to Cambodia was memorable. It was the first time we got "scammed". Apparently, the 45 baht ($1.05) ticket from Bangkok to Siem Reap (location of the Angkor temple complex) was too good to be true. We left the first mini-bus, crossed the border, and found at the second bus that our Thailand-issued tickets "didn't work" in Cambodia, and so we had to buy another ticket for the rest of the ride. A minor insult, only $5, but the bus company owner's rudeness was a sour introduction to Cambodia. The roads to Siem Reap, as in much of Cambodia, are astoundingly bad. Many are laterite and dirt, which devolves into a rut-field after the rainy season. I almost broke Phil's jaw with my head when I naively thought I could lean onto his shoulder, and the bus launched into mid-air. Fortunately, he has lightning-fast reflexes and elbowed me in the ear first. He said it was an accident...
The bus pulled into Siem Reap at midnight, 17 hours after leaving Bangkok. It is common practice for hotel owners to delay bus trips so that tourists are too tired to look for another hotel when the bus finally arrives, but that manipulation is a big irritant for Phil; despite the hotel tout's dire warning that the next guesthouse was 4 km away, we found a great place right around the corner. (A couple that did stay at the hotel said they had a horrible ant problem, so beware of the Skyway Hotel!!) No ants for us, because we had an enormous shower spider. It was huge. Huge. And when Phil went to the reception desk to ask for help, like a SWAT team or a firethrower, the very young girl who came to assess the situation saw the spider and, it seemed to me, she laughed. Then she left, I was sure to get the special collie-sized spider catcher that all people who live in a country with that type of wildlife must have. Instead, another girl, younger than the first, came into the room, saw me standing on the bed pointing madly into the bathroom and Phil leafing through the phrasebook for an appropriate comment (they have Khmer phrases like, "Are you Baptist?" so it isn't unreasonable), looked at the spider, and also laughed. Then she sprayed it with some Raid to get it off the ceiling, and as it ran across the wall she PICKED IT UP! I was sure I could hear it screaming threats the whole way out, but it never reappeared. Even with the Buick-sized spider incident, we were glad we didn't stay at the Skyway. Really.
Besides, the two days we spent exploring Angkor were more than enough to erase the spider from our thoughts. (Mostly.) It is truly an amazing place. The most famous structure, Angkor Wat, is impressive for it's size, and for the vast beautiful moat that surrounds it, but my favorites are the less preserved temples, like Banteay Kdei and Preah Khan. We walked the 17 km "Little Circuit" on our first day. Motos and tuk-tuks are easy to hail and cheap to hire, but I always like walking in a new place first. The second day we hired a tuk-tuk (motorcycle front, rickshaw back) for the "Big Circuit", a 26 km loop of more of the area north of Angkor Wat. Once again, I wish that our photos could do justice to what we see; it is kind of frustrating to want to encompass this huge amazing experience as a kind of chronicle, and the photo looks like a gray stone wall. Oh, the life of the artiste...
Next up, the search for the elusive Vietnamese visa...
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