Shadows of the past

Trip Start Feb 18, 2004
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Trip End Dec 05, 2005


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Wednesday, June 1, 2005

What a change Bangkok proved to be compared with India. There are now many western stores, restaurants and items all over. The people are very friendly and respectful. The streets are generally clean. And, of course, there's good Thai food at cheap prices. But Bangkok is supposed to be the exotic Far East.?. Thailand may be embracing western modernization too much at the expense of its own culture. Western influences are all around the city and you have to search more to find the real Thai culture. I'll admit I like the comfort and convenience of the western world but I think it should stay in the western countries. I hate seeing things like Starbucks and McDonald's all over the world. I guess a trip to Bangkok now is exotic as you want it to be - you can stick to the western tourist sights and areas or go in search of the less visited and traditional Thai spots.

As you may recall, I was suffering a bit of food poisoning following my trip to India. My stomach was beginning to feel better after the flight and having a bit of breakfast. At the arrivals hall of the airport, Matt Lover (who used to work at Nike) met me at the airport with his driver. He gave me a free place to stay in his really nice condo (again, what a change from India!). We had lunch at the shopping centre where there are a bunch of eateries to choose from (all Oriental food). He showed me the area around where he lives a bit then had to go back to work. I went back to the condo, caught up on some i-net time then laid down to take a nap. I woke up about 5 hours later and it was almost 8pm. Guess my body needed some recovery time due to lack of sleep. My stomach relapsed after dinner and I wasn't feeling so good again that night.
A couple days after arriving in India, one of my teeth started hurting and was very sensitive to cold. I knew it was a cavity but definately didn't want to have it fixed in India based on their cleanliness record. So I made an appointment at a dental hospital in Bangkok Matt recommended. I went in the next morning and they cleaned my teeth and informed me I'd need a root canal. D'oh - that's why you should visit the dentist more regularly! They drilled me and hollared with delight at my suffering (actually, it was fine and the place was very modern and clean). I had to come back the following two mornings for follow-up stuff. After the trip to the dentist, I had some chillout time at the condo then went for a wander to the Sukhumvit area and the Emporium shopping mall. The weather was overcast and very humid - there were thunderstorms in the evenings so it wasn't all that nice out for wandering. Matt and I went and saw the new Star Wars movie (Revenge of the Sith) that night. It was certainly better than the other new ones, but still was rather cheesey (especially Darth Vader screaming "NOOOOOO!!!").
After my dentist follow-up on Saturday morning, I went out to Khao San Rd (the backpacker area of Bangkok). Main order of business was to get a fake i.d. for Spanky. I found numerous spots along the road and chose to get him a student id as the press passes were more expensive. The Thai guys doing the id's laughed at the fake id for a stuffed monkey and thought it was good fun, but they got his freakin' birthday wrong on the id. Geesh.

I went shopping around there some more before venturing over to the Grand Palace for a quick look. That evening Matt and I went out with some of his friends to an English pub to watch the ManU - Arsenal game. Can't say it was too exciting a game but it was nice to get out.
Matt left on a business trip early Sunday. Over the next few days I took trips around north and to the temples in Bangkok. Sunday was spent at the ancient capital of Ayuthaya. There are numerous old (and new) temples there. One of 'em has the much photographed Buddha head in tree roots.

In Bangkok I saw Wat Phra Kaeo (Grand Palace), Wat Pho (reclining Buddha), Wat Sakhet and other temples. Tuesday I went to Khao Yai Nat'l Park northeast of Bangkok. There are supposed to be wild tigers and elephants there, but we only saw some deer. Butterflies were everywhere. Saw some waterfalls too. Big thanks to Matt and his driver for making Bangkok a relaxing recovery from India. It gets hard to leave a place when you start to feel comfortable so I knew it was time to get moving again...

While at Matt's, I checked the Internet and found a few warnings about the bus tours from Bangkok to Siem Reap (e.g., they get you to the border then put you in a pickup instead of a bus, they try to scam you out of extra money, insist on taking you to their guesthouse in Siem Reap, etc...). There was info on doing it independently so I printed that off and decided on taking a government bus to the border then taking my chances there. I meant to wake up really early to catch a 6am bus to the border, but my alarm clock was still set on India time and I didn't notice. I ended up on the 7:30am bus instead. Things happen for a reason though - I met an English trio and caught a shared taxi with them from the border to Siem Reap. I often wondered what happens at borders of countries that drive on the opposite sides of the road. Thailand drives on the left and Cambodia on the right. I didn't really get to see a mass of confusion and cars running into each other though - instead it was just kind of a road with no lanes on both sides of the border. The roads in Cambodia are awful with potholes everywhere and mostly dirt roads...made for slow going. We got into Siem Reap late in the afternoon, settled and made it out into town for some dinner a bit later. Siem Reap has plenty of restaurants and bars catering to tourists (i.e., western food). Around town you notice many Khmer Rouge and landmine victims. Some are just begging while others are trying to make a go by selling used books or such. It doesn't seem fair that these people suffered for others' political agendas. The currency of choice in Cambodia is the U.S. dollar. It seems a bit weird to be using dollars in SE Asia. Makes some things more expensive since most everything is done in 50cent increments (so a small water would be 50cents and a big one $1...in Thailand it would be like 15cents and 30cents). For the most part stuff was cheap though.
I was up freakin' early for sunrise at Angkor. Angkor is a huge area of temples built by the Khmer Empire between the 9th and 13th centuries. I went on a balloon ride at sunrise but it wasn't terribly impressive as the temples blended in with the forest too well in the dark and clouds blocked the sunrise. Right after, I went to Angkor Wat before the masses of tour groups arrived. Angkor Wat is the most famous of the temples here (see pic below). It's very impressive to see.

I had a moto driver to take me around all day so he took me on a mini-tour of the various temples. Our next stop was the Bayon which is really cool looking with carved faces all over. It looks like it's right out of Disneyland or an Indiana Jones movie (part of Tomb Raider was filmed here). Saw several other temples, the other highlight being Ta Prohm - a ruined temple with trees growing over it in places. It's a bit annoying that you have to pay US$20 to get in but they still let the local touts in for free to follow you around trying to sell stuff (museums had this too). Took a break in the afternoon then went back out to see Angkor Wat in the late afternoon (different sun angle for pics) and up to Phnom Bakheng for sunset. Went out again with the Brits (Jon, Becky and Laura) in town for dinner that evening. My left eye has started having problems...it's misaligned with the right eye and can cause bluriness when looking up or to the side. I'll have to get it looked at when I get to a city with decent hospitals.
Many people spend two or three days exploring Angkor but I knew one day would be enough for me otherwise I'd just get "templed out". I was on the bus the next morning to Phnom Penh, Cambodia's capital. LP suggested what turned out to be an alright guest house right on the lake. I went to the Nat'l Museum which was just ok - lots of statues from Angkor...would've been better to see them at the temples. Near there was a great restaurant called Friends. It trains kids from the street so they can get jobs in other restaurants. It has a really, really good raspberry/vanilla shake. YUM! I stopped by the Foreign Correspondents Club (FCC) afterwards to watch the sunset over the river. Back in the guest house area, I found a restaurant showing "The Killing Fields" and saw the last 1.5 hours of that. Good movie to watch while in Cambodia.
The moto driver from the guest house took me all over the following day. We started by going to the Tuol Sleng museum, also known as S21. It used to be a school but was turned into a prison and torture area during the Khmer Rouge regime. The Khmer Rouge ruled 1975-1979 and killed nearly 2 million people (more than the holocaust). They instituted "Year Zero" and created a society based on fear and mistrust. Anyone with an education was killed and even members of the Khmer Rouge were killed because someone else claimed they were a spy. Many of the Khmer soldiers were just teenagers. What was never clearly explained was why the Khmer Rouge were killing their own people (in most every case of genocide you hear about they're targeting a different ethnic group). What's wonderful is that the U.S. government actually supported the Khmer Rouge...always doing what's best for the locals. Cambodia is still recovering from this devastating time and people are reluctant to trust others. Today 50% of the population is under age 15. After the museum I went out to the Killing Fields where there were several holes that had once been mass graves. Like Tuol Sleng, the site was lacking upkeep and information. Neither is receiving funding from the government and rely on contributions. The Tuol Sleng museum has the actual documents from the regime sitting out for you to shuffle through, most are in bad condition but they just don't have the money to preserve them. The moto driver took me a couple more places in the city...it's weird going around and seeing fancy hotels right next door to shacks and poverty (Siem Reap had the same).

I caught a bus south to the beach town of Sihanoukville. I stayed in an area called Victory Beach, though the beach wasn't very nice. The owner of the guest house I stayed at gave me a tour of the town on his moto and I saw some of the other beaches which were nicer. It rained that afternoon so hanging out by the beaches wasn't too tempting. Up above the guest house was an area called Victory Hill with more guest houses and bars/restaurants. I went up there for dinner.
The next day I rented a bike from the guest house and stopped by the Vietnam consulate to get a visa. Then on to Occheuteal Beach for some sun. A brief downpour struck and I rode back to the guest house afterwards. The Brits had arrived and we later went out for dinner at a place with 50cent mango shakes (good ones!).

I was up before the others in the morning so played a little X-box while waiting. We went back out to Occ beach to swim and lounge around. Locals constantly come up to you offering fruit, bracelets, massages, manicures and such. Someone will come by offering you fruit and a couple minutes later someone else will be by offering the same thing. You need like a sign that says "I was already offered fruit and don't want any". The big, black clouds started looming so we knew we had to get back to the guest house before the rain came. That gave me another excuse to play more X-box. Out again on Victory Hill for dinner.

Jon, Becky, Laura and I caught the bus back to Phnom Penh rather than chance the border at Ha Tien (they don't always allow westerners across). Our first priority was to get back to Friends for some good shakes! Jon and I played some pool at the FCC then out in the guest house area for dinner. Afterwards, we went to a bar called Green Vespa for free drinks (the Brits had received credit from a trivia night). The next day we would be leaving by bus to get across the border to Ho Chi Minh City (Vietnam).
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