I haven’t written a blog in so long because I’ve found myself three extra jobs on the weekend and I’m now working 7 days a week! Also because I’m kinda lazy with the whole blogging thing 🙂 Anyway, I’ll just write a quick thing about Siem Reap and Angkor Wat, then I’ll make another post about the things that have gone on in the past few months…
So I think I left off at me getting on the bus at 6 in the morning in Sihanoukville for the ride to Phnom Penh, where I switched busses around noon and had another 6 hour bus ride up to Siem Reap. Cambodia is fairly small, and if they had big super highways, I’m sure the journey would have taken about 6 hours altogether, but since Cambodia is tiny and poor, their main roads are about one and a half cars wide with cows and water buffalo and chickens mooing and squawking (respectively) all over the place. By the time we pulled into Siem Reap, it was dark and the town looked like a bunch of shanties with people hanging around outside eating dinner. We went down a dark road and the bus dropped everyone off in an even darker parking lot, where there were a bazillion taxi drivers and tuk-tuk drivers waiting for customers. As soon as everyone stepped off the bus, they were thronged, but luckily I waited to be the last one off, and was saved being pounced on. There was another foreign old man who asked me where I was going and that maybe we could share a tuk-tuk, but he was headed to some fancy hotel and I had no idea where I was. I jumped into a tuk-tuk and gave the guy the name of the hostel I was hoping to stay at, and drove off.
On the way I think the guy’s horn must have given out, or he just didn’t feel like using it, because he starting saying, quite clearly, ‘beep beep’ when someone was in his way. I’m not sure if he was trying to be funny, but he kept a very solemn face while mouth-beeping. When we got to the hostel he came in with me to make sure there was space, which there wasn’t, so he offered to drive me around to a few places to find somewhere to stay. We stopped by two more places that were full, and then he brought me to an Australian owned place where his friend worked. It was a little more than I wanted to spend, but it was still really cheap at about 6 bucks a night including bike-use during the day and free internet and there was a shower in my room with hot water (not that you need hot water in roasting-hot Cambodia…).
I just decided to settle there for the night since I was exhausted, but then the next day I figured I would stick around because the people were nice and it was kind of off the beaten path down a dirt road in the south side of town. I still had about a week and a half until I had to fly out of Bangkok so I didn’t really rush to go see the Angkor Wat temples and just kind of hung around town and took a lot of naps in my room, which was really really nice and had a breeze and a jungley looking tree outside the window.
After a couple days I figured I should get going and go see some stuff, so I found a guy on a motorbike and asked him if he could drive me to the temple entrance for 3 dollars and he said sure, so I hopped on. The road I had bussed in on was a lot nicer than I had originally thought. I could actually see the rest of the city, which seemed to be of a decent size (maybe only a little smaller than Sihanoukville).
The drive to Angkor Wat went through the countryside, to a ‘park entrance’ where you had to buy your ticket. I got a three day pass, which could be used any three days in a seven day period. I think it cost about 40 bucks for foreigners, and was free or dirt cheap for Cambodians. Makes sense I guess! So the guy drove me to the actually gate and dropped me off, telling me it would be impossible to find a way home if I didn’t pay him for the whole day. I thought he was just trying to get a bunch more cash out of me, so I declined and want on my way. At the entrance Angkor Wat there were a few ticket takers eating little tiny clam type things and they invited me over to have a few and sit with them for a bit. I went over and we had a pointing conversation, some laughing and a few ‘mmm tasty clams!’, then they told me I should find some water because I would get dehydrated, so I went and got some, waved goodbye and walked over the 900 year old bridge into the temple. It was really crazy to see what I had only seen in pictures. It was much bigger than I thought, and there were so many more passageways and smaller temples scattered around than I thought there would be. I walked around for a long time and tried to imagine the place thronging with Khmer people almost 1000 years ago. I had never actually been to a place that old before, and it was a really strange feeling.
After I had walked all around, I went out the back entrance down a path in the woods to see where it would lead. There was a little 12 year old girl selling pineapples on a stick, so I bought one and went to sit in the shade on this other ruin I saw in the middle of the woods. There were a few people coming and going, and then I decided I had better go too, and see what I could find. I saw these people with a guide, and asked the guide where I was, and they told me there was the temple where the movie ‘Tomb Raider’ was filmed a few kilometers away, called Ta Prohm. There was a Dutch couple at the back entrance who were holding a map looking confused, and I asked them where they were going. They wanted to go to Ta Prohm too, so we decided to find a ride together. All the guy’s sleeping in their tuk-tuks at the back entrance where waiting for other people, so they wouldn’t go for it. We figured a few kilometers wouldn’t be so bad, after all, they were tall sturdy Dutch, and I was a young American. After about 1 kilometer we were sweating like crazy and dragging our feet, turning our heads desperately every time we heard a vehicle approach. Car after car packed with Cambodians or foreigners would cruise by and the driver would laugh and wave his hand like crazy, then everyone else would wave. Finally a car stopped that had a Chinese couple in it. The two Dutch that I was with must have both been 6 feet tall, but the driver asked the couple if they would mind if we squeezed in, so the couple moved over in the back, then the Dutch lady got in, then I got in, and we crammed ourselves so the door could shut. The Dutch guy got in the front, and we drove off. The couple was from somewhere in south China, I forgot where, maybe Shanghai, and we chatted in Chinese. It was good to speak Chinese again after the last time being on that big cargo ship. They dropped us at the end of the road leading to Ta Prohm and they went off to their next destination. We walked to the temple and I said good-bye because I had to pee and wanted to see the temple on my own so I could get lost in thought and not have to keep up light conversation simultaneously. I went to the bathroom near the entrance and was followed by a little girl who wanted me to buy what she had. I remembered that in Sihanoukville, everyone kept trying to reinforce that you shouldn’t buy from children, only adults, to keep the kids in school. She was trying to chat me up so that I would think she was oh so cute and buy her bracelets, but I just ended up having a nice conversation with her and told her I was a teacher in China, which was nearby. When I came out of the bathroom she shouted ‘Teacher Aimee!! Come buy my bracelet for your students!’…smart girl, but no luck!
I cruised around there for a bit, met a few foreign teachers who were also teaching in China, and then went to find a motorbike at the other entrance. Everyone was sleeping in their tuk-tuks or chatting in the shade, but they all said they were waiting for someone. I just kind of stood there waiting for something to happen or someone to come out who I could give a few dollars to, but then this delivery boy came back to his motorcycle and was going to drive away, until I chased him down and someone helped me explain I had no ride back to town and I would pay him if he would take me. He took me a ways then said ‘ok here we are’, I had no idea where I was but it was next to the river, so I asked him if he could drive me a bit further till I saw the familiar bridge, and he agreed. After that I decided to hang out a bit, take a shower and a nap, then go get some mango and some ‘Bai cha sek mun’ (fried rice with chicken). I kept ordering that because it was the only thing I could say, and I felt all cool, whipping out some Khmer in a town full of foreigners.
That night I decided to go out to the famed ‘Angkor What’, a little bar that had been opened twelve years ago when Siem Reap was still a village that was just starting to see foreign visitors. I hung out there and sat at the bar drinking a bit of draft waiting around to see if I could make some friends and have people to talk to. There was a British girl who came up and ordered a whole ton of stuff, and I said ‘What is that’ (a good conversation starter apparently). She told me then said ‘are you here alone? Why not come over and hang out with us?’, so I went over and introduced myself and had a grand old chat with a Canadian. I played a game or two of pool, and actually did pretty well. Bo had taught me something vital about pool back in Sihanoukville…’Aimee,’, she said, ‘you actually have to think about what your doing and where you want the ball to go’. It turns out it was very good advice 🙂
I hung out there for a while then I met a few Spanish dudes who also lived in China. One of them was this great dude named Oscar who could speak really good Chinese, so we were blabbing away in Chinese and forgot we had another common language (English). We talked about the crazy food available around there and decided to meet up for some tasty food the next day.
The next day I decided to use another day on my pass, so while I was eating breakfast (around noon….ahhhh…), a guy in a tuk-tuk cruised by and asked if I wanted to go see anything. I asked him how much and he said 8 dollars, which I’m sure was pretty darn good for him, but it was cheaper than the average that foreigners are given so I agreed. He drove me back to my hotel so I could get some stuff and then we went for a drive up to the temples. That day I went to see the really big temple with all the carved faces. This temple was really cool and had a lot more passage ways and ruins, but I started feeling really sick halfway through. I made myself walk around a bit more to get a day’s worth out of my pass, and then went to find my tuk-tuk driver and just decided to go back. He suggest I go see a few more temples, so I agreed even though I felt a bit sick. He was a great guide and told me all sorts of stories about every place we went to. I told him he should be a history teacher, but he said tuk-tuk driving is more lucrative and free. During one of his stories I almost fainted and went and sucked down a bottle or two of water. I ended up seeing some pretty cool stuff, but I more enjoyed just riding around in the tuk-tuk all over the countryside around the Wats.
When I finally got back to my hotel I rested for a bit, then went to go meet Oscar for some tasty Khmer food. I wasn’t too hungry, due to feeling sick, but I scarfed down as much as I could anyway because it was so tasty. After that we went to find his friend, the other Spanish guy and a girl from somewhere in Europe, and there was some music on the street which we danced around to with a big crowd of foreign and Khmer people.
The next day I went to meet up with them again, since they were going to the temples again as well, and I had an extra day left on my pass. We shared a tuk-tuk, went around a bit and then went our separate ways because I had already been where they were going. We met again that night for some ostrich, kangaroo, crocodile and snake barbecue, which was really, really, really tasty. I felt a bit bad eating the kangaroo, but it was so good I didn’t mind too much.
For the next few days I just hung around and went on bike rides around the city and countryside, then decided one evening it was time to get back to Bangkok, so I bought a bus ticket for the next morning and went out walking around that night one last time. I met a bunch of Scandinavians who were fun to talk to, but then the one guy who must have been almost 7 feet tall got too intoxicated so they all dragged him home. I walked around a bit more along the river and then went home to get some sleep.
The next day I took another incredibly long bus ride to Bangkok, with a good long border wait in the hot sun. I was still feeling sick (I think it was from some western breakfast I had had a few times in Siem Reap), but there was tons of water around, so I kept buying bottles of it. The Thai border crossing was much spiffier than the Cambodian one; all indoors and air conditioned, though incredibly packed. There was one guy who was with a giant tour group from Shanghai who was getting really agitated, and doing the ol’ Chinese shove shove shove to nowhere, So I decided to see if he wanted to chat. It turns out he wasn’t the mean guy I thought he was, and he told me all about where they had been and why they were traveling, which I’ve forgotten now.
When I got to Bangkok I was walking around looking for a place to stay, so I could call my friend Dong and see what he was up to, but as I was walking down the road I saw a guy driving a tuk-tuk in an army hat that covered his face, but sure enough peeping out from under the brim was my ol’ buddy Dong. There were two foreigners jumping in the back of his tuk-tuk but I ran over and they let me put my stuff in with them. I balanced on the battery next to Dong in the front of the tuk-tuk while we brought the people in the back to their hotel. They were staying in the city centre, so it was a long ride in a lot of traffic, but there must have a been a cool breeze coming off the river, because it the evening air felt great. I was balancing half in half out of the side of the tuk-tuk, as Dong rather expertly whizzed around a few corners and thought I might die a few times, but didn’t probably because I was hanging on so tightly!
Anyhow, my flight out was two days away, so I hung out in Bangkok and Dong took a day off and we took the river boat up to Nonthaburi for a few baht, and sat on a bench watching people get on and off the river boats, and people coming and going from the market across the way, and a group of people playing with a feathered Thai hacky-sack. We went walking a bit into the town, but it was getting dark so decided to take the river boat back again and find some dinner in Bangkok.
I met up with Craig, who was also in Bangkok at the time and we took the airport shuttle to Suvarnbhumi Airport. While waiting for our flight, we ran into two other teachers that we new from Changsha, one of which was on our same flight to Guangzhou. We all ate a bit of overpriced airport fast food and went to wait for our flights.
When I got back to Guangzhou, Craig’s girlfriend Binka was waiting to meet him. We all got a hotel room near the train station so we could head home the following day. I took a separate train from them because they wanted to stay a little longer in Guangzhou, so I was back in Changsha by that night. I just went straight to the shuttle-car company and asked if there were any cars. There were, and I had no money except US dollars, so they let me pay with that. In no time I was back in my nice little apartment at Liuyang’s Xinwen School napping like crazy and making lesson plans for the following week!!!