Category Archives: siem reap

Reflecting after a RTW trip

I have been back in California for a month. I cannot even begin to tell you how difficult it has been to get back in the swing of it all. I seem to have been surrounded by an enormous, blanketing fog, a fug even. I can’t see anything, I can’t do anything, everything just seems different, a blur.
After I had been back in Ca for just about a week I was driving down Sir Francis Drake Blvd into our small town when it struck me, where are the ladies collecting cow dung to fire up the cooking for their evening meal, where are the endless smells, some good, some really really bad, where are the bright colored clothes, saris, turbans, where is the endless din, traffic, horns, shouts, where are the tuk tuks, where are the Holy cows? Why is there nothing to see, no jaw dropping forts, no endless vistas stretching away to the horizon, no sand, no dirt, no dust, no crowds and crowds, ha, no heat even? There is not a pot hole within miles. There is hardly even a decent curry, unless I go to Berkeley. I can park easily, I can walk into a shop and know where everything is and what it costs. I am not the remotest bit scared. There is no chanting, there are no bells, there are no Temples to marvel at, no Muezzins calling the Faithful to prayer, there isn’t even a train whistle. There is no new town, city or village for me to explore tomorrow, not even a new street. I know what is going to happen next with crashing certainty, I even know where the next meal is coming from. I am not anxious about talking to people, or even not talking to people. I am not fixated with Internet accessibility concerns for emails, Skype or blog posting. I just about know where close family members are and what they are doing, up to the point where I need or want to know.
Did I really ride a tuk tuk into downtown Vientiane, did I really take an hour’s ride in a sampan on the Mekong river in Phnom Penh, is it possible that I spent a week roaming the Western Ghats without seeing or speaking to another Westerner, did I really stand on the walls of the forts at Jaiselmer, Jodhpur or Udaipur, was that really Ankor Wat, Hong Kong ?
But yes, I guess I did those things and more besides and now I am back, I know I am back as I just went on a lengthy walk (hike) with son the younger, he told me I was back ! Thank you Sebastian.
People said very kind words about my blog posts and now that the fog is clearing I may take it up again, blogging that is. It is also interesting to note that my site is still getting some twenty or so hits a day, from all over the world, they can’t all be from my Mother!
There are a number of events missing in my posts, I may try and cover them before the memory fades. Notably getting sick as a dog in London, of all places, after all that, I get sick in London, it was quite unpleasant and most embarrassing, I didn’t eat for a week and felt dreadful. There was a night in Lincolnshire that was uproarious, my thanks for the hospitality.
Today, July 27th 2012.
I’m reviewing a number of posts that I wrote for my blog after returning to the West Coast, or the Edge as its sometimes known, but you know what, they all seem a bit whiney, wingeing even. Hope the above does not fall into that category. It’s been three months now since I returned and quite honestly I can’t sit still. Jump up every time a plane flies over, where is it, where’s it going, who is on it ? Why am I not on it ? Saw a lady in town yesterday in full sari regalia, it’s the little things. Here I am, on the day that everyone seems to be planning to watch the Olympic Opening Ceremonies, OFF, outa here. In twenty four hours I hope to be checking into a(n) hotel in NAPLES. Wow. See you there or en route.

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A Trip down the Tonle Sap River

Ploughing our way at quite a rate of knots over what looks like a big inland sea, no sign of the banks on either side. We chugged along through a somewhat stagnant waterway after leaving the dock, houses on stilts, some donated by Americans. Saw one with a large placard outside thanking a family in Philly. It was narrow and the boat, slow. We have a film crew aboard, French, ladies, who set up their cameras on the bows, amateurs followed until there was quite a crowd up on the pointed end. Others situated themselves on the top, luggage deck, where they had a great uninterrupted view all around. We chugged on. Got to thinking that at this rate we will be in Phnom Penh by sometime next week, not the claimed six to seven hours. Eventually the stagnant river emptied out into a wider waterway and the thrum of the engines increased. There was a floating village with the inhabitants going about their daily business by boat. A large Catholic Church. Fisherfolk with their nets and lines, baskets and pots. A school donated by the Australian Government. All of a sudden we were out in the middle of this lake, the engines roared up to full power and we were off to the races. Spray everywhere, cameras protected, photographers retreated to the sanctum of the cabin. Film crew dismantled equipment, tripods, mikes, booms, cameras all packed up and retreated back to the dry. Should I mention the catastrophic wardrobe malfunctions as we pounded along faster and faster, no, better not. On we zoom, no sign of land, no sign of much of anything, so will pause and read book, well, Kindle app. Patrick O’Brian, still, of course. Treasons Harbour. (go away American spell checker).
Time passed (four hours) and we continued to roar on downstream towards the capital. The banks have changed their look, not the rather barren of further upstream, but now lusher, greener, more verdant. Different species of tree, not just the occasional palm, deciduous perhaps, certainly a mangrove here and there. There is the floating wild hyacinth again remembered from the Delta in great clumps, islands almost, I did mention that didn’t I, back in HCMC? More river folk activity too, bigger cargo boats, some cruise boats out of Phnom Penh. We slowed as we came to a stilted town, slowed right down so people could disembark. We didn’t stop, they jumped, bags and all into small boats alongside. There was a great collection of house boats as well as the houses on stilts, I had a quick pine for the houseboats of Sausalito. Then back up to warp speed for what is presumably the end run to Phnom Penh. Back to POB.
I love the universality of the wave. All down the river whenever we pass some boat or other with people in, or pass folk attending to their business on shore there is always a pause from whatever activity is being attended to and they all stand and wave wave wave. I am fortunate in my choice of fellow passengers, this is not a oh so cool crowd, and we all wave wave wave back. It’s really most delightful.
We are pulling into PP, there is an unexpectedly large Mosque. The houses have red roofs, were the Italians here, no, must be the French influence. If this town is as much fun as Vientiane then I am really going to enjoy being here, even for just a few days. Despite now being into hour seven of our progress I still have a happy stupid grin, what a great way to journey. None of the discomfort of plane or bus, free to move about at will, walk about, photograph points of interest. Marvelous. We dock.
A quick tuk tuk ride to the hotel and all checked in for three nights. Off to investigate the Foreign Correspondents Club which sounds intriguing for a late lunch then exploring this new City.
Thanks for riding the river with me.
Oh and btw, thanks for all the ATM comments and concerns. To answer the question, yes, I do have more than one ATM card, and from more than one country. Should take care of things.

Angkor Wat.

I did it. I answered the 4.45am alarm call and was present, correct and sober in the lobby at 5.15. Jumped into car, driven by hotel employee, and sped off into the darkness. Not many people around at that time of the morning, in fact it was obvious that the only ones around were making the same pilgrimage, couples in tuk tuks, couples on bicycles, others in cars. It’s not far to the main gate where I bought a three day pass, $20.00, then on again, into the darkness. Parked in massive lot, will I ever find this white Camry again, and clutching water, camera, flashlight and ticket joined the silent throng moving to who knows where. Across what looked like a bridge, upstairs, downstairs and then it seemed we were in a massive theater like field. The flashes from cameras, the flashlight beams, the low chatter was vaguely reminiscent of waiting for the main act at an outdoor music festival. The best viewing area appeared to be in front of some sort of pond but not wishing to fall in I took a spot on the edge of the crowd and began the wait.
Dawn broke, a light pink, tried a couple of shots with the flash but all I got were photos of the grass in front of me! Waited a little bit longer and suddenly, there it was, that iconic view, the three towers, all clearly visible. I waited for the roar of the crowd, didn’t happen, this was not a rock festival even if it felt like one. Took lots of pictures of other people who asked me to, as one does, someone took my photo with my camera but I haven’t put it up for you to see. (family pressure may change that) Hey, we are talking 5.30am here, not looking my best, also I looked at my three day pass photo, not flattering.
I made my way to the Temple not entirely sure what to expect. It is so tremendously vast that even if all the dawn watchers had descended en mass there might be one person per acre. Actually they didn’t, I wonder where they all went. It had an eerie deserted feel, not at all spooky, but just this huge feeling of space, massive space. Sitting in a corner observing the central area, with the towers, I could take it all in without being disturbed by people, I moved to each of the four corners and the feeling was the same, tranquility springs to mind. Quite inspirational.
Angkor Wat is old, very old, even to a jaded Euro like me, we are talking eleventh/twelfth century here, these rocks have seen a lot. I was amazed, fascinated, impressed, overwhelmed, enchanted, charmed.
I did find the white Camry again and fell into the seat somewhat stunned, speechless, and just a little bit dazed. A reviving cup of tea and we were off, there are many many temples around Siem Reap, all related to Angkor, built at a similar time. More of those later.
Hope you like the photos.

Image

Angkor Wat at Dawn.

First view

There it was, that iconic sight in the pink dawn.

Would love to edit out the bottom of this photo. Just ignore it.

That is not my tablet !

The light got brighter, the subject clearer.

Daylight now.

Quite a lot of people gathered to watch the dawn

Look at that, a hot air balloon rising over the main gate.

I was getting carried away with camera angles. Like it ?

Definitely what I came for.

Managed to get all four towers but lost the light.

A very big and long Bas Relief

A tiny detail from very long Bas Relief

There were many Bas Reliefs. Don't worry I am not going to get all Bas Relief nerdy on you.

There were monkeys around and about.

There is a very big moat all the way round Angkor Wat.

Another view of the moat.

The main Gate into Angkor Wat complex, well one of four. Not designed for today's traffic.

Arrival in Siem Reap

To Cambodia we go, me and all the other holiday-makers from all round the World. So many different languages in the departure lounge at Luang Prabang it was a veritable Tower of Babel. Now we are on a prop plane 20,000 feet over the border with about thirty minutes to go.
I took the opportunity to revisit the alms giving/receiving ceremony at dawn this morning and discovered the cunning plan behind the chaos I beheld that first morning. Now that I know my way around town better I got off the bus at an earlier point than previously and cut down the back alleys to a street that parallels the great seething mass. Ha ha, local residents lined the sidewalk complete with rice baskets, ready for the procession and not a camera in sight. This then is the secret, avoid the chaos on Sisavangvong Road, this is presumably where the City Fathers want the cameras to go, and go one street over, towards the Mekong. You will have the street to yourself, well apart from the residents and the monks. I hope some photos come out (do we still say that?) as the sight of that Saffron ribbon heading down the street, unhindered, was mesmerizing.
Onward to Siem Reap, the gateway to the largest religious building in the World, Angkor Wat. I was greeted on arrival at the airport by the hotel’s tuk tuk driver and we headed off on the 7 km drive into town. First impressions, it’s hot, it’s wet, it’s dusty, it’s noisy, it bustles, there is food, everywhere, it is amazingly inexpensive, it looks like it just fell down and is being rebuilt. I absolutely love it. Oh,and holiday makers sitting with their feet in fish tanks!

This seems to be the thing to do, a fish pedicure.

A fish pedicure. A tuk tuk ride from the hotel to the restaurant area is a dollar, after which you would be hard pressed to spend more than ten dollars for a meal. There is great shopping, I saw some very attractive silk pashminas. I want a hat and a bag to carry stuff around, like a shopping bag. So back to the market after completing this.
Up again before dawn tomorrow and spend the day with a tuk tuk driver and a guide book. See the sun come up, walk about, take photos, hope to understand why the complex was built and how it has survived all these centuries. It is the chronological twin of Chartres, Winchester, and other European cathedrals.
Sorry if I sounded a bit blue last evening but it was Valentine’s day and I had hardly spoke to a soul all day.
Better now.
Thanks.

Last Day in Luang Prabang.

Itchy feet, high metabolism, well rested ? Whatever it is I am on my way tomorrow. Luang Prabang (LP) is a delight, the people are friendly, smiley, gracious, polite and as far as I can tell scrupulously honest. According to my Rough Guide they have an innate sense of “muan” (fun) and if something is “baw muan” (not fun) then it is quickly abandoned. Sounds reasonable. I see much hard work going on, running stalls and shops, fishing and farming, maintenance, repair and building but alas it all seems to provide little in the way of return. The most used bank note is the 50,000 Kip note, about $6.00 US, and frankly everything seems to cost less than this. Example, the restaurant I am currently sitting in features a menu with nothing more expensive than, yes, 50,000 kip. Johnny Walker is $3.00 a shot, cocktails are $3.25, Daiquires, Piña Coladas, even a Long Island Ice Tea. Not much of a markup available there. I suppose there is some solace in the fact that I am helping to contribute towards the fifty percent of the Country’s revenue which comes from tourism. But not even my meager contribution is not going to help Laos drag itself up from its position in one of the ten most underdeveloped countries on Earth.
I think it is here, for the first time, that I have found it unfortunate that I do not have a travel companion. All those activities in Hong Kong, HCMC and Hanoi were just fine to do solo but here, after the initial exploring, I could have done with some company. There are all sorts of one and two day excursions to waterfalls, elephant preserves, ethnic villages etc that really lend themselves to group travel. Bit boring on ones own. So, tomorrow I go to Siem Reap, site of the famous Angkor Wat temple complex.
Will let you know how it goes.