It’s as if a spring has sprung. From the doldrums of Battambang to the glories of Angkor Wat I am on sensory overload. There has been so much to see, so much to do I can’t help but feel I will leave something out.
First there was the B and B in Battambang, such a joy after the “resort”. I don’t think I do resorts very well, you are expected to stay within the compound and enjoy what they have to offer. I didn’t. The B and B was small, intimate and they really seemed to care that I was enjoying myself. So thanks Sangkar Villa. Up early one morning to catch the 7am boat down river to Siem Reap. What a heap the boat was, it looked like it might sink of its own accord even before the fifty plus passengers embarked. We all squeezed into the cabin with seating four across and an aisle in the middle, very narrow, bags, shopping, backpacks and cargo stacked around us and made our way out into the stream. Sitting, crammed all together in the cabin, reminiscent of a small plane, was more than I could endure with six or seven hours ahead so I clambered up onto the roof. With the now famous hat and scarf I was well protected from the sun and the hours sped by. I wanted it to never end. I made mental notes of my feelings along the way, all of which I have forgotten but I do remember that “there is something timeless about river travel”. The banks were alive with bird life, the jungle coming right up to the edge. Numerous dwellings, river traffic, fisher folk, everybody waved as we passed and then to the floating villages. What a concept. All the houses float and can be towed around by row boat (great if you don’t like the neighbors!). Everything was there, grocery stores, restaurants, schools, churches, Temples and they were all floating. Everyone went about their business as if they were on land but they weren’t, they were afloat, in boats. What a life. The river varied, sometimes hugely wide, maybe three quarters of a mile and then the driver would dart off into a side alley where the stream was as wide as the boat. People got scratched by the tree branches. We had to push our way through massive growths of Water Hyacinths growing on the surface. Then a most peculiar thing occurred.
Others, escaping the claustrophobia of the cabin, made their way up onto the roof and a lady sat next to me taking photos as if her life depended on it. She obviously heard me chatting to two Khmers when I mentioned that I was from California. I made some trite remark and we got to chatting. From California she asked, where? San Francisco says I, oh, where? Well Marin actually, oh where? San Anselmo says I. Ha ha says she, I live in Larkspur. There we were, on the roof of a boat, floating down the Sangkar river, miles from anywhere and we are neighbors. I might have sat somewhere else, caught the boat on a different day, chosen not to make a trite remark. But it all came together and oh my how we laughed. Sabine, travelling with her friend Bernadette, also from SF, have continued the journey, but mostly by tuk tuk.
Arriving at Siem Reap we negotiated the river bank and its mud and went to our various hotels. I had booked a standard room in a place downtown and when I was ushered into a poolside suite I raised an eyebrow. Jacuzzi, super shower all wood carved, sofas, armchairs, four poster bed, the works. BUT, it had windows facing away from the pool and without there was a most enormous construction site. Diggers, cranes, dozers, you name it they were all there. The noise was incredible. This did not last long and I left the next morning. They were pouring concrete at midnight and started work again at 7am. Now I am ensconced in what I think is a tour group hotel, never the same guests from one day to the next, lots of people for lunch and dinner but very few for breakfast. On the Western tourist circuit I think Siem Reap qualifies for one day, bus tour to Angkor Wat and that’s it, off to the next place.
The Bopha Ankor Hotel does have one major benefit, undiscovered by the people passing through. Down the dusty alley beside the hotel is this quite amazing restaurant, the Square 24, not one hundred yards away. The dishes served here are well up to Marin, San Francisco even London standards. I am now on my fifth visit and all the staff greets me with the usual bows and hand clasping, which I am now confident enough to return. Not only is the food absolutely delicious (organic ,locally sourced, etc), the presentation brilliantly performed, the ambience perfect, cool and airy, the décor understated Khmer, but the place is often packed. The price is notable, I have not paid more than $12, though I now seem to qualify for complimentary ice cream and green tea. Even though reservations are recommended they have always seem able to find a corner table for me and here I am today, scribbling away, watching the upscale diners from Belgium, I think, drinking my lemonade.
Oh dear, I have reached nine hundred words and have yet to start on the wonders nearby. Angkor Wat, Tah Promh, Sokh Sang, Tonle Sap Lake, pub street. Lets see if I can make this a two post day.