Archive for the 'Cambodia' Category

Demon dreamin’, can I have some more water, and Zee Germans…

The Wandering Nerd April 17th, 2008

Angkor Wat - Day 1

We’d rented some bikes the night before and after a short training course for Tim on how to ride a bicycle we were prepared to head off to Angkor Wat in the morning. Yes, I said a short training course on how to ride a bicycle - I was a shocked as you are. I thought all British children had to learn how to ride a bike by order of the Queen or something. Ride a bike, constantly do upper lip exercises to maintain stiffness, learn the approximately eleventeen thousand different types of tea and tea preparation, and learn to say ‘wossname,’ were, to the best of my knowledge somehow bred into the stock back when the Anglo-Saxons took over back in 1207 AD. That was when General Cornmeal won at the battle of Haystack fighting back the Norwegian menace let by Ghengis Kahn…I think.

I kinda’ feel bad for Tim, in this case not due to any of his genetic or national failings. This time it’s just that the boy has something evil inside of him. Something dark and virulent living in him. I think he may be a portal to another dimension. This observation is base on the noises emanating from the WC periodically - I briefly thought it was just the WC in general, but there have been a number of them and the only consistent factor is Tim entering one. Ya see, when Tim goes into one there follows a short interval of peace. I should note that I’m not idle during this time, I use it to quickly build a pillow fort somewhere in the room as far away from the bathroom door and then begin huddling under a blanket praying to whatever deities I haven’t yet pissed off, which is to say not bloody many. After the few moments of blissful silence, a sound which can only be described as the muted bellow of a Lovecraftian horror rattles the door - hell it rattles the door and tries the handle in some cases. Then is the sound of someone moaning low. Eventually Tim emerges, looking haggard and beaten saying, “It is done…” In the way one would as though he’s spent a night shouting “The Power of Christ compels you!!!” and throwing holy water on some young girl - he’s into that. Now I’m not one to take gastronomic distress anything less than with the utmost of the serious respect that it deserves…well not when it’s my distress, but someone else’s? That’s when the hilarity en-sooos. I believe things are getting better, I’m not going to ask too many questions for fear I’ll get answered…in detail, and he’ll probably use some of those big British smarty warty words, something really abstruse that I’ll probably have to look up.

We’ll leave Tim’s bowels for now - I know how disappointed some of you are, but we have so much time and so little to do. On to Angkor!

The plan was to get up early and get up to Angkor in time for sunrise, when we both woke up at the stroke of noon, the plan seemed to need an overhaul of the scrap variety. At that point there was no reason to rush, so we stopped in a little restaurant next to our guest house serving Khmer food, as well as some good old fashion central European dishes. Nothing like some good German brats, potatoes and sauerkraut for lunch before heading to the biggest religious site in the world, eh? They also have one of the stranger drinks I’ve seen, the call it a To Phan Punch, it’s a beer, with pineapple juice and grenadine. Very strange, not bad at all, quite tasty, but very very odd.

The six kilometer ride up to Angkor could have been timed better however. I mean we were pedaling in the blistering part of the day. I’m going to go with saying it was awfully close to 40c (104f). We sculled about 3 litres of water each in less than an hour. It was actually a rather pleasant ride, once you realize the only chance of survival you have on Cambodian roads is to simply ignore the madness around you and press on. I learned that watching a little old lady puttering along. The traffic just flows around you. We made it up to the complex without incident, though Tim did claim to have been violated by the bicycle seat at one point. I was thinking a little bit of pluggage would be good for the guy, but kept the thought to myself. I was having a rare moment of being kind.

I’ve been hitting so many Bhuddist temples lately I was having a lot of trouble telling what wat was what - I’ve been waiting to use that for a while now. But when it comes to the grand poohbah of religious construction, nothing beats Angkor Wat. It’s actually a complex of dozens of temples scattered about the region, today we just hit the main one, over the next two days I’ll be outlining some of the others, but today is all just for the big guy.

The whole thing is surrounded by a giant moat, with a stone bridge - the main entrance - facing west, and a land bridge to the east for the wheeled traffic that supports the place. The whole complex is massive:

The outer wall, 1024 by 802m and 4.5m high, is surrounded by a 30m apron of open ground and a moat 190m wide. -wikipedia

That’s a total of 876928 square meters (217 acres) of religion and it was originally completed in 1150 AD. When Europe was still in the grip of the dark ages the king of Angkor just whipped this up for Vishnu. Like ya’ do. Cambodians have a massive respect for the site, and rightly so, but they’ve gone a little mental with it at points. In 2003 a rumor was spread that a Thai actress had said that Angkor Wat belonged to Thailand, what to do? Clearly a riot is in order! Cambodia and Thailand have an interesting little history, the land around here has changed hands more time than Olsen Twins. The name “Siam Reap” actually means “Thailand Defeated.” Heh, now that’s just comedy.

As architecture goes the place is truly massive, though any sense of serenity or reverence is pretty much lost except for one tiny section of the temple - about 5 meters square - where we saw some people actually paying their respect. The rest is mainly ruins, the site is in the process of being partially restored by a German company, I guess it helps to keep them occupied so they don’t try to take over the world again.

To the north of the compound there exists a long stretch of the common touts and vendor stalls I’ve become used to along the way. Upon walking out of the inner square we were immediately set upon by children selling books - which I wasn’t interested in - or trying to get us to buy water - which by that point I very much was. After purchasing a bottle of water some woman tried to get us to sit down in the middle of all this mess.

“Thanks, but no, I’m looking for a bit of piece and quiet.”

To which she replied, a bit too evilly with, “I sell you peace and quiet, two dollars! You pay me and I leave you alone!”

Ahh…capitalism at it’s finest.

Ladies and gentlemen…and the other 98% of my audience, I give you Angkor Wat:

there is nothing i need
except the function to breathe
but i’m not really fussed
doesn’t matter to me
-kaiser chiefs

Boom shake shake shake, mmmm Moussaka again, and reptiles to shake a fish at.

The Wandering Nerd April 16th, 2008

As border crossings go, that could have been worse. It wasn’t so much that there was any actual hassle in getting across the border - really it was quite simple and the queues were short and moving quickly. The problem is actually finding the Cambodian border once you get dumped out of the bus. I like Thailand, probably my favorite country yet, but in eastern Thailand they are really not accustomed to tourists and don’t have ubiquitous kindly signs in English explaining important things like departure times and destinations. The percentage of passable English speakers is more in the single digits as opposed to the high 70s in the west. They are just as friendly and smiling, and genuinely seem interested in helping out the silly farang - possibly owing to feeling of guilt for having slapped him in the face with talcum powder the day before.

The bus drops us off at a large open air market and the bus stewardess - which is hard to get used to - waves us vaguely in a direction, the bus rumbles off and the rest of the passengers - all Thai - disperse into the crowds leaving us no choice but to head south and hope that we’ll hit the border at some point - hopefully before men with guns surround us and escort us to where we need to be. We walked through a parking lot, the market, a bank and the closest approximation to Atlantic City that you’ll find in this part of the world. The land between the official Thai border and the Cambodian border is, for all intents and purposes, a DMZ of Casinos. Just on the 500m stretch of road between the two countries there were almost a dozen massive shrines to the Lady and worshippers, poor at math, making pilgrimages. I’ve always found it odd that those who are most in need have a higher risk of being suckered into playing games of chance. You know me, I’m not much of a risk taker.

After making it through the queues, with a newly stamped passport, we’re released into the city of Poipet. After the pristine nature of Thailand, Cambodia comes as quite a shock. I have no better world to use for Poipet, and for the most part urbanized parts of Cambodia than ’squalor’.

The history of Cambodia sheds light though. The whole Khmer Rouge affair and horror that these people suffered - ever hear of a guy called Saloth Sar also known as Pol Pot - a name you just really don’t use over here. There are estimates of two million people having died under the regime, hundreds of thousands executed directly, more dying to malnutrition and diseases that existed in the work camps of the time. I’ll probably go into the history more when I get to Phnom Penh, cheery stuff. After the brutality of the past, a bit of rubbish can be expected, parts of it are starting to get better, especially in the downtown section here in Siam Reap. It really is a town in transition, you’ll see in the pics some of the strange juxtapositions, giant Duracell displays right next to Naga statues, giant communication towers bristling with cellular and microwave antennas, and just further up the river, a large net that keeps the rubbish from the shanty style shops from flowing down past the gentrified areas. There are massive complexes being erected just north of the city proper that have no inhabitants, it’s like walking through a pristine ghost town in direct contrast to the dust and honking motos just a few hundred meters behind you.

Having said that, the road from Poipet to Siam Reap more closely resembles a cheese grater than any sort of transit system. The ‘taxi’ system along that route is such a scam that it’s laughable. Two years ago the cost to take a taxi from there to here - about 3 hours - was 150 to 200 baht (3 to 5 USD). Now when you make it to the ‘taxi’ stand they want to hit you for 500 baht per person, and cram 4 farang and all their gear into a Toyota Camry. Hell, I can just barely fit into a Toyota myself. Tim and I broke down and splurged on the taxi, but bargained the guy down into taking just the two of us. So we got to lounge about in the spacious back seat, while sailing along the highway of speedbumps. ‘Sailing’ is perhaps the wrong term, more appropriate would be ‘bowel shaking’ or perhaps ‘violently convulsing.’ There’s a rumor that some largish airline that services Siam Reap is paying some major kickbacks to delay the construction of a better road. Ah, corruption the world over.

We had some static trying to find a place to stay in Siam Reap, finally landing at a rather posh place, deciding that anyplace just to drop our gear would be worthwhile for the night and then we’d check out other options. Well played if I do say myself. The place we finally found ‘The Dead Fish Guesthouse’ has freakin’ crocodiles in it! I’m not talking fake polyurethane-’hey Ma let’s get us a ‘gator to go with your pink flamingos and that mirror ball that uncle Pete-Bob bought you when Pa ran off with that tranny trucker from Texas!’-lawn crocodiles, but really real live, “I can see you and you look tastey, just put your hand a bit closer…” crocodiles! You can feed ‘em too! I keep hoping Tim will lean in a bit too far and go in with them. The owner - who is soooo gay that I’m hoping they actually did use asbestos in the construction of this place, otherwise the possibility of a fiery death is very real - says they have six in the pen. I’m calling him a big gay liar, we counted at least nine. I suspect he doesn’t really know and that they sometimes escape and wander through the guesthouse preying on the slow and weak. Okay, that last part is more of a hope than any sort of deductive logic. I did notice that they offer croc on the menu, I’m tempted to order the crocodile BBQ and then run back and count them really quickly. One of the little ones looks mighty tasty…

got my cares, wrapped up
all nice and neat in my suitcase
i’ll take it down the street
to a place with plenty of space for me
-the eels

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