Saturday, December 12, 2009

Get on the bus, Gus

Well, now that I've been out of Cambodia for a few days and my head has cleared I can finally discuss the trials and tribulations of trying to leave that godforsaken place. So, 2 choices, the first consists of - catching a taxi to the bus terminal, bus to Phnom Phen, taxi from the bus terminal to the airport, waiting at the airport, catching a bus from the terminal to the plane, flying, customs in Bangkok, taxi to the hotel. Second, shuttle bus to the end of the street to board a bus to the border, customs, then another bus from the border to Bangkok followed by a taxi. So you think, Oh my Buddha option 2 sounds so much better. Ha. Ha. Ha.

The bus had no toilet, it's a four hour ride and we stopped once. Luckily I drank almost no water so while lack of toilet wasn't an issue, dehrydation in 32C heat was. Crossing the border consists of actually getting off the bus, carrying all your luggage through Customs and Immigration, waking across a bridge to sit and wait for another bus. Why the walking? I don't know as I'll never be doing it again I could honestly care less at this point. We sat at a restaurant for 4 hours, yes, 4 hours because the air conditioning broke on the bus and as the very nice, polite and incredibly apologetic lady at the travel agency said, "we would have put you on the bus with no aircon but the bus's windows don't open". Good call there not to have 50 tourists bake in a tin can travelling 100km an hour down the highway to arrive in Bangkok desiccated like shrivelled mummies.

You think it couldn't get worse than a four hour wait? Well, we had the slowest bus driver possible. My seatmate, a very charming and interesting young man from Holland, was keeping track of how many buses exactly like ours were passing us. He was calling out the numbers til he got bored with that. I tried teaching him that old song we'd sing on the school bus "old bus driver, speed up a little bit, speed up a little bit" but we got bored of that too. The trip finally ended 13 hours after we left Siem Reap. It would have been 12 but we got stuck in traffic in Bangkok which was gridlocked due to celebrations for the King's birthday.

On a positive note I cashed in some airmiles and stayed at a real hotel. One with a doorman, elevators, more towels than I need and a bed that was actually comfortable. It was just a Best Western but I thought I'd checked into the Four Seasons after the guesthouses and hotels I've been staying at on this trip. So I'm in Pattaya now, with a head cold but hey, I'd rather have a head cold in Thailand where it's clean, the food is good, the people are polite and there is a nice breeze from the ocean than ever, ever going back to Cambodia.

Monday, December 7, 2009

If you don't have anything nice to say

Well, what I can say is that the Angkor temples were pretty fricking cool. Other than that, Siem Reap and Cambodia as a whole is one of the last places I ever, ever, ever want to come back to visit. Honestly I could rant and rave for pages about this place, dirty, dusty, pushy, the food is mediocre and did I mention the dust? I'll write more later on once I'm away from here (tomorrow! Yah!) because I know there is some good but it's hard to see it after being here for 10 days.

Did I mention how cool the temples were? Seriously. The one good thing I'll say for now is the whole time here was worth it just to able to say I've finally been there and done that because I've wanted to be there and do it for years.

Friday, December 4, 2009

Pastoral Siem Reap

Just when you think things couldn't get worse

they sometimes actually get better. So I wound up leaving the charger for my laptop in Phnom Phen. My first 4 phones calls yielded no help at all, they swore up and down that it wasn't there. Do you know how much it costs to replace a charger for an Apple laptop? $99. Yes, that's right, for a power cord. Needless to say I was having a stroke and on my last call I actually had to hang up because for the first time in 2 1/2 months I was this close to going full on homo meltdown on someone. Thankfully the manager emailed today, oddly enough it was exactly where I said it was, plugged into the damn outlet beside the bed. Now we're just trying to figure out how to actually get it to Siem Reap. I don't care if I have to do a 13 hour roundtrip on a bus but he's trying to get it up here for me.

On other good news I found out you can actually take a very nice motor coach from Siem Reap to Bangkok, yes there is some issues with switching to mini-vans at one point and it's a 12 hour trip but it's almost as long to bus it down to Phnom Phen, wait at the airport, fly and then take a taxi into Bangkok. Added bonus? It costs $16 and the other alterative is $90.

Finally, I had the sweetest encounter with the old Cambodian grandma who runs the corner "store"near my hotel. Out of the blue today in her very limited English asked if I spoke French. Well, quelle surprise I do. Not very well mind you but we could have a much better limited conversation in French than in English. That's one of the cool things about Cambodia, while we can hate for the French for being rude the fact that they colonized southeast Asia and forced the people to adopt their language AND learn how to bake a killer baguette certainly wins them some points in my book.

Thursday, December 3, 2009

Gimme a head with hair, long beautiful hair

Well, back to back days of visiting 2 of probably the most depressing places in all of southeast Asia: The Genocide Museum yesterday and The Killing Fields today. While I'm not known for being one of those New Age-y types, I will say that you really do get the creeps being in the museum, the Killing Fields, not so much, just a dusty field with some trees and holes in the ground. The ride today there and back on motorcycle taxi was the usual adventure, dusty streets, views of the rice paddies as you whip by. Yet again I had one of those moments where I want to just call out to someone, "Hey, you, oh my God, I'm actually in Cambodia! Can you believe it?"

You read on travel guides that riding on motorcycle taxis in Cambodia is dangerous, truth be told I've only seen 2 accidents. Not so much accidents as the aftermath which both times consisted of the riders getting up, brushing themselves off, picking up their bikes and riding off again. I'll say the worst part of riding them is the combination of your skin getting coated with vehicle exhaust which then allows a nice binding surface for all the dust to adhere to. By the time I got back to town my skin felt like a fine grade of sandpaper.

Well, while I'm on the topic of accidents, I guess I should fess up, I stopped by the barber today. Note to self, after telling the barber you want a number 1 on the clippers you should mention that is only for the sides. Unfortunately I kind of closed my eyes, drifted off and realized at some point he was working on the top of my head too. Not that I hate the result but I do look like a jarhead. Luckily it'll grow in some before I get home and as an added bonus I don't need to worry about hair products or frankly probably even shampoo.

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Phnom Phen

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Home Sweet Home

I'm just at the point of my trip where if I could get on a plane and be sleeping in my own bed I would. I've been away for almost 2 1/2 months and I miss my friends, my cats, my family, my big comfy chair and our automated coffee maker.

Enough complaining, I'm in Cambodia and what a difference a one hour flight makes. Cambodia is world's apart from Thailand: dirty, dusty, garbage in the streets along with shoeless half naked children begging for money. Phnom Phen has this wild west feel to it, at any moment you expect saloon doors to swing open and a gunfight to break out. The people are ruder, the whole city has a grubby feel to it and the motorcycle taxi and tuk-tuk drivers are relentless in their sales pitches when you walk by. On the plus side English is widely spoken, which means unfortunately you can't fake not understanding people, the food choices are pretty overwhelming which is nice after Thai, Thai and more Thai and the prices are damn cheap.

To be honest there are only two main attractions worth seeing so today I was off to The National Museum which I have to admit was pretty amazing. Most of the exhibits are from Siem Reap and they have almost no security and everything is openly displayed. I of course ignored the "no cameras" rule and surreptitiously took few pics. What? Don't look at me like that, I'm a rebel, a rule breaker! OK, I saw some cool stuff and didn't want to buy the stupid souvenir pictures. I think my money is better spent on getting a massage at some point.

I'd post some pics but 3rd world also means 3rd rate internet service.