Trapped in Cambodia!

December 24, 2009 · Posted in Travel · 1 Comment 

If there is one thing the world over that is inescapable while backpacking, it is buses.  Hot, smelly, sweaty, cramped, dirty buses.  Buses packed with multiple nationalities, camera toting tourists, rude locals (most locals are nice – but the rude ones always make the bus), and invariably a few good friends.  Whether these friends boarded with you or not is sort of up to you.  In any case, it is on one of these buses where we find ourselves several days ago, heading toward Cambodia.  At the border it is incredibly clear what the difference between a socialist republic and a kingdom can be.  On Vietnam’s border – an austere off-white building, no adornments of any kind.  On Cambodia’s side – beautiful carvings, embellished buildings, fancy facades.  Probably one of the only areas where Cambodia is clearly ahead of Vietnam, so we’ll give it to them.  The three of us did make some friends though – six Chilean lawyers (newly graduated, not yet practicing) who were backpacking through Asia.  All six of them were reading one of the Twilight books, which immediately brings to question their taste but that’s neither here nor there.  I think the Americans scared them initially, but after realizing we didn’t bite (not like Edward anyway) <gratuitous Twilight reference!> they warmed up to us a bit.  That’s pretty much where the story stops because, upon arrival, we suggested drinks, they suggested church, and that was that.

The next morning was “sunrise” at Angkor Wat, one of the largest religious temples in the world.  Some say it’s the biggest, some say Karnak (but Karnak’s stature may also encompass it’s surrounding temples so that’s like putting a steeple on a skyscraper…) but it’s really neither here nor there so let’s carry on now shall we?

So I put “sunrise” in quotes because

1 – the sky was overcast and so the sun didn’t really rise when it was supposed to.  Traveled halfway around the world to see CLOUDS.  Awesome.

2 – The 1,743,483 Japanese tourists using their flash to take pictures of the alleged sunrise so completely blinded me that I was unable to see for the next three hours.  Now, if you know anything about photography, you should know approximately how far a flash is effective.  We were several HUNDRED feet from the temple.  Well beyond the six or so feet that’s normal.  Yet they kept flashing away like they were hoping to induce epileptic shock on anyone within striking distance.

However, I did manage to pull off a few nice shots – here you go:

Sunrise over one of the towers.

Flowers in the reflecting pond.

Reflection in the pool…

View from the East Gate…

It was a pretty awe-inspiring day overall, and it went something like this.

Temple-temple-temple-temple-quick breakfast-navigate vendors-temple-temple-temple-quick water break-temple-temple-moat-tell girl selling water “No” for the 4,000th time-temple-home.

We got back to our guest house (Mandalay Inn – never to be confused with Mandalay Bay) around 5:00 and promptly took a four hour nap.

Dinner was at Angkor Palm where we enjoyed a sampler platter of traditional Khmer foods.  Among my favorite is a light curried fish called “Amok”.  Noticeably less spicy than the Indian or Thai varieties, this curry is baked with fish and vegetables in a banana leaf.  A bit bland for some people most likely, but overall it’s excellent.

(Full disclosure: this picture is actually from the night before at Cambodian BBQ but it’s the same thing.  “Same same but different” as they say here.)

December 21st we just bummed around Siem Reap, shopping at Psar Chaa for scarves, eating at a few different restaurants, and enjoying the town itself.  Dinner this time was a whopping $1.25 at a street stall and was definitely better than a lot of the Cambodian food we’d had prior.

That’s about when the fun started.  The next day we caught a bus from Siem Reap to Phnom Penh, and then hoped to catch a bus from Phnom Penh to Saigon later that day.  Due to a visa mixup in Vietnam, Alex and Brandy needed to go to the embassy and apply for another visa.  When we get there and ask if they can rush the it, they say the soonest we can pick it up is 4:30 p.m.  The next day.

So there we are, trapped in Cambodia.

Resolved to make the best of it, we hop in a tuk-tuk (basically a motorcycle with a cart attached to it) and head to some guesthouses.  Once we find one, it’s to the river, where everything happens.

Despite a horrible bus ride, getting trapped in Cambodia, schlepping around from guesthouse to guesthouse, we end up at a cafe / lounge overlooking a beautiful park which happens to overlook the Royal Palace.  AND they had free wi-fi and $1 beers.  Cambodia is damn near dollarized – they very rarely use their own currency to quote prices.  That would have been a good enough way to end the night, but then we had dinner on the river and wandered around looking for a bar to continue our captivity in Cambodia.  We ended up at a place called the Candy Bar, and I think that’s where I’ll end this post.  Use your imagination…