Saturday, 5 April 2008

Hitting temple saturation in Angkor.

27/3 - Last night Martin and James were telling me about 3 temples they visited. The grey matter must have been mulling it over in my sleep and today is the last day of my 3 day pass, so I decided to visit 3 more over breakfast. They are only supposed to be small ones too, so I set off to town to pick up a toot toot. I set off the quiet way, to miss the "in your face" drivers. I had only gone about 50m and there was a toot toot driver lolling in the back of his toot toot. He said he was busy, nice way to be busy, but flagged down another in seconds. The price agreed we are off and at a nice sedate pace. IT took about 30 minutes to get to the first temple, Preh Khan. I was wrong about the small size and they are a bit off the beaten track and not so easily walked, at least this one. THis one is up and down into and out of corridors. I'm glad I came. I thought I was templed out but this one is Same Same but different again. This one is quiet and relaxing. The toot to0t ma gave me an hour, but I could have sat another half an hour just soaking it up. Never mind, it has been a good experience.
On to Ta Som. THis one is a small version of Ta Prohm with the huge trees trying to take back their territory, it is not as impressive as Ta Prohm, but still impressive. On the way to another gate, there's a young lass selling postcards, books etc. Business must be slow as she is swaying in a hammock, so I took her photo, which prompted the request to buy something, but I happily declined. Guilt got the better of me on the way back and the good fun the hawkers have with you, so I bought some postcards from her and a local type scarf from her mate not for the cold, it will probably end up as a sweat rag, but they get used for dust masks, sun blocks all sorts. Don't expect a postcard, buying them is one thing, sending another and don't worry that I have gone on a spending spree, both cost $2 total after a bit of bartering. This one is a small temple, but the tree claiming the West entrance is huge, so it is on to the next one, not the one I asked for, I don't know why, but I didn't chase it. This one is Preah Rup. I never knew it was the wrong one until I went looking for the water feature in the central temple. I did a lap of the ground floor and there was not entrance, so I thought it must be at the top. I was half way up the big steps when I realised it was the wrong temple, but too late to turn back now and it was a challenge, but only a small one for someone as fit as me with his stick in hand. It was well worth it, the breeze is terrific, in fact a strong wind, so I sat and savoured it for a while. There is a good view up here too. This temple is a bit different, the carvings are good and there is no getting inside. It is a bit like a pyramid. I clambered up out of view of the toot toot driver as he was becoming over fussy, but went down on the side he is parked. I made it 2/3 rds of the way before he came pelting up. It was good of him, but it is difficult to convey that some things are easier done alone.
Anyway, that is my templing done for Angkor and for someone who is not a temple person, I have thoroughly enjoyed it and done it at my own pace. Off back to the guesthouse. There are loads of Cambodian workers in hammocks on the way back, suspended between 2 trees. I reckon they pack them in their lunch boxes. They are a great idea for a place with this climate and so many trees. Have hammock will crash.
Back at the guesthouse, the toot toot man tries to line me up for tomorrow, normal practice, but tomorrow is a rest day. Into the bar, but not for a beer, I've been going to have some of the chocolate banana bread all week, so I did and with ice cream, it is delicious, why have I waited so long.
I forgot to tell you the other woman thing. I think the lady boys are taking effect on me, I bought myself a gorgeous little purse with delicate pink and purple embroidery. I got fed up of pulling soggy notes out of my back pocket and when I moved them to the front, they were crushed or hanging out, so I couldn't find a small wallet and a purse it is. I look quite cute using it, well perhaps not, but I don't look a right nancy either, I have not been tapped up since buying it. I headed for a coffee shop next, Martin and James recommended it, but it was shut, so was the one over the road, so I begrudgingly went and had a beer. HONEST!! I moved on to Temple Bar, surprisingly situated in Temple St. I sat downstairs people watching until I noticed that there is Apsara dancing upstairs, so up I went. There is a whole team of them here, 5 lads and 5 lasses. The better dancers just flow elegantly. I think I am in love with all the lasses, their costumes and makeup are beautiful. I think I will come back for a 2nd viewing here.
Time to head back, I am starting to flag. My ego has taken a big boost tonight, I have only been offered sex by women, well, I'm pretty sure. I went back the busy way and must have had 50 toot toot offers and about 20 massage ones before I hit the sack.

Friday, 4 April 2008

Going for temple saturation in Angkor.

26/3 - Had a lazy, but not late start. I even washed my sandals as they were starting to dance to the tune they were humming. I did a bit of reading and decided to go to Angkor Thom, a collection of temples including the Bayon. I thought I'd toddle along at last light, so went for an e-fix and a wander first. Madeline was just coming back from her early start as I left. She looked knackered and stressed, but said it was beautiful to see the sun rise at Angkor Wat and her pictures backed it up.

I had the e-fix and walked out to bump into Madeline, looking even more knackered and stressed, so we went for some lunch, then she went back for a power nap, her best decision of the day. I strolled around Central Market, Psar Chaa and as usual bought nowt.

I sorted myself a toot toot to drop me at the Bayon and pick me up around 18:30. He wanted $10 until I mentioned the mini tour only costs $12, so he dropped it to $8, which suited us both.

I was dropped at the east gate and shown the market stalls where we would meet later. From a distance the Bayon looks average, but once in side face to face with the 216 smiling Buddha faces, it is very impressive. This is definitely Indiana Jones territory. As the sun drops and changes the look of the faces, it becomes even more impressive. It is a great place to sit and could have sat for ages, but it started to fill up and being selfish I left, plus I was wilting a bit, so I guzzled some water and set off for another temple, 200yds away. I got there and it should have been restored by 2006, but is still shut, they must be working at my pace. It was worth a peek though. Although I am only 200 yds from the Bayon, I cannot see it through the thinned out trees. Before the jungle was cut back for restoration and tourism purposes, it could have gone unnoticed from about 20 yds. I read that very little of the entrance fee gets fed back to the upkeep and restoration of the sites. One of those corruption stories. It costs $40 for a 3 day pass and after 2 days, it seems good value to me. I was wilting even more after this temple, so headed back towards the market stalls via some of the palace ruins. This is one impressive place. The palace ruins lookout onto a parade area, now a big field with the waiting toot toot drivers having a kick about on it, but not mine. I went over to sit on a bench and watch the match, but the ref must have blown for time when I got there, they stopped.

Angkor Wat, the well acclaimed temple, has dropped another place in my temple top 10. Bayon is a great place once inside. THere is always one of the smiling faces looking at you. It is very relaxing and atmospheric. Same Same but different to Ta Prohm.

I am early, but after a couple of laps of the market stalls, there's still no toot toot, so I bought a pineapple from a very smiley lady and sat on a tree stump to devour it, they are lovely and juicy, very sweet, the pineapples too. This is hell of a place, Angkor Thom, the enclosure. There is said to have been 1 million people here in its height. That may be a bit of an exaggeration, but I wouldn't be surprised at 100's of thousands. This is some construction achievement for 11-1200's. There must have been lads and lasses as muscled as me to get these stones so high. 18:15 and still not toot toot, so I wandered over to the Bayon for a low light shot and he toot tooted in. We stopped for a photo on the way back at the gates. There are 54 gods and 54 demons lining the entrance. This was in some film too, Tomb Raider I think. Back to the hotel and I'm going nowhere tonight, the sun has sapped my strength and frazzled my enthusiasm to walk into town, besides there's no football on.
So it was showered and into the bar for some tasty Khmer curry. I am getting the hang of this Khmer food, it is either gingery or coconutty. Watch the Oxford Concise for the introduction of coconutty as Cambodian tourism explodes. I planned a bit of logging and a bit of readdy, but I got nattering, I'm turning into a woman. (More of that soon)

Thursday, 3 April 2008

And so to the Angkor temples, or a couple anyway.

25/3 - Breakfast after another night under the mozzy net. I don't know if it is needed, but I haven't been bitten yet, so it is staying. A young French lass, Madeline, introduced herself at breakfast. I think she is a bit unsure being on her own. I ended up sharing her toot toot to Angkor Wat, a huge temple, but let her get on her way after the 1st 20 minutes. She was on a temple tour and I was on a Gil speed stroll. It was a good move, she seemed happier after a bit of a natter and I am happier strolling. She is a canny lass and has a real sexy French accent. This temple, Angkor Wat, is highly acclaimed. According to the LP, people only come to Siem Reap to visit the surrounding temples, which makes me unique, I came because it was on the departures board and Air Asia fly here, also a visa is obtainable at the airport. I didn't know there are shed loads of temples here. Anyway, Angkor Wat is a bit of a let down after its build up. Possibly because of the size of it. The moat is about 100m across and the grounds are huge. Once into the central area which houses all sorts, baths, corridors, bas reliefs, the temple it is a bit special, especially when I sit for a break in the shade of the courtyard where the temple towers up I begin to feel the ancient place is a bit special, still not awesome though. I tried my hardest, but could not get awestruck. It is hell of a place, just a bit overstated.
The main towering temple is closed, which is a blessing in disguise, as a set of stairs complete with banister have been built to the top, so I would not have been able to resist. The original steps look very steep and dodgy, but I may have been tempted. The breather over, I moved out into the ground and came across a small temple, with monk housing next to it and a "Poor Childrens school". This is the second such school I've seen, perhaps they are run by the monks.
I moved on and eventually out, after several water stops. I am sweltering and leaking like a shower again. I wandered the local stalls outside the temple grounds and decided on some fried vegetable, egg and noodles. I thought I had better give the meat a miss, though the chicken and fish looked great on the spits. There were a couple of families in here too, noshing and quaffing back the tea, while they had a good old laugh. These seem a very happy people and it is great to sit around them. There is also the ubiquitous hammock slung behind the tables. It looks like it is for a kid, it's so small, but the stall holder climbs in and she is asleep in no time.
Time to move on. I asked the waitress how far it was to the next temple, Ta Prohm. "3 Km" she told me, so with this knowledge I went off to get a moto (motorcycle lift). $5 dollars was the asking price, it came down to $4, but I still thought that was a rip off, so moved on, only to find my knowledge was wrong. It was $4 and a lot farther than 3 Km.
Into Ta Prohm, again it is huge, with great tree roots doing their best to destroy or engulf the temple. This is more like it. This knocks spots off Ankgor Wat. It has a Tomb Raider tree and Angeline Jolie gets a few mentions, so I guess some of the film was shot here. I don't remember the tree, so must have been distracted by Miss Jolie, although I find that hard to believe. The temple and grounds have a great feel to them, if slightly spooky as the huge trees try to take back what was once there space. Ta Prohm has the feeling of an old holy place whilst being wild and soothing too. There is still more to explore here, but I am beginning to wilt, so make my way out and bumped into Madeline on her way in. I was going to hitch a ride, but she is going to watch the sunset at another temple and I'm ready for a beer and a shower. At the stalls I bought a pineapple and sat peoplewatching whilst I ate it. The sun is starting to dip and it's still hot, but a smashing time of day. There is no toot toot or moto free, they are all waiting for the people they dropped off. I asked a toot toot driver the score. He said it's $5 dollars back to town, but everyone is booked up. He disappeared and came back with a lady who can sort me out a moto. $6 dollars she said. "Hang on, it's only $5 by toot toot!!"
"Ah, but there are no toot toots" she replied with a knowing smile, then dropped it to $5.
Fair enough, it looks like a suppliers market and I enjoyed the ride on the back of a moto to town.
I had that beer then the shower and headed into town. If I'd laid on the bed, I'd have been asleep. I went into the Dead Fish restaurant for some fish with ginger. It was delicious. There was also free Apsara dancing every 20 minutes or so. The lady dancer moves very controlled and slow holding a gold vase. Her legs, feet, toes, arms, wrists, hands and fingers seem to be telling a story. It is very beautiful, as is the dancer , in fact she is a stunner. She came back next time with a lad for a couple of dances. She looked elegant and poised, completely smooth in her movements, he looked like he was in a rush before the second half of the match started. I guess the dancing is along the lines of the Geisha dancing. It was more beautiful than I thought it could be with no extravagant movement. IMPRESSED!!.
Back to the guest house for a beer and bed. Madeline was in and came over to repay some dollars I'd loaned her and for a natter. She does not strike me as a solo traveller. She like to have someone to talk to and discuss plans with. She has some great facial expressions that colour her chat. She is off to Angkor Wat to see the sunrise. There's no way I am getting up that early. She tried to team up with 2 lasses she is rooming with, but they couldn't come to an agreement.
I'm doing another Gil tour tomorrow, so time to hit the sack.

An easy day in Siem Reap.

24/3 - I decided on an easy day today and it was going well until I bought a pineapple from a lady with a street barrow and sat on a step to eat it. Then I noticed bikes for hire in the shop next door. The seat could have done with being a bit higher, but the lad said it wouldn't, but it has gears, a bonus. I'm on and I'm off, not literally, off down the road. What a good move this is, I love being on a bike, the rest of the traffic aren't so chuffed about it. You need four sets of eyes for this. The right side of the road seems to be the side you start from until you can be bothered to move to the correct side. This means there are 4 directions of travel, but there is some logic, if you are on the wrong side of the road, then you stay near the kerb and then drift over the road as the traffic thins. It didn't take me long to get used to it, as I started from the wrong side. I set off following my nose and before I knew it I was out of town, cycling beside the river, how cool is this?
At first sight, some of the local houses don't look so clever, but on closer inspection some are not bad and some rough, but most interesting. A lot are on stilts, sometimes housing a workshop, or shops below and living quarters usually up a height. Most have hammocks strung up below too. They are the number 1 piece of furniture in Cambodia. I passed one house that wasn't a patch on my Dad's pigeon loft, but inside there were a couple kids having a laugh, a TV on the go and a young lad on his mobile, so that is Cambodia I guess, appearances can be deceptive. The front of the house was completely open, to let the breeze in I suspect, this is one hot country. I was told it gets to 45C next month and in May.
There are plenty of bridges along the river and over these is where one residential area is. The bridges are on the other side of the road, so I swivel my head through 360 degrees, close my eyes and head over, when I open them I am on the bridge. PHEW!! Our Val has probably just wet herself in panic. I'm 54 and still alive, at the time of writing, so I must be doing something right.
The river is a bit murky, in fact a lot murky, but I saw a lady swimming in it with her toddler earlier and there's a bloke stood in it fishing with a net, so there must be something alive in it. It is mostly the colour of the earth that has it murky. Some of the housing is not what you may desire as your riverside retreat, but just across the road, or dirt track, there are some big places with sliding gates, very posh. How the other half live is within easy sight of both parties. I continued along the dirt track and a lad about 16, comes chogging out from the stilts of a house. He wanted to practice his English. I should have remembered this from India. I believe he did want to practice his English. He wants to be a tour guide. His Dad is a farmer. San, his name, told me about a temple not far down the track, but I declined his offer of him showing me around and set off again. I came across some silver and gold bananas hanging outside an orange gazebo, so I pulled over to look. As I stood peeking in, my toes on my right foot felt like they were on fire. I looked down to see some red ants not happy at my presence. It didn't burn for long and this was not the temple, but it looked like some monk school. Dirt tracking again, I came across an old pagoda, which I guessed was the real temple. I stopped on the bridge across from it and watched a bloke fishing when 4 lads stopped at the otherside of the bridge and just looked at me. 1 was driving a motorbike towing a great big frame, 2 were pushing, the 3rd must have been the council supervisor. Anyway, I twigged they couldn't get across the bridge with me standing on it, so I backed off and they started laughing and smiling. I took their photo as they came over and the laughing got louder and they disappeared into the temple grounds. I turned around to set off again and there sat San, on his Dad's Honda 90. He offered to take me into the pagoda, so off we went. There is a new pagoda being built next to the old one and San gave me some insight into the drawing and statues. A nipper joined us who loved posing for his photo to be taken. It was worth the visit. San then told me of another temple and ruins further down the road, so we set off, the 16 year old on the motorbike and the 54 year old pedaling. ??????? It wasn't far. San knew quite a few people along the way. One lass he knows on a bike in pyjamas, it is normal day wear in Cambodia, had a thing for San, but he never took her on. I wish a lass in pyjamas would take a shine to me. We passed a new pagoda to the ruined temple. San switched off and I fell off, not really and we went in. There was a bride and groom coming out in very posh traditional dress. They had been in here for the photo shoot. She wasnt keen on me taking a photo, but San convinced them. I watched as they left and the bride picked her gown up out of the dirt, she had rolled up jeans on underneath. We continued in and had a gander, then back out to the bikes. A friend of San's was there and was determined to show us the pagoda. He was a attendant for the monks. I could tell by his chat there was a hit coming on. It was good to see the temple. San's mate was laying on the sob story a bit thick. I didn't bite, but I didn't have to, he asked for some money, "$10 dollars would pay my tuition fees for 1 month." He was being fed and housed by the monks and taught, so I split $9 between him and San. I'm a soft touch at times. Just when I was starting to believe in human nature again. It only costs $12 for a toot toot all day. I mentioned to San his friend was cheeky asking for money, he could tell I was a bit miffed, so when we hit the main road he legged it, only to come back and stay with me to his bridge crossing. Having slagged these lads off, it is not the norm to be touted in Siem Reap. This blog is like the news, it highlights the bad bits. Both lads wanted to be tour guides, it seems the profession to have here, but I think they may have it wrong, the toot toot drivers are the rip off merchants.
This mornings toot toot driver was slagging off the army and police, saying how corrupt they are and only they can afford posh apartments and Lexus 4x4's, which do seem common around town. Some of the business stories I've heard do point to corruption being rife.
Back on the bike, I didn't want to head home too early, so I stopped for a well deserved beer. I thought I had better have some food with my next one, I didn't want to be biking half cut, in the dark, no light, people on the wrong side of the road and me wearing a black T-shirt, that sounds like a short cut to the hospital. I went to the Red Piano, but never saw it and had some Khmer pork with ginger and sauce, very nice too. I took my bike back and headed back for a beer before bed.

Sunday, 30 March 2008

Hanoi or not !?

23/3 - I had about 3 hours to wait before the Hanoi flight, so I grabbed a coffee and a delicious piece of cheesecake and caught up with my log. Moved on to check-in after trying to get some Vietnamese dong, but the exchange don't do dong. Got to the checkin and didn't. A visa is needed before I can go. How can someone be so stupid???
"Easily". I say. I thought I had checked, but I guess not. It takes a few days to process one, so I went over to the departures board, sat on my rucksack and sulked. Not for long though, I spotted a 7.00 flight to Siem Reap, Cambodia, so I sidled over to the bookstall and checked the S.E. Asia LP. Visas obtainable at the airport, $20. Sounds good to me. I didn't rush it though, mainly because I don't have a rush in me and the ticket office is not open. I went back to my rucksack and pondered a while. The only other option is Bangkok and I do have to change the date of my flight to Aus and there is a Qantas office in Bangkok, but I don't really fancy Bangkok, so I queued up and got a ticket to Siem Reap. $60, pretty good, cheaper than London on the train. I'm happy and quite excited. I checked in and paid another quick visit to the bookstall to get the name and address of the first Guesthouse in the Siem Riep section. Sounds a bit too much like planning, but I'll pretend it isn't and hope it works out. Onto the plane and shock horror, I slept most of the way. I did surface for a quick butty, then back to sleep.
Into Siem Reap airport and it is very posh, not like an airport, very colloquial, whatever that means. There are statues in the immigration area and the building is typically non-airport, Cambodian at a guess. It is well organised too, the visa desk is obvious and the forms are all out ready, everyone is very polite and smiley. Immigration takes about 1 hour all the way through, even after the officers were doubled, but they have last years World Series baseball on 2 large flat screen TV's, so that kept me occupied. There are more Buddha and elephant statues and everything looks wooden, it is a really nice airport. As usual, I am close to last out, my rucksack is a bit lonely on the carousel, but it is there. I thought I had better get some Cambodian riel to pay my way, but all 3 ATMs only give dollars. I have since found out the currency is dual, dollars and riel, especially in towns. I thought that would mean everything would cost at least $1, but fractions are paid in riel, $1 worth 4000 riel, I think that is a round up or down, local thing.
There is a prepaid taxi stand too, which is always welcome to us non-barterers. I told the taxi driver the name I had plucked out of the LP and then he proceeded to do his best to get me to go to somewhere of his choice. A couple of lines were "It's hot, you'll need a pool" and " The Ivy guesthouse is usually full". I stuck to my guns and we rolled up at the Ivy Guesthouse. I must confess when the cabby said "Ivy 1 or Ivy 2?". I thought there was a scam on its way, but I gave him the address and he took me there. Funnily enough, the rooms here are all Aircon at $20 and I asked for a fan, so the lady said I would have to go to their sister Guesthouse. You guessed it Ivy 2. The taxi from the airport was $5 and I stuck $1 in my back pocket as a tip, when I got out of the taxi the money was sticking out of my pocket, some of the local lads spotted it and told the cabby, who told me to push my money into my pocket. This gave me a nice feeling. The transfer to Ivy 2 was free by toot toot. The lady there showed me the room, $6. That'll do me. Luxury. I thought it had no shower, but I found it tucked away behind the door.
So far everyone has been very smiley and not pushy, even the taxi driver when he tried to get me to go elsewhere and I got a smile out of the deadpan immigration bloke, but I think it was when he looked at my passport photo. I think the change from Hanoi may have been a stroke of luck. I can work my way gently back into the backpacker life from the diver life. I think there will be less hassle here. I also think my life should be that of a backpacking diver, it suits me, apart from the leg thing. If only I'd known earlier. Don't wait people, when the kids are independant, find that niche and go for it.
I settled into my room and in that time I have been mozzied more times than since I left home. These mozzies are 24/7 and they are stealth mozzies too, they can't be seen or heard. They have a cloaking device not even the Klingons can master. I was begining to curse the Health centre nurse for advising me to bring a mozzy net, that I have carried for 2 months and not used. Now I am pleased I have it. Had a quick bite in the guesthouse bar. It is pretty cool too. Took a wander and picked up a bottle of water off the market and picked up my first riel in change. Both currencies are just mixed and matched as available. I saw a swap, buy, sell bookshop near Ivy 1, so I set off in that direction and picked up a LP for Cambodia, $4. 12 quid in the UK. How does that work? Not complaining, just wondering. I was starting to flag and melt after the early start, so went for an efix. They are usually cool places. After a while, my eyes started to close as I typed, so I guessed it was time for a nap. I even took a toot toot back.
I had a good kip and woke up to some heavy beats and a gobby kid on the pool table. Perhaps I should have paid the extra dollar to go upstairs, but I didn't fancy the stairs. I finally hauled myself out of my room and had a coke fix, the sugar boost kind, not the powder kind and hit the streets. I got offered plenty of massages, all above board I think. Lots of toot toot and moto lifts. Motos are a motorbike lift, possibly not a good idea for me. I got offered weed, sex and finally someone asked what I was looking for.
"A bar with the football on." You may not believe this, but I found it down Bar Street. I should have guessed. I worked my way through the crowd of ladyboys outside. How did I know they were??? Come on I'm an expert now. I opted for a green curry while watching the football. It didn't have the kick of the Thai version, but was nice. The ladyboys had not given up on me, but they slowly died off. I had a few offers from ladies too, so perhaps Cambodia is becoming the new Thailand. I had a few beers watching the football, could only manage the 1st half of the 2nd match then headed for bed. I got plenty more offers on the way back. I even got offered a gun. Well, he said "You want boom boom boss". What else could it have been?? A land mine I suppose.
I read a couple of pages and was out like a light.

Diving's done for now. Back to KL.

22/3 - Alas no diving today, but up sharp and down for breakfast. Chuan is down too, then Richard, the usual suspects. Did a repack and ready to go, but there are still 4 hours to go, so did a bit of reading, a bit of chatting, a bit of dossing and it's time to go. Sad, but what lies ahead??? The first hiccup, only one bag turns up at Semporna on our boat, but the other arrives on the next boat with the Singapore group, a lucky break. A nod on the bus and we're at the airport. The flight is announced along with its 4 hour delay, not such a lucky break, although in the spare time I learned to play Chinese poker, not very well, but I learned. The delay is not too bad for me, as I am going to hang around in the airport until my Hanoi flight at 6.30, so at least I have some company for longer than expected. We will arrive about 1.00 a.m. so it's not so clever for the rest. We got on eventually, after a lot of the group have been off buying T-shirts. Everyone is looking tired now. I slept most of the way. I don't know if the others did, but I suspect so, especially as they seem to be sleepwalking off the plane. I managed to catch everyone except David at the exit. I am not good with goodbyes, but glad I caught them. I have had a great time and they are a really friendly bunch. Now I have even more friends in Malaysia.
And that was the Sipadan chapter. Don't blink, or you will miss the Hanoi chapter.