Friday, June 4, 2010
Oxens and Tuk Tuks and Monks? Oh My!
The night air was heavy, diesel scented and most welcome after being inside for almost 24 hours. Our close connection went seamlessly in Seoul and the five hour flight was easy except I was sick of being on airplanes and ready to Be There. Siem Reap’s airport is tiny but extremely efficient or at least seems so since this is the shoulder season and there were four Westerners on the plane. The other passengers were locals returning home and relief workers from Korea traveling to do an annual assignment at the orphanage just outside of town. It was extremely dark, no moon or stars and we tripped our way down the stairs onto the tarmac where the locals all just sort of mingled and stopped for a smoke (!) and a chat before going inside to clear customs, no one was terribly pressed to go inside so their was an air of a cocktail party dwindling down as the last guests are leaving. It was all so terribly relaxed, no one was barking at us to stay in single file and forget about taking a bathroom break because in the Land of the Free and the Brave once you return to home soil you are guilty until proven innocent. Not here, I could have wandered off to the side and bushwhacked my way to the highway. I fought this urge and stood in line to have my visa verified and my passport stamped. There weren’t any heavily armed members of the military (a la Los Angeles) and the scanner missed my 3 oz tube of red chili paste which was not in a plastic bag but rather randomly and accidentally tucked in a crevice of my backpack which resembled a clown car with it’s three days worth of clothing and toiletries. It was nice to be innocent before proven guilty.
Our driver--Kriss--was waiting outside for us and while we had a hard time finding him, he didn’t miss us: how could he? We were the only Western women on the plane. I liked him immediately and has a dry sense of humor which we caught a glimpse of as he told the story of his only trip in an airplane: an old Russian prop jet with faulty landing gear flown from here to the mountains in the NW. And again as we wound our way through a dark jungle on rutted roads to the hotel when he asked: “Where did you hear about this place?” I know we are going to be in good hands because he made sure we would be safe before leaving, checking the hotel and the men in the reception area before leaving and as we were winding around on the dirt roads in the dark he told us it wouldn’t be safe to walk after dark. (OMG, do you think? More likely you run into an oxen than a bad guy but still…DARK…Jungle…)
The hotel is exactly how it was presented on the website. The only things they left out were the lucky geckos and standoffish owner. Laurent. French. Even I can do the math on this one. Our breakfast is included and one thing I’ve learned is sometimes this isn’t a big thing. Our breakfast is a big thing. I had the most wonderful croissants: bite sized morsels of buttery goodness dipped in a delightful honey that tasted like flowers.
The Girl didn’t sleep well last night, I slept like the dead and awakened at my usual time. She is a good sport and a hearty soul so she got up with me and after breakfast we wandered around the hotel grounds and down the road. I met the oxen who lived down the road. One smaller oxen was very curious about me and started creeping towards me. I was very surprised to say the least. She was already a few feet behind the others and fell even further behind, thinking it would be a good idea to meet the tourist. I pulled the camera up to my face to snap a picture and with that she stopped in her tracks, long enough to take note her companions were getting further away so she took off running. Like a small child who has been dawdling behind the others and races to catch up before anyone notices she is missing. After the herd went through, a Buddhist monk walked by carrying a bronze vessel. I didn’t take a picture of him because it felt disrespectful and besides that he glared at me. I’m not sure if Buddha would have glared at me but this guy did. I’m thinking not all of the young men who are committed by their families to join a monastery for a couple of years are terribly thrilled with the idea.
It’s terribly hot but we knew this would be the case when we booked the trip last December. But really, it’s not any more hot than SE Texas in August. And we have air conditioning. But seriously? I have sweat like I sweat this morning in many years. Every inch of my body was glowing. One of the shop girls had on a pair of black jeans and a long sleeved cotton turtle neck. I was melting just looking at her. The people in the market and on the streets will speak to you and ask you to look at their things or if you need a ride but it isn’t anything as annoying as the young men in Mexico or Turkey who promise you the sun, moon and stars while exclaiming I am the most beautiful woman they have seen all day! Yeah, whatever buddy.
I even bargained a little. I hate bargaining. It makes me feel like a miserly sort who doesn’t want to pay her fair share. But the bargaining is expected so I played along and ended up getting most of the gifts I wanted to take back with me plus a couple of things for myself.
After shopping we took ourselves to a spa I had read about for a “detoxifying facial”. It was a great way to spend an hour but the treatment was so much more than a facial. At one point, the technician, with her super human hands, had me sit up on the edge of the table and stood--on the table--behind me, her knees on either side of my spine as she pulled by shoulders back. It sounds brutal but it felt amazing.
The highlight of the day was our Eight Dollar tour of Siem Reap from Mr. Sony’s tuk-tuk. He took us all over the place, past the New Market where the locals buy their food and provisions, near the very posh hotels and country club and along the river where the people live in shacks suspended over the dreadfully polluted water, At times it felt like Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride but it was at a slow speed and the tuk tuk drivers, kids on motor bikes and trucks all seemed able to read one another’s minds and we didn’t see a single near miss.
Tomorrow is our first day exploring the temple complex.
The Girl is going to eat bugs.
I’m going to let flesh eating fish nibble at the dead skin on my feet.
Good times. Good times.