Saturday, November 7, 2009

Mr Handsome and Mrs Beautiful

The Temples of Angkor are amazing, it truly is an exhilarating place. I guess some people don’t really get into it as we noticed many times that people were just walking along snapping off photos and (like the Sai Yok Noi waterfall) most of them never actually stopped to look at what they were taking pictures of. Prue and I on the other hand have spend the last three days clambering up steep staircases, ducking and weaving through dark hallways and jumping over giant square stones like Lara Croft and most of the time humming the theme to Indiana Jones.

We organised a Tuk-Tuk driver to take us for the day, and Mr Thea would happily drive us from place to place and then wait (sometimes for hours) in the back of his Tuk-Tuk until we came back ready to explore the next place. Arriving at a new temple always meant that there was a group of street peddlers waiting to pounce on you as soon as you got off the Tuk-Tuk (and usually before you got off) with calls of “hello sir you wanna a cold drink, only one dollar” or “maybe you think about it, you come see me when you get back”. Most of the peddlers are quite young and they speak in a sad voice and give you puppy dog eyes to play on your emotions, quite often they follow you all the way to the temple gates, but they were always polite and although it did get a bit bothersome at times it was also a bit of fun walking along saying “no thanks, no thank you” or “Te Oh Kun” which is the Khmer for the same thing.

The Khmer people as a whole (especially the younger generation) are very good at speaking English, much better than the Thai people we met. It is easy to have a basic conversation with most of the people you meet, the younger peddlers are always quite happy to ask you questions about where you are from, and like the Bangkok reply “Sydney -Kangaroo” here in Cambodia we get “Australia, capital Canberra” or “G’day Mate”.

Siem Reap is one of the first places that we have felt comfortable, possibly a combination of the lovely hotel we stayed in, the warm friendliness of the Khmer people, and the westernised/bastardised strip of town brought about by the tourist hordes. The markets we full of local clothing, crafts and souvenirs and it became a little depressing thinking about all of the magnificent things we could buy if it weren't for the fact we’d have to lug it around in our backpacks for the next few months. We originally booked to stay three nights in Siem Reap but after our first day we decided to extend one more night, Unfortunately our hotel was booked out but they were nice enough to take us around the corner to an equally priced but not quite as nice hotel for our last night before catching the bus to Phnom Pehn.

The bus to Phnom Phen was a bumpy ride, saying that the roads in Cambodia are shit is somewhat of an understatement. Reading a book was a bit of a challenge as you’d constantly we bobbing your head up and down just to keep your place on the page. We stopped for a refreshment break about 75kms from Phom Pehn and met the coolest peddlers so far of our trip. The place we stopped had a toilet and a restaurant and was full of stalls selling all kinds of nasties like giant crickets and tarantulas. But it was again the kids that mobbed us that were the most interesting. They all carried a bag of fruit to sell to you and even though we didn't want any fruit it was so hard to say no, as they played up the poor street urchin so well.

While I was standing around I had a great conversation with two of the girls, who asked me a thousand questions in almost perfect English (although with a slight American accent). And then one of them pulled a live tarantula out of her pocket… Yikes! Most of the kids carried around pet tarantulas, we assumed it was to attract the tourists, but it was nice to know that one of the girls named her tarantula “Happy”, thus probably sparing this spider from ending up like its brothers and sisters in the frying pan. At least for now.

Phnom Pehn is another big bustling city, although unlike Bangkok there are no large skyscrapers and we haven’t seen any modern central business district. To be honest, from what we've seen it is an entire city of slums, with the exception of a few nice bits, surrounded on each side by not so nice bits. We are staying in the riverfront precinct, which is something of a western hub. Full of bars, clubs and restaurants all with very western names to appeal to tourists and ex-pats, Our hotel is nice, after walking down the street from the bus station and looking at a lot of shoddy hotels, we finally found one that was nice for only $30 p/n, apparently it has only been open for ten days so everything is new and modern.

After visiting the National gallery (very amazing) we went to the FCC (Foreign Correspondents Club) for dinner. At the FCC we had our most expensive meal so far, around $30, was also the best (western) meal we have had so far, and it would have been quite easy to spend more money there. The FCC was the local hangout for journalists during the time of war, and the place was full of well to do looking westerners… And us.

After returning to our hotel last night Prue decided to jump on the internet downstairs (no free wireless at our hotel) so I walked across the road to have a drink at one of the bars. As soon as I walked in the door of the bar I realised instantly three things were our of place. Firstly; I was the only customer. Secondly; all of the people in the bar were young attractive women (with the exception of possibly two or three lady boys). Third; all of the women were smiling at me and saying hello...

I’d stumbled into a hostess bar, the situation became very weird and awkward as I quickly drank my beer while four or five girls sat around me staring at me and making polite conversation, while another ten or twenty watched from nearby tables, I felt like the last sausage on the barbeque. I guess it would have been fun had the place had a lot more customers, but as the girl explained to me it was seven thirty and the place would not get busy till ten or eleven o’clock. I wasn’t waiting around I went back to the hotel and we both had an early night, drifting off to sleep listening to hustle and bustle of Phnom Pehn, and waking in the morning to find it is still there…

Photos from the last few days can be seen HERE.