walking into Cambodia
Well I didnâ€™t expect to be here twice in six months, let alone at the same hotel! Our travels started yesterday morning when we woke up at 5am to find a raging thunderstorm hanging over Ko Chang. After several very wet dinghy rides into shore we got into two open air taxis, and 45 very wet minutes later we arrived at the ferry dock. By this time the garbage bags around our luggage had ripped or been lost, so all our belongings were pretty much soaked. We literally ran to the ferry and headed to the top deck, which thankfully was covered. Except for the open windows and puddles of water on the floor that moved with the rolling of the ship, it was a nice dry space and we set out our makeshift breakfast of PB+J and granola bars. Luckily it wasnâ€™t raining when we reached the mainland, and we stuffed our mostly dry bodies into two minibuses for the ride to the border.
have a few styrofoam boxes (this is the back of a large truck)
The original plan was to ride in these vans for 2 Â˝ hours to the border, where we would cross and then get on a bus for the five hour ride to Siem Reap
But at some point the decision was made to continue to a border crossing further away in order to maximize the driving time on the nice Thai roads and minimize the time on the Cambodian bus.
So several hours later we pulled into a fairly large town and stopped at a local camera shop, as the Cambodian visa applications all require passport photos. A
ll twenty of us are lead into the back of the shop, over the dog grate that has been placed on the stairs, and arrive upstairs to what would pass as their photo studio.
It was a bit ridiculous, a small room covered wall to wall with the kind of decorations that you see in cheesy family photos.
One wall had a big teddy bear, then their was a guitar and drum set, and then some really tacky flowered curtainsâ€¦ we all lined up in a small room that just had a blue screen and a camera, and each sat for what I can only describe as a school photo.
We waited on the curb outside for the pictures, and later in the van much hilarity ensued when the pictures were passed around.
Next we stopped at a small restaurant, where we filled out visa paperwork and ate lunch while it was being processed.
Then we drove to the border and got out with all our bags for the walk across.
After making it through the Thai exit immigrations we were herded onto a small shuttle that took us to the Cambodian version, where we stood in more lines with our passports.
bumpy, but interesting roads
When we were finally through it took us about three hours to cross, but for twenty people it went relatively smoothly.
Then a bus took us for a five minute ride to the bus station, where we boarded the bus that would take us the four hours all the way to Angkor Wat.
And what a bus ride that wasâ€¦ the roads in Cambodia are mainly dirt, and at itâ€™s best I can describe the bus ride as bumpy, and at itâ€™s worse something like bone- jarring.
If you encountered these conditions at home you would a) drive about five miles and hour to avoid damage to your vehicle and itâ€™s passengers, or b) you would be offroading.
But not only was our bus driving full speed down these roads, we were passing other busses and cars- horn blaring, swerving around traffic, and at points literally uprooting you from your seat.
sign by the road
Did I mention the horn sounds inside the bus, as well as outside?
But the ride gave us a fascinating glimpse into Cambodian life that not a lot of tourists get to see (I flew straight into the Siem Reap airport when I was here last).
The Cambodian countryside was absolutely gorgeous- endless fields of green grass and water that I can only describe as marsh, punctuated by a group of trees here and there or a lone tree as the only thing breaking up the landscape.
The road we were on was barely two lanes, and had water on both sides before the fields started.
Every now and then we would pass through a village and it was fascinating to see all the different people in various life stages- naked babies on their motherâ€™s laps, babies on motorcycles with their dads, school children in the schoolyard, small kids on the biggest bikes Iâ€™ve seen in my life, people bathing in the river and working in the fieldsâ€¦ it was an amazing ride.
walking to the gate at AW
And not to sound like a terrible clichĂ©d tourist, but all the kids we saw just seemed to be soâ€¦ happy.
Their lives at that point probably donâ€™t extend to much more than playing in the yard with the animals or the other kids.
They would wave to the bus as we passed by, and when weâ€™d wave back their faces would light up like Iâ€™ve never seen before.
I spent the whole ride taking (very blury) pictures out the window of the bus.
You could tell things about the villages by the houses- the poorest ones were wooden huts on the ground, followed by wooden houses on stilts, and then maybe a brick house on stilts.
As it got darker we saw a few lights on here and there but also a fair amount of fires in the front yard.
Bayon, my favorite
When we finally pulled into Siem Reap just after seven, it had been quite a long day and the familiar site of such a nice hotel was really nice to see.
I loved this hotel when I was here before, and found my note in their guestbook when I arrived.
After sorting out rooms (I was even in the same room as before!) we had a quick dinner in the dining room, and then most of us figured weâ€™d have a nice relaxing dip in the pool before bed.
Only when we got down there we were greeted by the most unusual sight- about 50 other American college students already hanging out in the pool.
It turns out they were a group from the Semester at Sea program (the one on the cruise ship) and were only here for the night.
So it turned into a bit of mayhem in the pool but it was interesting to talk to them and compare notes on two programs that sound so similar but actually couldnâ€™t be any more different.
one of the students getting his fortune told after me
It was pretty late by the time I had a shower and went to bed, but boy was that bed nice!
I was looking forward to breakfast and was a little disappointed to see all of the Semester at Sea kids already there when we arrived, but I got my eggs and got over it and we had a nice meal.
At 8:30 we met our guide and bus and were off to see the ruins, first stop a big gate and then Bayon (my favorite, the one with all the heads).
It was nice to have already taken millions of pictures, so mostly I just walked around and enjoyed the scenery (and took a few more pictures anyway).
I stumbled upon a monk who was advertising fortune telling, and figured what the heckâ€¦ so I sat down and had my palm read in the temple.
It involved lots of good luck and prosperity and richness, etc.
the funny nun
etc., but it was pretty funny and a good story.
When I was done a group had gathered around to watch and wanted their fortunes too, so Iâ€™m sure everybody heard lots of good news about the upcoming years.
It was a good time.
The only other thing I wanted to do that I hadnâ€™t before was light some incense in a temple, so when a nun thrust some into my hand (and feigned a heart attack gesture when I tried to refuse the first time) I couldnâ€™t resist.
The nun turned out to be hilarious, and was chattering away and grabbed my sunglasses and put them on.
This prompted lots of giggling (on her part), and lots of photo taking (on mine).
It was really funny.
Next we went to an area that I hadnâ€™t seen before, which was really cool.
the nun in my sunglasses
It was a whole corridor of bas relief sculptures, and I took another million pictures of each face before I tore myself away.
Next we stopped for lunch at a restaurant just outside town, and then it was back to the ruins.
We spent a little while at Ta Prohm
(the Toombraider one) before splitting up to go to the market or back to the hotel.
I choose the hotel, so I could write this blog and get ready to help Chantale teach the sailing class tonight.
Wellâ€¦ this is actually the second time I have written all of this, as at the end of my typing I accidentally pressed the wrong key and erased everything that I had spent the previous hour writingâ€¦ I almost cried.
I loooooooooved these sculptures, I resisted putting up like 30 more shots
What I just wrote totally sucks, and I am still a little bitter.
But I knew I wouldnâ€™t be able to let it go until I did it again.
So here I am, just after dinner, trying to get this out so I can go swimming and then to bed.
Tomorrow weâ€™re going to go to the main temple for sunrise, assuming it doesnâ€™t rain.
I wonâ€™t be able to post pictures until weâ€™re back on the boat again in about four days, but Iâ€™ll try to write more while Iâ€™m here and itâ€™s fresh in my mind.
And Iâ€™ll make sure to save it before I press anything. Hope everyone is doing well!