Sunday, March 31, 2013

Four hours of fun, food and banging

Easter 2013 - March 31

My last full day in Cambodia. I'm leavin' on a jet plane tomorrow at 12:50 enroute to BKK. The plane is 8 or nine times more expensive than the bus, but it is also four or five times faster and after the last experience with that border crossing, cheap at twice the price (not quite, but almost)

I did go out to the circus last night. In Battambang there is a circus school where orphans and other disadvantaged children attend. They have become well known in the world and now have nightly performances here in Siem Reap. There are no lions, tigers or bears. No elephants or horses, just a bunch of pretty talented kids. Acrobats, contortionists, jugglers, slack wire walkers. It was like a micro Cirque Du Soleil. For fifteen buck you got an hour of some very fine performances with the occasional dropped juggling pin or missed landing. But they kept doing it until they got it right. Remembering tht these are students after all. Some of the graduates have indeed moved on to Cirque Du Soleil in Montreal. Fun performance under the stars on a warm summer's eve, life is pretty good.

After the show I got some ice cream and headed back to the hotel. Watched some t.v. and lights out about 10:30 and awake at 4:30 finally giving up a little after five. Over breakfast I was looking through Lonely Planet for ideas on sights around town. Maybe some Buddhist temples and just cruise town in a Tuk-tuk for the morning. Then under classes - Khmer Cooking class 10 a.m. $13 (and you ate what you cooked). So a couple hours of class, lunch all for less the the circus - I'm In ! I got there around nine secured a spot in the class and went a wandering Pub Street for a bit before class, before most shops opened and certainly before most of the tourists were taking their first aspirin of the day from last night's visit to the Babylon of Siem Reap. I took a coule pictures, found a little shop that I want to stop back in after class and sweated a little.

Class met and there were more than I expected. We broke up into two groups of seven. Where the other seven went I have no idea, I never saw (or at least recognized) them again. One of the couples in the group had come from Battambang a day or so ago. The had decided to take the high speed boat up the Tonsal River to Siem Reap. I'd read and thought about it, but the book said 6 hours in the wet and 9 hours in the dry. The bus sounded the better of the two to me. Less romantic, more realistic. They said that it had taken the twelve hours. I am so glad I didn't sign up for that one. First since the water was low they were transported by truck over bumpy dirt roads to the place where the boat could reach. Then once on the boat it kept getting stuck and their time kept getting longer. Finally the boat's engine just gave up and stopped. Dead in the water (no pun intended) the sat there. She said that there was no chance of drowning because the lake was so shallow you could actually walk to shore. The locals who were on the boat, called over some of the fishermen and hitched a ride to dry land and points north. She said it was well after dark before they had the official picker upper boats come to their rescue and finally at their hotel in Siem Reap at nine p.m. (did I write a version of this earlier?).

Then there was the young British couple. They both worked for British Air. He on the ground, she in the air walking all the way as a flight attendant. That's all I got to know about them.

The final couple is French. His English pretty good, her's not so good. He could listen and understand better that he could speak. He said that his job had just finished and the the company had flown her out ot be with him for a couple weeks post work vacation. I asked him what he did he said he was a cameraman. I gave him my biggest smile possible. At least it got a laugh from him. He is/was a cameraman for French Survivor. This season's first episode opened with the usual jump off the boat into the water, down near where I was on the Gulf of Thailand. There was a very big man on the boat with his girlfriend. It was a Romeo and Juliette romance. He was white and she was black. Both parents said that they could not accept their child's life partners choice and the two kids told the respective parents to take a flying leap at a rolling doughnut and went ahead with the consequences. During the first challenge the young man (25) had a heart attack and died. Laurence said he had been filming the man when he collapsed. He asked if he was o.k. and the kid assured him he was. The director told Laurance to let the medics attend to him without the camera filming. Needless to say Laurance was still a little shaken up by the whole thing. Everyone at the table (except me) knew about the death. (Hey it wasn't on Facebook, o.k. ?). There were a few gently probing questions about the events I could see he was uncomfortable and I backed out of the conversation. He said the there had been deaths at other Survivor shows (India and Pakistan I think) but this one went viral. After the young man's death they canceled the season and sent everyone home or on a few week vacation. One day of shooting was all that they did.

Back to cooking class. We each picked an appetizer from the restaurant's menu and a main. No one had the same combination and very few duplicate dishes. I went for two things I knew I'd liked their Pumpkin soup and the Fish Amok. We seven giants following the minute Snow White went Hi-Ho'ing off to the market in search of vittles. We didn't actually buy anything, but she did point out to each of us the raw ingredients of each of our dishes. when we returned we were given plates covered in Saran Wrap that had all the vegetables we would need on them along with a peeler and cutting board and knife similarly wrapped. We were then told how to chop, mince and slice each of our vegetables and she made Gordon Ramsey look like a pussy cat. You were going to do it right of not at all. At least she didn't make me sit on a Jackfruit. After things were minced to her satisfaction we who were having Amok (2 fish 1 shrimp) put our vegetables into a large wooden mortar and were handed a large wooden pestle with the instructions "You make Bang-Bang". We pounded and pounded only to hear "More Bang Bang !" and pounded until all those onion garlic, turmeric, lemon grass and ginger had been pounded into a very thick paste. I have a machine that could so something similar in 30 seconds. If I lived in Cambodia, the family would only get this dish on Christmas ! The Pumpkin soup was relatively easy just chop up the vegies and simmer for 10 to 20 minutes. She then showed us how to carve carrot and tomato flowers and birds. I didn't do that, I still have a cough from the sniffles of a few days ago and didn't want to share that joy.

Then back into the kitchen. Have I mentioned it is hot here in Cambodia ? Add four wok burners open full and three students and one instructor in a room the size of my bathroom at home - well you see where I'm going with this. Vegetables, mushed spices carefully Bang-Banged a handful of fish and a couple ladles of coconut milk cook until thickened and the fish cooked. Add some water if necessary. Pour into banana leaf bowl and Amok ! Pumpkin soup went into the blender and then back on the stove with coconut milk and simmered until creamy.

My Amok rivaled anything I'd eaten this trip. Maybe the Bang-banging improved the flavor. It was really good. The pumpkin soup was good but missing something, maybe a little more garlic or ginger. A tweak here or there and it could be a great winter dish. Now Laurence's tomato soup was killer. It sounded so mundane on the menu, but the flavors really came through.

We had all entered our email addresses into her iPad and by the meal she said we could expect all the recipes to be in out inboxes. The boat person checked her email and there they were, along with pictures of us. I just checked they are in mine !! Way cool.

All in all a great final day. A fun four hours, interesting people and great grub not a bad way to wrap up a trip.

Milk and bombs

Saturday March 30th 2013 - 3 p.m.

After a power nap yesterday and a shower I changed clothes and headed out of the hotel to went my way through the night market and Pub street. My clothes were to sweat stained to wear in public there were sweat stains on my sweat stains.

I wanted to pick up a couple small trinkets for a few friends but they had to be small because as usual I felt the need when at home to pack everything in the house - just in case. I recently reviewed what I haven't used so far and I honestly could have saved 10 pounds of unnecessary

The Tuk-tuk driver got me to the most garish place east of Las Vegas. Lights blinked and huge neon signs over the roadway directed me to one side of the street where the night market  was situated. The other neon sign pointed the other direction reading "Pub Street". There were more tourists packed here than Angkor Wat on Christmas vacation. The Tuk-tuks were parked wheel hub to wheel hub and as soon as I alight from my Tuk-tuk I was instantly offered two or three more chorus of "Tuk-tuk Madame ?".  I stepped into the crowd and entered the night market. It wasn't exactly as I had pictured it. I was expecting some fruit and vegetable stands, maybe some meat stands and perhaps a stinky fish stand - with - the occasional tourist geegaw stand interspersed into the mix. There was nothing 'Cambodian' about the market except for the word "Cambodia" on the occasional T-shirt. Silk scarfs, cotton scarfs, sarongs, T-shirts, baskets of spices, carved Buddhas and on and on. Either the same owner owned all the shops or they all bought from the same vendor. Every T-shirt shop had exactly the same merchandise in the same sizes and the same colors. Ditto for everything else. The closest to anything real Cambodian was the foot massage and that was probably Thai in origin since the Khmer have such a foot abhorrence. I found (sort of) what I was looking for. Not the color or the perfect combination of colors, but there is something in that minute hole in my luggage. I did some dickering and know full well that I over paid if I had bargained harder. For me the price was fair and certainly only a third of the price I'd pay at home. Heck I overspent sooooo.... much that I spent twenty-five cents on a small bottle of water. I can get a pack of Marlboro AND 2 liters of water for a buck seventy-five all day long.

Then across the street to Pub Street - almost. At the curb I was stopped by the urchin with the infant on his hip holding an nursing bottle. "Pleeese I no want money I need milk" "I neeed  milk for the baaaybee" "Pleaaaseee miiilllllk". Thank you Trip Advisor Dot Com. Welcome to  "The Milk Scam". They kids are all stooges for the real thiefs the pharmacy (conveniently) next door selling the Enfimil (you know that formula that comes in cans?). The product is purchased at a very inflated, the tourist get all sorts of warm fuzzys inside and then the formula is returned to the store to be resold and the kids get a few cents and back on to the street to catch another big tourist fish. Even when you tell the kids "It's a scam !!", "Noooo Madam noooo scam. Miiillllk !" I did offer to buy the boy a sandwich from a cart that was right there but no. Only "Miiillllkkk Pleeeese" and I'll tell you they have that whine pitch perfect. They must go to whine school. Every other kid in on the scam had the same inflection and whine. I'm sure it works or else they would be doing something else.

Pub street was exactly what I had pictured. Restaurants and bars as far as the eye can see. Each place perhaps 20 feet in width all offering something different. On Pub Street you could eat your way around the world. Curry from India, lamb from New Zealand, Local fish, goat and crocodile, and even Ostrich and Kangaroo from the land down under.The narrow sidewalks jammed with tourists. So jammed that at times it was easier to step into the gutter or the street than to wait out the opening to appear. The paranoid in me was inside yelling "Get the heck out of here. This tourist Mecca is not my style, but is exactly the Bali bombing style of a few years ago." I travel alone for several reasons, one being that as a solo traveler I less of a target when there is a tour bus full of tourists nearby. I silenced the alarm bells and continued on.

The Lonely Planet had highly recommended a place called AMOK. Amok is a signature Khmer dish  of meat (generally fish) cooked in coconut milk and spices. It's kind of a stew. The sauce I've experienced has run the viscosity scale from soup to cream sauce. Amok (the restaurant) had an offering of five different Amoks. Beef, pork, shrimp, chicken and veggie. along with a side of rice i was a last you until the next afternoon filling. The sampling was good, though I do have to admit that the fish version I've had was much more to my liking, but it was nice to try them all and find out.

After the meal I stepped into the street and was hit with "Tuk-tuk Madame?". I tought he was a tout that directed me to a real tuk-tuk driver and got a cut of his fare. "Show me your tuk-tuk.". He walked me over to the rattiest tuk-tuk powered by the most underpowered engine I've seen so far. If there was even a speed bump in the road the poor thing struggled over it. The fare set was $2. That was the asking price and no one pays asking price. I wonder how far down he would have gone. When we got to my hotel I gave him the agreed upon two clams and 1000 Rials ($0.25). He thanked me, wished me along life and thanked me again (really). We have it so good.

I met Mr. Station at 7 a.m. and we took off for temples yet farther afield. Bantay Sarei is 30 Km out of town (18'ish miles) it's claim to fame is that it is carver out of pink sandstone, A smaller temple but with great lintels and walls. This is temple number eleven for me and they are all starting to run together a bit. Each has it's own personality atmosphere, but with the same basic architectural floor plan. Enter from the east, cross a moat or two or in this case three, most of them dry right now. four entrances at the cardinal points of the compass and four towers on the corners with a single taller one in the center representing Mt. Mereu the Hindu mountain to which we all seek to attain. I'm not sure that if you handed me photos of all the temples I have visited that I could pick out many of them from another. I'd like to describe it in flowing prose, but it is now 30 hours later and I'm a little fuzzy on the detail. The sun was low and the tourists not scarce, but not overwhelming either. I had moved to one side of the entrance with the sun at my back as waited for a few fellow gawkers to stop gawking at the front and go inside so I could get a photo of the temple without some place's advertisement on the back of a T-shirt. A woman walked near an stood and waited. The last started to go into the temple and then stopped. I said under my breath "Go, inside all ready !". She looked at me and smiled. Then she said "You pick the best spots for photo.". That made me feel good that I seemed to at least look like I knew what I was doing.

After draining my camera's battery enough we split for other pastures. I got a shot of a "Johnny Walker gas station" along the way. The next stop on the trail was the Landmine Museum. nIt was sort of small and had lots and lots of reading. Basically we all know how bad landmines are and that they never seem to just die. They lay there for 30 years plus and suddenly someone is an amputee or as widow. A farmer might have walked the same field a dozen times in the past and one day in the rainy season because the ground is softer steps a few inches different than last year and the rest we know. Most of the anti-personal landmines are designed to main and not kill because it takes more people to deal with a combat wound than a KIA. There are the occasional anti-tank mines where a huma n doesn't stand a snowball's chance of surviving that one.

There were (deactivated) mines there from about every first world country that you could think of including a very large contingent from my and most of your's homeland. UnExploded Ordinance (UXO) were another headache as well. There was a map on the wall with a red dot on it for each sorte' flown by U.S. forces during the Vietnam War. There were places that there was so much red that it looked like a wide red line with no white showing. Most were intended for enemy troops, but most fell harmlessly or on innocent villagers. That did surprise me nearly as much as the fact that nearly 20% failed to explode on impact. If most of us were only 80% effective in our jobs ghey would find either a better way to do the job or a different object to perform the job. Granted this was in the half century era ago, but I wonder how much better we've gotten in our vehicles for delivering death.

A pair of temples more on the way home filled with sun, heat and crowds. One was supposed to have a great view of Angkor Wat (if you had a 400 mm telephoto) that I decided could live without my foot steps on top of. Not because of the climb up, that I could manage, but the walk down just scares the heck out of me. No handrails, steps maybe 6 to 7 inches wide and 10 inches tall and no landings for the entire staircase. I misstep or a poorly placed heel and you get to find out just how good that travel insurance you bought before the trip actually is. Yes I am a wimp.

So that is that. Maybe the circus tonight. I kind of wanted to see a boxing match as well but they are only on Wednesdays. Right now finish my beer and take a nap.

Friday, March 29, 2013

Tomb Raider


Friday March 29th 2013 - Siem Reap

What was I bitching about yesterday ? Sniffles ? Gnarly tummy ? Well the sniffles seem to have abated at least the tiredness that came with them is certainly reduced. I had a 7 a.m. meeting with the Tuk-tuk and instead of one mug of coffee I had two. The caffeine jolt either killed the sniffles or maybe it was just time. It certainly chased away the tiredness.

Sleeping was a challenge last night. The poor A/C in the hotel couldn't keep up and there was one lousy stinking mosquito in the room. I tried to smash him a few times and send him on to his next life but he was alot faster than me. All that happened was besides the new bites were the red palm prints left where he was a millisecond ago. I woke around midnight and was hot but the top 'sheet' on the bed is two sheet duvet filled with a blanket. When I covered myself to hide from the 'skeeter then I was too hot to sleep. When I was uncovered my legs were a mosquito buffet. A little late I realized that if I put my lightest pants they would be cool enough to sleep AND make the mosquito's midnight snack a little harder to attain.

7 a.m., no breakfast I met Mr. Station and we headed for a big morning of Tomb Raider. Ta Phrom is one of the many late 12th century temples here in Angkor Wat. It is also one of the big 3 that are on everyone's must see list. Angkor Wat - Bayon (with the faces) and Ta Phrom. What sets Ta Phrom on the list is that it is the least restored temple in the complex. There are millennium old trees that have grown around some of the walls. They are now part of the infrastructure of the temple. So much so that if they were removed the walls they have engulfed would disintegrate. So they do serve a purpose beside adding real ambiance to the temple. I know this is not the way the temple was rediscovered but it certainly gives you an idea, albeit a very sanitized idea of what all the temples would have looked like in the 1850. That and vines that needed a machete

to access the room and probably a poisonous snake or ten, along with malaria and most importantly - No air conditioning. For about an hour I had the place almost to myself. I was even able to sit on a wall and just chill out while watching a strangled tree that was very popular with the photographers (myself included). But for those 15 minutes I owned the temple. It was a great feeling.

Tomb Raider was partially filmed in this location and there is an iconic tree that was in the film. I didn't see it on my way through and could see that I was past where I was expecting it to be by the way the architecture was changing. I asked a guide if he could direct me to the general area of the tree. He asked me if I had come from the East or the West. Well of course I came in from the east. A) that is the way the temple was ment to be entered and B) that put the morning's sun to my back and made the camera shots more dramatic. He said it was to the northeast back to where I had already been, but had overlooked. Then he asked if I had entered from the east or the west. I answered him, but thought it ann unusual question after he had given be direction. Whatever. I found the tree and waited through the rest of my fraternity and sorority brothers and sisters to get snapshots of themselves in the oddest poses. One of the all time favorites seems to be a big smile and  the right arm extended overhead and finger pointing at --------- nothing. Maybe if I saw one of the poses in an actual picture I'd understand better. I relaxed in the atmosphere in the of mystery what man creates, nature sets asunder. I'm sure someone else said it better, but you get the idea. I continued westward and as I was nearing the second western gate my first our bus group of the day was entering from the west. Then another and another. Then understanding of the guide's question came to me. Tuk-tuks park on the east, tour buses park on the west. He was judging the time he and his clients had in semi solitude as well and me.

Mr. Station was at the appointed time and place. Patiently waiting for me in a hammock that he had attached from his rear Tuk-tuk roof support the the opposite front support. This country is the hammock capital of the world. Almost anywhere you find people you'll find a hammock. Strung near the rear of small shops where the shopkeeper lazes until a customer walks up. As soon as the transaction is concluded, back to the hammock. I've seen lines of pavilions in the main square on nothing but platforms, roofs and hammocks. Generally filled by men, but women seem to get their 'lax'in time as well.

We then proceeded to 6 more temples. Each less picturesque than the last. Probably more from there being more and more people to get in my photographs and the sun rising higher and hotter to raise my discomfort and reduce the definition of the temples. I started to recognize the same Tuk-tuk' ers at the following temples. Some smiled back knowing we were on the same route and some oblivious to those and probably that around them.

By the time we got to temple number seven it was devoid of trees and shade and engulfed not by picturesque nature but tourists. We stopped in front of one shadeless typical Ankor'ian temple. It looked to me to be nothing except heat and the same thing I had already seen 5 times today. I opted out on this one. A combination of getting a little spacey from the heat and not having breakfast were the obvious culprets. "Back to the hotel, James" The guide books all suggest going out in the noon to four time period to avoid the crowds. There is a very good reason there are no tourists out the. It's bloody hot then !

Ry, the tour guide from the Pandaw said he was going to be in Siem Reap these few days I'd be back. I asked Mr. Station to stop by the Hotel Victoria on the way back. This is where I met the group for the cruise ship when I first arrived in town. The desk clerk didn't know who I was talking about, but the bell Captain new exactly who I meant. He told the deskman where to look in the directory and made the call. I'm not sure if I woke him of not but the conversation was certainly sluggish. Then he said "T*****a !! I remember you !" How could he EVER forget me, I asked myself. I had hoped he might be free to do a day or two of guiding me around, but he was already booked by some big wigs from the Pandaw company. Great idea that just didn't work out.

So back at my abode with a belly full of soup and a few fries. Think it's time to go see about a siesta to make up for last night's flying visitor.

Another bus ride

Thursday March 28 2013 - Siem Reap

Back to where I started this trip and I do mean back. I'm in the same hotel as before and the same darned room. A great room (If the hot water works tomorrow) 4th floor over looking the pool. Populated by mostly Westerners.

II never thought I'd say this - BUT - That was a pleasant bus ride. No speedometer of course. The driver didn't honk at every moto, or child or Mosquito to get out of his way. He kept the speed up there and he didn't stop and pickup the huddled masses to help augmant his retirement fund. I did get the nasty "You want to put you knapsack in the belly" look. But a dollar fixed that. Three and a half hours and a taxi would have made it in two and a half hours for eight times the price. $40 vs. $5.

Nicky's cousin (though how they are related might not be by blood. Who knows?) was at the bus stop with my name on a clipboard. I felt like such a rich bitch. "Uhhh.. YES. I am THE (insert name here)." He got me back in touch with my left behind luggage and then got me to this hotel safely. I asked him to pick me up at 3:30 and let's go take a look at the Shadow Puppet store. I have a friend with a seven year old and that might be the right gift for her. If I can pack it safely. I know she'd prefer a dinosaur but she may just have to settle for an elephant.

Today my quads are a little sore from 358 steps, but not too bad. Sniffles. Grumbly tummy. A beer on the veranda after the puppet factory should settle both problems just fine. I've really come to enjoy that at sundown. Well the first 2 or three sips. Then it is just another beer.

I really don't jhave a lot to say today. Certainly nothing as heavy as yesterday afternoon. I have a few things I'd like to pass on, but it is in the cutsie league.

The Vancouverites said that the average length of stay for a tourist in Cambodia is 2.5 Days. Plane loads of Chinese, Koreans and the rest of my former hotel's brothers and sisters land disgorge them. They spend a day and a half or two looking at Angkor Wat and then take off for someplace else. Let's see (9 + 6 + 6 + 12 + 5 + 3 = 41) I've spent nearly that long on buses and have yet to see much on the Angkor Wat complex. I guess I'm skewing the curve.

God, their Sprite's are sweet !

Nicky was showing me various fruits on the way around yesterday. He pointed of Pineapple, Mango, Papaya and Jack Fruit. Jack fruit is football size and covered in 1/2 to 3/4 inch spikes. When he was going to school he wasn't doing very well in his English class. The teacher made him sit on a Jack Fruit until he learned that particular lesson. It's a wonder he didn't switch to German.

The first day in Battambang we were driving to the 358 steps and two places had loudspeakers blaring away at 11 on the volume knob. It would be impossible to sleep when they were going. And one of them was just the pre-function announcing the upcoming wedding. I'd hate to see/hear it once the wedding got underway. In the hotel back in Battambang there were two sets of sponge earplugs with a note attached saying they were for weddings and funerals in the neighborhood.

That's kind of it for what was on my list. Mr. Station will be here in 30 minutes and I'm not sure that I want to risk  coma from the Sprite, but it does have ice in it.

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Holy Guano, Batman !

Bamboo, Bamboo tubes, Rice paper.

Wednesday - March 27th 2013 - Battambong.

At the crack of 8 Nicky picked me up and we sped away for the real tourist excursion of Battambong. There are many cultural sites, but the MUST SEE for tourists is the Bamboo Train. When Disneyland first opened you would get a booklet with many coupons in it. an A ticket might get you a ride on a trolly, but the cool rides like the Matterhorn were all E tickets (not to be confused with the current E-Ticket for planes) Well let me tell you the Bamboo Train is definitely an E ticket. First the two axles and wheels are set on the tracks, then the bamboo platform is placed on them and a small lawnmower type engine in attached. I rubber fan belt is looped around the pulley on the motor and you now have a bamboo train. The operator pull starts the engine, pulls a stick back and the belt tightens and you are off.

I want solo so got any seat on the train I wanted. Up front of course. It (honestly) was scarrier that riding on most rollercoasters. At least with a rollercoaster you have some assurance the darned thing is going to stay on the tracks and not fall to pieces. As we started to roll it sounded like a jet warming up and the the roar became deafening and the wind in my face started as the tracks and ties started to blur. The tracks look like a serpent in places, there are gaps between the rails and the rsils do all meet at the same level. You are speeding down them at around 10 Mph, but it feels like 50. Occasionally you hit an exceptionally bad joint and for a half a second you wonder how come you aren't airborne. You night need a back surgeon when you get home, but for now you are still rolling and that is a good thing. If you meet another bamboo train going the opposite way, the one with the fewer passengers yields by removing their entire train and replacing it after the exchange. Now the bamboo train is strictly for tourists but in it's heyday it was used by the locals for transport and was most everywhere in the country.

Nicky advised me to avoid the sharks at the terminus and purchase my contribution to the economy from the people at the brick factory. A young girl (5-6-7 (I can not guess ages here)) latched on to me and she toured the brick factory with me with surprisingly flawless English. At first I thought it was the human audio tour (Just repeating the words, but not grasping the meaning) but I was buying a Coke from her mother and would ask the mother a question and she would turn to the girl to find out what I asked. She was really a cute girl. If I was Angelena Jollie I would have brought her home as a trinket from Cambodia.

Dad was away in Thailand for 6 months working and would return when the rains came and rice planting started. Lots of projects around Cambodia, especially ones run by NGO. But most of the NGOs use their own people and equipment so Thailand in the land of milk and money during the dry season. Where the NGOs aren't using their own people, then it is the old 'Open pocket' thing. You scratch my palm with cash and I'll scratch your back with a job.

Then the sticky rice factory. Well actually the sticky rice shack. The rice is mixed with coconut milk and a few beans and stuffed into a piece of bamboo. Then it is placed over a low fire, turned once and the rice turns into a hard thick mass. The burned part is sliced off and it's ready for sale. Since the bamboo is now posterboard thin you peel it like a banana and there is this stalk of rice sitting there. It is very tasty and very chewey. One of those would fill me up from breakfast to dinner.

Next of the trip was Wat Ek Phnom. A very Tomb Raider temple. Lightly restored but with large blocks strewn about, and some placed that the wall actually looks unstable. When you see a DANGER sign in Cambodia you'd be wise to heed it's warning, Clamber is not exactly how I would word my tour of the temple. Gingerly is a better definintion. I ain't no Lara Croft, except on the XBOX. I've not seen alot of writing on the walls, but the tourist ticket office did have a nice representation of the Angry Birds. It looks like everyone know Angry Birds.

Then came the fish paste factory. Take a bunch of fish, add a bunch of salt, toss into a big vat, cover and let sit and bubble for weeks in the hot Cambodian shade and you get fish paste which you use in soups and as a tangy accompaniment to any meal. Well any meal except one of mine. The Romans had a fermented fish sauce called Garum (I think) and I was lead to believe that Worcester Sauce is a couson to this. Regardless, I probably will not be having Hot and Sour soup anytime soon after this olfactory experience.

Last on the morning's Tuk-tuk tour was the Rice Paper factory (Again read 'shack'). Rice and water is mixed and the water is filtered through cheesecloth and the remainder is still very thing. Then it is spooned and spread like an omlette on top of cheesecloth over hot steamy water and covered. Then the previous one is  done and you spatula it off and place it over a bamboo plus sigh the spins where it is picked up again and placed on a drying rack and place in the sun until dry. The finished product is something like a very thin dried noodle. luke warm water brings it back and then you use it like a Burrito wrapper for fresh spring rolls. I guess you could call it a factory, certainly an assembly line for 2 people. But these people weren't getting rich doing this.
Miscellaneous ramblings.

A lot of doctors here in Cambodia. 25% of the people wear surgical masks.

According to my Vancouverite breakfast neighbors the Cambodians like the Muslims. The Buddhists in Cambodia have a saying to show they accept the Muslims. "We don't like killing. But we do LIKE meat"

The current King is just a figurehead. The prevoius king did all the work and got lots of things done. The current king is just enjoying his Kingdom.

I guess a real treat is to bring a Washington apple as a gift. It's IMPORTED !

I asked Nicky if he knew what salmon was. No. Red fish ? You mean the stuff that comes in cans ??  Ya, forget it.

-- Holy guano, Batman !

-- 7 p.m.

After an hour luxuriating under the A/C and the first part of this I met Nicky at 3:30 in front of the hotel. The heat was oppressive. Not comfortable as yesterday, nary a cloud in sight, just blazing hot sun. I almost told him to go on by himself and come back and tell me what I saw. But being the trooper I am I hopped on the Tuk-tuk and we headed into the wilds again.

This was to see a temple at the top of a very high mountain. 10,000 steps or maybe less but I was sure by the time I reached the top it would feel double that. I could see the mountain from a few miles awat and it was looking very, very daunting. I had read that there was a road you could walk up instead of the steps and so resigned myself to the longer and yet easier climb. At the base of the steps was what appeared to be a small villiage consisting of shops. Some selling handicrafts and some selling refreshments and some selling both. They were there strictly for the pilgrims and tourists trade. I got a 2 liter bottle of water and prepared myself for the worse. Nicky handed me a map and said this will help you - or - (OR ?!?!? What a magic word) you can ride on the back of a moto to the top. Moto ?? I had to ask how much just to be polite. Four dollars. A bargain at twice the price to my way of thinking. He said he would find me a cyclist who spoke reasable English. He might not understand the words but he knew the words by heart and could speak some more but it was iffy. It was sounding better and better.

So in a cloud of exhaust MapMap and I took off. After seeing the road I probably could have done it -- in a week. We cruised up about half way and stopped at a small cave complex. He walked me up a small hill and showed me a pit falling about 50 to 75 feet to the floor below. Stalactites held on to the roof of the cave below, This was where the Khmer Rouge in this area brought the condemned to get bludgeoned and their dead and not so dead bodies tossed into the maw. If they weren't killed from the blows I am confident the fall would have finished the job. Such a beautiful location and such a bad history.

We then walked down to the opening of the cavern below. Again a very beautiful grotto. Stalactites, verdant lush greenery, cool am ideal location for an afternoon picnic -- except. About 2,000 bodies were found here. The prison where the condemned were held before their one way trek in the woods is now a Buddhist temple. At the mouth of the cave, to the left was a smaller cave. This was where the babies were smashed against the rock wall by holding their legs and swinging them like  a baseball bat. Then their bodies were thrown in like yesterdays newspaper. To the right was where the adults fell. There is now a very nice reclining Buddha in front of a small stupa containing skulls and bones. Eighty percent of the bones were cremated and 20% were kept as a permanent reminder and give those left behind a place to grieve and remember.

I was still in a quandary as why the babies needed to be killed and he pointed out that child care takes away from the mother's ability to work the rice field and the building nearby lake where 10,000 are thought to have perished. He said that the workers at the lake were required to dig a two meter square hold 2 meters deep daily. If for some reason you failed in your task, it was doubled the next day and you still had to finish yesterday's task. If you called in sick you were excused for the day. Then a few days later you disappeared.

It was good to move on from that. The rest of the moto was totally anti-climatic after that.

There was the old temple at the top of the hill, built in 1964. Didn't seem all that old to me. It was flanked by three or four newer temples. There were the two heavy artillery guns that had foreign writing on them. One in German and one in Russian aimed across the valley at a nearby former Khmer Rouge stronghold. The view was spectacular. I think you could see the mountains of Thailand in the distance and could easily see Battambang 20 Km. away. We sat at the top of the hill watching the sun sink low on the horizon before slowly rolling down the hill and past the shopping mall that was now just poles and bamboo rafters.

I know it is sideways. It's the blog software.

Nicky and all the other Tuk-tuk drivers had moved back down the road towards town. They were clustered in front of another massive cave. we waited patiently and pretty soon a small cluster of bats flew out of the cave. Slowl they built in numbers until there was a continuous river of bats in the sky. and they kept coming. Millions of them. Absolutely millions of the little mammals. It like the bat alarm went off and everyone had to get up and go to work. We watched the parade and the other Tuk-tuks started to depart and we followed suit soon. Along the main road back to town we stopped and in the distance like smoke from a fire a black cloud moved across the landscape. Rolling like a wave some would overtake the ones in front and move towards the river where dinner of 'skeeters and other flying insects were on the menu.

It had been a very full day and it is very nice to be settled back at the hotel for the night.

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Getting personal

Promise me you’ll always remember: you’re braver than you believe, and stronger than you seem, and smarter than you think.”
 - A.A. Milne, Winne the Pooh

Tuesday - March 26 2013 - Battambang

Well an very nice day, including the bus ride. It was an odd bus ticket. Ome without a seat number. Totally unexpected, every other bus had assigned seats. The mini bus picked me at my hotel at the crack of 7:30 and we took the tour of the city picking up other passengers along the way. By the end we were packed so many that they were literally sitting in the aisle. The 'shotgun' seat was packed nearly to the ceiling with back packs. The kids on a trek do not pack light. It looked like an Everest expidition by the time we got to the bus station. I was smart for once and only packed my little knapsack with two nights of necessities. A pair of pants, a couple shirts and undies. Of course laptop and all the wires and connectors for that. Somehow a two night pack ended up weighting 15 pounds.

The previous trips it has been, maybe not a law, but you sure get ugly a look from the loader if you ask to chack something that will fit in your seat. The overhead bins are too shallow to fit much more that a make up case. I handed the knapsack to the 'bus boy' (not the driver) and he gave me that look. I didn't back down and he stuffed it in the belly of the beast. Then I handed him a dollar. No more ugly looks. Big smile instead. I asked about the seat number and he sat me directly behind the driver. I guess the best seat in the house. I'm not so certain about that. My seat mate was a nervous nrider and watched the road the entire time. Every time it got a little dicey with oncoming traffic he grabbed the rail in front. He probably had a cramp in his arm by the time we arrived.

We drove almost back to Thailand before turning south. I started looking at mile markers to figure out how much longer it was going to be. Last bus trip was 300 Km. over 12 hours. Adverage speed well under 30 Kmph. (approx 20 mph (If my calculations are off please correct me)). So I glanced over the driver's shoulder to see what speed we were going while flying down the road. Tachometer, yes. Speedometer pegged at zero. well so much for that great idea. We made it in 4 to 4 1/2 hours. Schedued for 5 hours. That included stopping every town and sometimes twice in a town to pick up walk ups. I'm not entirely certain BUT I got the impression that this was all under the table money since a ticket or receipt was never ask or offered. Just my supposition.

The bus arriver in Battambang and we were the sugar cube and the Tuk-tuk drivers and hotel touts were the ants. It was a feeding frenzy - "Madame you want hotel?" " Madame you want Tuk-tuk" and the chorus continued. Some how I was seperated from the herd by one Tuk-tuk driver and made the bargain. Of course the hotel I had chosen was not to his liking. Too expensive they charge $70. He had a much more reasonable option for me. I stuck with my plan and found a lovely little hotel away from downtown for $55. Seems about the price I'm paying this trip per night. Nice courtyard, acceptable room WITH A/C and a decent Wi-fi in the room.

The Tuk-tk driver and I agreed to remeet at 2:30 and go for a drive 25 Km (in the Tuk-tuk) to a temple. We drove through the country side along the river and motored along at Goldilocks speed 'just right'. We passed a bunch of family run little stores that dot the landscape.They sell anything you could possibly need. Cigarettes, chips and I'm sure things that only locals can recognize. The also have racks of Pepsi 2 liter bottles and occasional small one liter plastic bottles and at the high end joints they even have Johnny Walker bottles filled with gasoline and diesel all of the bottles have been very well used. I gues if yoou need a little gas for your moped you stop and order a Johnny Walker. I'm not sure if the J.W. is Premium and the Pepsi regular or not.

There was the occasional huge trash bin that was in the shape of a vase here and there. Then the light want on and I figured out what thet were. They we tractor tires turned inside out.

While at the hotel it started to rain. A sprinkle at first then a deluge. Ten minutes, then it was over and back to normal. It did cool things off though. There were a few drops that hit me on the ride but it never did rain again today. We passed by grape arbors Nicky (Tuk-tuk driver) said they made wine here. I'm not so sure about the vintage, but with it staying hot all the time I don't know how the grapes and mature properly. We never stopped at the winery because it seemed there was no wine education going on there. They just wanted to get you drunk so you'd over buy their wine.

In a shorter time that I had expected we arrived at the temple mount (No, not THAT one !) Three hundred fifty eight steps to the top, and the same down. At the turn off from the road sitting idly under a tree was a hospital gurney. I didn't take this as a good omen. But being a trooper, remembering what my guide in Syria said as he sent me up to see a castle - "Slowly, slowly'. Up I trudged counting all the way. "OK Theresa  ten more steps and you can stop." was my mantra. Added as an after thought "Don't look up and don't look back." About half way up I saw on a tree my first "BEWARE MINES" sign. This area was used by the Khmer Rouge as their snactuary when Viet Nam invaded. They had some sort of sweetheart deal with the Thai Government that allowed themj to slip across the border when necessary and then slip back. So they mined the area to thwart their pursuers. Then the Vietnamese mined the area to kill and shorten the Kh,er Rouge. Then after Viet Nam pulled out the Khmer Rough came back and mined some more. Cambodia leads the world in land mine and unexploded ordinance deaths in the world. I stayed on the steps.

The climb was worth it, I think. The temples are reminicent of the towers at Ankor Wat except in a much greater state of disrepair or poor  restoration. Looking at them you can get a very good idea of what Angkor Wat looked like 100 years ago, sans the jungle swallowing it. The arch was not used by the Khmer instead the blocks were stagger stepped up until the sides met in the middle. Then if you wanted a rounded ceiling you chipped the rock away until it was rounded. The blocks by now were pretty cockeyed in places and had gaps in them wider that 'Arnold's' front teeth. My camrea clicked away as I looked.

The way down was not as bad as I expected because of this huge snake made out of concrete thst gave me a handrsil to use as a touchstone on the way down. I'm pretty sure it was more of a confidence builder than an actual safety rail. In one way the steps down were a little harder as my 6 decade old knees took the brunt going down.At the temple of Coca Cola at the bottom Nicky and I chatted for a bit. He explained that there are 5 towers ESNW (East being the the entrance) now, but from the air there are four more ruined spires at the corners, and that this was first a Hindu temple and morphed into a Budhist one over time. It all depended on what king was in power and what god he chose to believe in.

This conversation morphed into my favorite Hindu god, Ganesh. The god of knowledge. Elephant head with a human body. He said that Ganesh always has only one tusk because he needed something to write with and it was the only thing handy at the time so he broke it off to use as a stylus. I'm liking baby Ganesh more and more.
On the way back we took the back roads. No pavement for those 15 miles back to town. Little hamelets with nary a power line in sight. We follwed the river down stream and there was a view at a village that had several boats on the shore. He said it was a fishing village and the residents were Muslim. I questioned him why he pointed out that they were Muslim. He said they were great fishermen. Kind of the area's answer to the 'Fish Whisperer'. When the water was high they netted across the river and when it was lower they set hooks. As we were driving though the village the many of the women were full head scarved and a few were veiled.

We made it back to town and I've been sitting in the courtyard having dinner as I fed the 'skeeters. Now this is done and I'm a shade paler from blod loss time to call it a day.


I guess I doth not be finished

People here must be great swimmers. Their feet are nearly as wide as they are long. I'll bet that most of the feet I've seen have worn shoes as often as most men in the U.S.A. have worn a tux. I was doing my footware survey this afternoon and everyone had a flop flop or sandal on. I didn't notice a single pair of shoes on anyone.

At the river stop I talked to Nicky. The temple we went to was near where he was born and most of the people who ran the Temple of Coca Cola were family. I asked him if that was where he lived and he said no that he lived in town with his daughter. That was an odd way of wording it I thought. So it perculated a couple hours and at the river I asked him how old his daughter was (7). I don't think I asked about his wife. He brought it up. He is a divorced single dad. His wife was a hostess (I was thinking she gave you your menu when you entered a restaurant - well DUH !!). He was talking Bangkok type hostess, bargirl. Get men to buy you drinks at inflated prices and then generally say good night to the now pooerer sap. All of her earnings went to fancy hostess clothes and alcohol beverages, until the fancy clothes were replaced by alcohol all the time. Paternal rights go to the mother here and support to the father in cases of divorce. He didn't want her to have custody, and it sounds like she didn't give a flying F either way. But the law is the law. So he went to his in-laws and explained to them that he wanted them to take custody and he and his daughter live next door. Of course the in-laws knew their daughter was not a drunk. She was their princess. They believed it until seeing her blotto a few times and then accepted his offer.

But now when he goes back to his village he is shamed and shunned by some. Not because of the divorce, but because his former wife is a drunk. I asked him for clearification and yes it is because of her and not the divorce. He said when he goes back to the village he walks around looking at the ground because of the shame. Wow ! Talk about a tough crowd.

Now I am done.

BTW. Thanks E. for reminding me that the world doesn't revolve around my bath habits and meals.

Anchor What ? No, Ankor Wat.

A good traveler has no fixed plans, and is not intent on arriving.
 - Lao Tzu

 Monday March 25th 2013 - Siem Reap

Ahhh.. a Phoenix like human rises from the ashes of terminal madness. Bus terminal madness that is. The bus left at the crack of 8 a.m. right on time. Scheduled time enroute 8 hours according the the ticket agent who was sitting next to a big sign that said ten hours. At the ten hour mark we have left Kompong Thom in the dust an hour behind where I had expected Siem Reap to be. Instead it was just a dusty town with a big open air restaurnt and vendors outside. The only thing of interest was that some of the passengers thought it was 'their' bus and made 25 people wait until they decided to return to the bus from their break. I'd have left them but the bus driver was a mensch about it. Oh and the vendors ? They were selling fried crickets and beetles. Maybe if I see them in my next town I'll give one or two a try, but I was in no mood for anything other than getting then F to my destination.
Yum. Beetles

Upon arriving in Siem Reap there were the waiting tuk-tuk drivers. I finally got the idea across which hotel I wanted and we got there after a fashion. I went to check in and no room at the inn. 200 rooms and every one occupied. The clerk called another nearby hotel and found me a bed and a shower. I grabbed a cold beer and snarfed down a Club sandwich and flagged a tuk-tuk for the next hotel. The clerk said 100 meters away, but lugging 1 suitcase and one knapsack in the 90/90 heat/humidity was more than I wanted and a couple dollars would save that. It was closer to 1 km away anyway.

The room is adaquate. The door locks, the water is hot. The bed is clean and the furnishings keep my stuff off the ground. The view absolutely stinks. A big flat open area that could hold tables and umbrellas, but just holds heat now. The internet - well my computer can sort of see it, but it can't touch it. I tried at 9 pm, 6 am and 1 pm and the story is the same. Maybe next stop will have Wi-Fi that actually works.

I went town to breakfast this morn and the large dining hall was filled. People leaning over their plates literally shoveling the food in. Not stopping to swallow before the next mouthful. I don't know if I've ever understood that mentality of 'getting your moneys worth' at a buffet. What really got me was (and this is no lie - I looked) that I was the only westerner in the place. I noticed alot of Asians in the lobby when I checked in, but the only one in a room of a hundred?

The desk said they would get me  a

bus ticket to my next destination tomorrow. Battambang. Where I'll spend 2 nights and return to Siem Reap for my final four nights (I have a hotel reservation here then). Only five hours according to the Lonely Planet. Well one can hope. You stick bikes, scooters, motorbikes, cars, trucks, busses and farm equipment on a narrow 2 lane road call it a national highway and it is slow going.

This a.m. after breakfast I called my tuk-tuk driver and we went to see the temples an Angkor Wat. Remember Angkor Wat ? The reason I came to Cambodia in the first place? Well today I thought I'd get an overview of the area and explore one or two temples. Angkor Wat is everything I had read. Huge, beautiful and an absolute work of art. Probably a kilometer of bas relief carvings and all the people pictured look individual, no cookie cutter people. I get the idea that no one got along with anyone else because every wall was covered in pictures of battles. Kings and princes - gods and goddesses everybody was fighting someone. My camera was smoking by the time I left. I was a sopping wet puddle. I actually drank about a gallon of water today and not all that much came out the traditional way. My shirt has salt stains. One of the ticket checkers asked for my ticket. I pulled it out of my neck pouch and handed it to him. You'd have thought it was a booger the way he handled that sweat soaked piece of paper. I've since then gotten a plastic ID card lanyard for it. The sun was not cooperating with my camera clicking, so it looks like a return trip at a different time of day and see if that works out better photographing wise. I know it is not going to get any cooler

After Angkor Wat it was 10:30 so we putted to Angkor Thom, the largest complex in the Angkor Wat area. It is so big that it too the tuk-tuk five minutes to drive to the first temple after passing the south gate. It was like driving through a Central Park, except there were no buildings above us. Bayon is the temple with 54 (?) towers each with 4 faces carved into it. All of the same king and all different.

We didn't get to the Tomb Raider temple with the huge roots encapsulating the temples. That is on my to do list.

Back at he hotel around one to chill out and send a postcard to a friend. Then back out at 4 to get some pictures of the western side of Angkor Wat at sunset. The sun and clouds conspired against me again. I got some photos, but some defined shadows would have been great. Then a short rie thorough and around town to look at he sights.The tuk-tuk driver knows where he wants to go and be darned if it's not where I want to go. Eventually he did cave and take me to where I wanted to go. The Victoria hotel. I wanted something other than Khmer food. I like it, but I don't eat the same cuisine every night at home. Escargot (I won't eat a cricket, but I will eat a snail? I kone, I know), a little duck and some fresh sliced tomato with a glass of French wine. Life is good.

Tomorrow I get picked up at 7:30 for the 8:30 bus. I'm going to take my knapsack only and leave my larger suitcase. It's just 2 days. I was looking at what to take and what to leave and I am floors by the total amount of superfluous junk I brought along. I'll have to make 2 piles when I get home - This I used - This I didn't. Maybe do better next trip.

Sorry I was very tired when I posted this.

Whew !

The wheels on the bus go round and round
 - Childen's song

Sunday March 24th 2013 - Siem Reap

Kep - Phnon Penh - Siem Reap --- 12 hours. That is all I have to say about today.

Friday, March 22, 2013

Everybody has crabs here

 You miss 100 percent of the shots you never take.
 - Wayne Gretzy

Saturday - March 23 2013 - Kep, Cambodia

It is a little after noon on Saturday and I'm in my room under the A/C. I have been a sweat machine for eight of nine days now. I've sweated so much that the clasps on my bra have developed rust (really).

After last night's dinner while watching the sunset I returned and caught up on my writing and sent out a couple day's of emails. Then lights out around ten to some very vivid dreams and being a late night snack for some local critters I never saw or heard until the itching started. Up and awake around 6 a.m. hoping to catch the sunrise from my balcony but the clouds obscured the sun. They didn't obscure the heat or the humidity, just a nice view of the sunrise. Last eve's sunset was very nice though.

The hotel has 100 + rooms and only 10 are currently occupied. Probably due to no pool yet and some ongoing construction. They say it will be done in May. Then I assume the prices will rise, especially for the 12 rooms like mine with balconies and face the water. Breakfast instead of the regular buffet was order off the menu. They had all the things to do a buffet, everything except clients.

A call to Mr. Tuk-tuk and we were off to see the town. First stop the crab market. What a busy busy place. Crabs, squid, fish all fresh. So fresh most of it was still flopping. They don't seem to differentiate between male crabs and female crabs as we do in out crab fisheries back home. If she gets in the pot, she gets eaten. Equal opportunity there. Some of the females were overflowing with roe. I hope they don't kill the fisheries with this policy. Lots of ucky smells and slippery parts. This market is for the locals and if a tourist happens to wander by so be it, but it is not there for show. Nobody appeared to be against having their photo taken, so I got a couple people shots, besides scenic shots.

Then we moto'ed around town looking at the abandoned villas. I guess I'm not the only tourist who wants to see them. One had a Tuk-tuk full of women from the U.K. looking at the same house Mr. Tuk-tuk was showing me. Some were vine covered, some were graffiti covered and some were just a mess. We did the decrepit house tour and made a quick stop at the pier and back at the hotel around 11:30. By that time I'd consumed a quart of water and perspired a quart and a half. So I decided to give the A/C a workout until later this afternoon. I have seen most of what Kep has to offer to me and dinner and an evening stroll is about all that's left. I haven't decided on fancy schmancy restaurant of basic fresh caught. Right now fresh squid on the 'barbie' is kind of calling to me. We shall see.

I saw my shadow today. Must be 6 more weeks of winter.

When you travel, remember that a foreign country is not designed to make you comfortable. It is designed to make its own people comfortable.

 - Clifton Fadiman

Friday March 22 2013 - Kep

I am sitting on a huge King sized bed letting the A/C waft over me as I type this in my very well appointed room overlooking the Gulf of Thailand. I'm not out on the balcony mostly because I am just too comfortable to move.

The bungalows at Jasmin Valley are mud brick up for 10 feet or so. Then there is a two foot  gap before the thatched roof begins. I assume it is for ventilation and so the mosquitos can have an easier entrance and egress. I had dinner, which I didn't think too much of. Maybe it was the minerals in the water, but it just tasted off to me. I was in my room laying on the bed listening to the dark surround me and fell asleep. I must have woken somewhat in the night because my pants were on the floor in the morning. Around 4:30 something big landed on my bed. I woke in a start and began flailing on the bed with my pillow. I fumbled for my flashlight and eventually found it and surveyed my bed to find - nothing. Absolutely nothing. I tried to go back to sleep but with all that adrenaline that got pumped into my body sleep just wasn't happening. I opted to get up and smoke a cigarette. Maybe the nicotine woud counteract the adrenalin. Next to my pack of cigarettes, which were next to the toy stuffed frog was a real frog. Cute little green Kermit about half the size of the palm of my hand. I looked at him and realized that he was probably the reason I was awake. I thought about picking him up and showing him the door, but some frogs have poison in their skin and most don't. I don't know which from which though. So I just left him, mystery solved. When I came back in he had moved on to other Lilly pads.

So breakfast and a phone call to another Lonely Planet recommendation. $75 a night. O.k., I'm on vacation "Do it". Mr. Chandra my tuk-tuk driver picked me up and when I told him my destination he said we would have to walk up the hill again. The Tuk-tuk just wouldn't make it. I rethought the plan and said 'Take me to a big hotel'. If it cost me more that I felt comfortable in cash, there was alswys those little plastic cards with the word VISA on it. As we passed one (it wasn't one listed in L.P.) he asked 'This one?'. Sure I'll ask. Brand new hotel (Rock Royal) so new in fact the pool isn't even finished. I took the stairs down tonight and there were four treadmills and a couple stair climbers still in their boxes waiting to be un packed. I asked to see a room and we came to this one. The price? $70. "$70 ??" - "Oh, ok (he probably said) $65" but I wasn't sure so I held five fingers twice and said "$55 ??" So now for $110 I am in the lap of luxury as far as my room goes.

I tossed my luggage in the room went down to talk to the tuk-tuk driver about sight seeing today. The place I wanted to see was 25 Km (15 miles +/-) away. That was too far to go on a tuk-tuk. Mr. Chandra, tuk-tuk driver mediocre, said he had a friend with a taxi (of course). So said friend arrives in a nice Toyota that runs on gasoline or LPG. Go figure.

First stop a cave temple. 203 steps up to the entrance. Around 175 I needed to stop and "Take a photo". After I recovered from my photo taking we continued onward. In the cavern was a small brick building. It was an old Hindu temple with a male and female fertility symbols inside. Of course I failed to bring a flash light.

Then we drove to the town of Kampot another 10 Km down the road. made a quick couple shutter clicks and back towards Kep. Where we stopped at a different cave temple. This one didn't have steps. It did have children with flashlights though. I enlisted the boy with the biggest light headed to the mouth of the cave. Over there is where the Khmer Rouge dumped the bodies of the people they killed. Over there is where the Japanese stayed in 1935 We walked a good way through enough darkness I'm glad Mr. Flashlight was along. Then the cave opened into a huge circular vault, except there was no ceiling. Maybe 100 feet of shear cliff faces in a 50 foot circle with blue sky above and vines climbing down. I'm not sure if the feeling was Tomb Raider or The Hobbit. In this cavern was a reclining Buddha as well as a Hindu god 'The Hermit;. We kept on going as the ceiling kept getting lower the kids were saying "Mind you head" just before I crashed into the ceiling. I hope my neck isn't too sore tomorrow.

Then it was to the pepper plantation to buy some of the internationally famous Kompot pepper grown in Kep. I picked up some white, red and black pepper. All the same pepper just processed differently. And finally the salt fields. They fill shallow basins with sea water and in a week have salt. Only in the dry season.

I hung out a few hours in the room and took a long needed and missed hot shower before calling Mr. Tuk-tuk for a ride to the Sailing Club. Reputed to have great food. They do. Mojito, bottle of water, grapefruit and shrimp salad (to die for) and 2 Kep Crab in green pepper sauce, all for $18. The crab came the same way Dungeness crab came to Chris and I when we went out to our birthday in Seattle's Chinatown a couple years ago. It arrived in this great sauce, cleaned but still in it's shell. I have not found a way to eat crab without using your hands. At least this time I was offered a finger bowl. Good food and good times.

Back to the hotel and the conclusion of today's entry.

And yet another bus !

Don't read too much into Lonely Planet's hotel descriptions.
 - Theresa Porter

March 21 2013, Kep (sort of)

Well it is the vernal equinox, maybe it is the other one. I am in Kep a small beach side community on the Gulf of Thailand. In the 1950's the French used this town as the get away resort from the heat and bustle of Phnom Penh. Beautiful villas lined the shore line, maybe villa is too small of a word to describe them. Mansions could be a better description. After the French departed the wealthy and powerful Cambodians acquired the villas. Of course during the Khmer Rouge time this place was virtually abandoned and the villas fell into disrepair. Now nearly 25 years after the Khmer Rouge and the Vietnamese war most of these villas are still abandoned. The few I spotted on the ride to my current residence were windowless with burn marks coming from the windows and doors. The town is slowly coming back, but slowly is the optimal word there. I came here for their famous crab and to sit near a sea beeze sipping a cool one after a day of exploring the local area. I don't quite have that at the moment.

My bus left Phnom Penh at 9:30 this morning. I awoke shortly before the sun rose and watched it's yellow orb blaze through the prepetual humidity haze that I've experienced this entire time. I don't think I've seen a blue sky or sharp contrast shadow this past week. No clouds in the sky, but just a continual haze. I think of the photos of the area with the bluest of blue skies must have been Photoshopped or on one of the two days a year when it's not hazy.

I returned to my room to take a shower and stuff my baggage and then go down to breakfast. The shower came on and wouldn't you know it. No hot water. It wasn't cold but nothing you'd want to stand under for more than a few moments. I decided a good scrubbing with a washcloth and soap would have to do after I shampooed my hair. Before I had finished working up a lather the water pressure dropped. It dropped so much that the little metal pull that you use to change from bath faucet to shower would not stay locked in the shower position. So it was one hand pulling up on the metal thingie and rubbing to rinse away the shampoo. Heck, it will be back up in a minute or two, so slathered some conditioner on. It never ever came on strong enough to hold a shower. This is from a hotel that cost $85 a night, not some backpacker hostel. I think I'll title my Trip Advisor review "A pig in lipstick" it will probably get past their censors better than "The transvestite of hotels - It looks real, but it isn't".

Now service I have absolutely no problem with at that hotel. It was par excellence. They made the arrangements for me and got my ticket. This morning the desk man made several calls for me to book a hotel in Kep that were recommended in the Lonely Planet. The Jasmin Valley Resort  was the first phone to be either answered or not in service. A bungalow was $39 and a tree house was $59. I decide to go with the cheaper option I was only going to use the room to sleep and hold my valuables while I explored the countryside.

The little bus arrived to drive myself and another couple to the big bus and in short order we were fighting city traffic enroute to then open road and points south. The ride was a ride. Estimated time enroute four and a half to five hours. This trip took six hours. there was some sort of mass of people blocking the road in one town and they would not yield the road to us. The truck in front of us made it through and we were stuck behind a wall of people for an hour before we were able to snake our way through them and continue our journey. I don't know if it was a protest, or perhaps the celebration of the equinox as it was around noon, but I never found out. The driver tried to nudge his way through them and we were hit with a bottle. Fortunately it was a plastic water bottle, but none the less it did make me survey my surrounding for the emergency exit - just in case a speedy exit was necessary.

We got into Kep and all the passengers were surrounded by tuk-tuk (remork moto drivers ( a motorcycle pulling a four seat covered cart)) drivers. What is your name? Where are you from ? where are you going ? Okay I know that place. You come with me. Five dollars. I decompressed from the bus ride and waited. The most aggressive driver kept telling me how hard it was to get to my hotel. How it was on a bamboo trail, Yadda-yadda. Ya, I've heard that crap before. Finally one guy dropped down to $4 and I gave in as well. At which point the pushy guy dropped his price to $4 and didn't understand why I hired the first four dollar offer.

One thing is for certain. The five dollar guy didn't lie. It was a bamboo trail. Pavement, gravel, dirt, rutted dirt, big holes and finally - "We stop here and walk rest of way." WTF ?!?! Why ? "The moto no make it." We each grabbed a bag and trudged up the hill for about 200 yards. He was a little winded when we did make it reception. I gave him a $5 bill and he said "You want dollar?". No thank you, you earned it buddy.

The resort is billed as eco friendly. That means a bit of a premium to the cost for those three letters 'eco'. No 220 electricity. No 110 electricity. 12 volts D.C. power from a battery in the room. No hot water (at least I was smart enough to ask this time.). No curtains. No wi-fi,  but you could use their iPad that had a SIM card cellular connection for checking mail. The pool is a great shade of jade, because it is naturally filtered, meaning it think - not. It is set high in a rain forest and surrounded with lush green plant life. The staff and guests whisper then communicating. If you want to get away from it all and let your leg hair grow this is the place. It is not what I was expecting. Maybe if I had been husteling from Wat to Wat and tuk-tuk to moto for the past week I'd be raving about just how wonderful it is, but I did my chil-lax'in on the boat. I planned to stay here three nights, but think it's back to hotel hunting tomorrow. Back in the land of 220 volts and maybe hot water - with free Wi-Fi of course.

Yesterday afternoon I took a nap and then went to Foreign Correspondents Club for dinner. It is a must for tourists I doubt a foreign correspondent has been through the doors in decades though. I had a bar stool on the top floor overlooking the river and the corniche below. The menu had several potential offerings that looks enticing, but the Fish Amok and the Duck Curry were my quandary for the evening. I asked the waitress and she resoundingly said the duck. Boy was she right. It was excellent. It came with rice and I ordered a local Ankor beer and a bottle of water. The entire bill was $12. View, great meal, a little alcohol all for the price of a couple latte's. Now that was a score.

I dodged and wove my way back to the hotel through the incessant calls of the tuk-tuk drivers and took advantage of the free Wi-Fi by sending the journal entries that I couldn't while on the ship and updating my blog with a couple pictures as well. Lights out a bit after ten and up at six.

That is my life for the previous 24.

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

This is the tough part

“Free at last, Free at last, Thank God almighty we are free at last.”

― Martin Luther King, Jr.

Wednesday March 20 2013 - 1145 a.m.

Well I'm off the boat and on my own at last. Not that I am complaining though. I really did enjoy the boat. Very comfortable quarters, Fantastic staff and even if I at times disdain my fellow tourists, my boat mates were a great group. Everyone was friendly to a fault and didn't monopolize the guide or the groups time. Welll, maybe Annalise did a little, but maybe that was because she reminded me of myself in some ways.

Right now I am at the hotel I'll be staying at overnight, before heading to other pastures, greener or otherwise. It is a hotel that was built in the (maybe) 1950's. Not quite the Communist blockhouses of Krakaw or Skopje but it certainly is not a modern hotel by any means. They are trying hard, but it is obvious that the hotel was built pre- A/C as there are glass windows that open from the sleeping area to the bathroom. But the room is spotless and it does have an elevator. It's location is directly across from the Royal Palace and up the street from the Foreign Correspondents Club (F.C.C.) so the location is hard to beat.

I left the boat around 9 this morning and Ry was there to escort me to the hotel. We caught a remork-moto (Tuk-tuk) for 3 clams to  the hotel. The room was not available as expected. Since I was told that check in was 2 p.m. I did ask to see a room before committing but nothing was available or clean to see. So I left my luggage and wandered down the street to the first coffee shop I could find and sat for a bit sipping coffee and watching the world drive by as I reviewed Lonely Planet to see what we had missed yesterday that was on my must see for today. There wasn't too much.

There was the French Embassy where Cambodians and foreigners alike too refuge when the Khmer Rouge too control of the city. The Communists gave the option of turning over all the Cambodian Nationals or killing everyone within the embassy. I can imagine the 20 seconds the French needed to think about that one. I took a couple photos of it, but the huge wall that now surrounds it really makes almost no photography worthwhile. Then I has told the Remork-moto driver I wanted to see the National Library. A supposed great art revival building. I say supposed because He stopped at a bookstore similar in size to a Barnes and Noble. Lost in Translation would have been a very apt description.

Next and finally on the list was the Russian Market. There is nothing Russian about it other that back in the day it was the shopping mecca for the tight fisted Russian Babuskhas on vacation here. A warren of tight alleys reminiscent of the Souks of Morocco or Istanbul, only much less touristy and much more intimate. You could hardly pass another person without turning sideways. It was mostly patronized by the locals with a smattering of camera clad tourists. Myself included. There was beef hoof and plucked chickens with their feet still attached. Fresh fish, dried fish and some meats I don't want to give too much thought about. The next aisle had the jewelers in glass enclosed storefronts. Lit brighter than the sun and probably air conditioned. Did I mention it was an hot as a closed oven in there? Then there was silk alley, and tailor alley and at prime intersections there was the Prada, Versace, Chanel knock off bags and purses. I took several pictures. I didn't make any and I left with no more than I entered with.

By the time we made back to our starting point my room or should I say 'a room' was available so I grabbed it.

Yesterday was a day of ups, downs and up again. Per the schedule breakfast at 7 until nine but departure from the quay at 8:45. The river is low this time of year so it was a minor Nepalese trek from the boat to the shore. The complaint part wasn't the climb itself it was the darned stems were about six inches high and too wide to take two at a time. It was like climbing a hill on a bike in low grear. Lots of motion, little movement.

Once at the top there were fifteen pedicabs waiting to take us to the Royal Palace and the Silver Pagoda. Concluding at the National Museum. The Royal Palace was nice, pretty and interesting. Of course it was filled with mega numbers of my brethren. Camera toting tourists. Some following their versions of Ry the tour guide and some solo with the blue bound copies of Lonely Planet Cambodia. The king was outta town with mommy in Bejing, she is seeing a doctor there. So we weren't invited in for lunch. He's single and unmarried and there is  some speculation to his sexuality, but he is the king so not too much speculation. The rules of succession ar completly unexpected to me. The king is elected by a consortium of palace and government officials instead as we normally expect it to be done.

Then we strolled/sweltered over t o the Silver Pagoda. The entire floor is covered in 2 pound squares of pure (97%) silver. We got to walk on carpeting covering the silver. But there were places here and there that you could see the silver. I remember mom spending an afternoon with silver polish before Thanksgiving. If you were going to polish this floor for Thanksgiving, you'd have to start on the 4th of July.

Then back to the pedal rickshaw and my unmarried driver. Unfortunately I think he had more grand children than teeth and I never did find out how many water buffalo he had, so  I  declined his generous  offer of marriage.

Lunch and a couple hours of free time before our next trek up the stairs and off to the "Killing Fields" and S-21 prison. I used that time to wander around town a little. I was in search of a place to break a 100. I asked for a bank and was told where the ATM was. I should have asked for an Exchange, so it took longer to get pointed in the right direction than I had hoped. I did find one in a huge outdoor market. Of course English was not a language spoken. Dollars, Pounds, Rials were spoken fluently and translated via calculator. I nust wanted to break the bill, but noooo... He was an exchange and he was going to do an exchange by cracky. He wanted to do 50/50 but my cargo pants wouldn't be able to hold that many bills, he settled on $10 which was manageable.

The big red bus was waiting for us at 2:30 and we meandered through Phnon Penh traffic not stopping for anything, because we were a bus after all and the biggest thing on the road. maybe we would have yielded to a Sherman tank, but not much else. As with most of the world Stop sigs, Stops lights and not squashing nuns and children were completely optional.

The 'Killing fields' are not one particular site when the killings were done, they were scattered about Cambodia to the tune of nearly 300. This one is the one that is the most famous, but not necessarily the largest (most efficient?). Anybody could be killed there, Men of curse, women, children and even babies. Nothing quite as civilized as a bullet to the back of the hear. Bullets cost money. So clubs, hoes, and even palm tree branches were used to dispatch the victims. The infants were sort of saved from that by a swift blow against a particular tree.Of the approximate 200 mass graves only about 2 thirds of them have been excavated. The remainder are left as they were found. During the rains the occasional bone or scrap of clothing rise to the surface and placed in special memorial boxes and bins. It was more sobering for me to see the odd bone lying on the ground or pant leg sticking out than a coffin sized glass box full of bones. It just brought the reality of the madness to me more. There was a memorial stupah tastefully filled with skulls that I opted out on.

On the bus ride from the 'Killing fields' to S-21 prison  Ry told us his personal story of those three turbulent years. He and his Father, mother, younger brother and 2 year old sister along with his grandmother  were rousted from their home in Phnom Penh and forced from the city to the countryside.  Dad had a motorcycle that was loaded with the big stuff, mom and granny had the rest, Ry carried 2 ducks and they were force marched out of town. Along the way he passed bodies lying on the roadside. If you couldn't keep up where you stopped was your point of departure from this world. They were forced to work the rice fields with a quota of 3000 tons of rice per hectare. If you worked too slow, you were 'enemy', if you became ill you were 'enemy' if you were educated you were 'enemy'. As were tradesmen and speakers of foreign languages and any number of other offenses. If you were 'enemy' you just went away, never to be seen again - or - worse to be seen daily as your body rotted on the side of a dike. Ry's sister went this way as did his grandmother, who died of starvation/exhaustion. The died where she worked in the rice field and was tossed over the dike like yesterday's trash.

Of course the kids were conversationally interrogated. Nothing heavy, just conversation with a nice "Ankor" about what his father had done for a living or what they were talking about after dinner. Sometimes, parents would just disappear after such conversations. He was told to lie about his father being a soldier and that hes poke French and his grandmother English.

At first the daily ration was rice, but as they rice was more and more sent to feed the soldiers fighting the Vietnamese or sold for export that a thin wattery gruel replaced the rice. He got caught stealing rice from the kitchen and was labeled 'enemy'. Fortunately he had a friend who's father was the head fed in this group and the boy intervened on Ry's behalf and Ry only had to dig a 20 foot water channel in the dark. The boy told him that if he was 'enemy' again he had used up his one favor. Ry was nine.

Dad now has to use a cane to move about and his mom has a form of dementia where she gets lost in the neighborhood and in the night screams for her daughter and mother. Of course treatment for P.T.S.D. is non existent.

S-21 was a large school where where prisoners were held for interrogation and confession. Eventually everyone confessed and were killed, or they died in the process. Each one was photographed and cataloged both on their arrival and upon their departure. At first the three story school buildings were just open, but way too many people were tossing themselves off the top floor and committing suicide. So they couldn't have that, so the balconies were screened in, with barbed wire. In some of the rooms the tiles were still stained with the blood of the prisoners. I think there were 17,000 people (both Cambodian and Western) who passed through this facility. When the Vietnamese liberated the the prison there were three prisoners left  alive (maybe it was six). The "Ankor" were killing them right up to the last moment. One of the survivors was on the grounds and was selling his autobiography. I felt it was a worthwhile purchase on a couple levels.

Back on Big Red and back to the boat. I was scheduled to leave the boat last evening and check into this hotel for two nights. The group told me to come back for the evening's entertainment. A group of orphans who were scheduled to do national dances and songs. I said "Sure" and went to the purser, Nevell to clear it. He said words to the effect "Well, shit. Your room isn't taken and we don't leave until nine tomorrow morning. Why bother checking out. Stay here." I didn't have any heartburn over that and asked how much I'd need to pony up for the extra night. He looked at me. I said "The Pandaw Company. How much?" His response I've translated to mean "What happens in Vegas, stays in Vegas." I did tip extravagantly after that.

This morning was the email exchange and advice and contacts when I return to Siem Reap form my tour mates. Rally a great group. The boat holds 60 passengers, but were were 18. small enough to get close over four days and large enough to not be stepping on one another's space very much. I was not particularly happy about leaving them, but it was time to meet now people and get back on my own. Setting my own course instead of being nanny'ed for a few more days.