Vietnam 2009 Travelogue

05 November 2009 – day 20 – Thursday – Siem Reap, Cambodia

Today was our last day in Vietnam. First thing in the morning, the bus took us to the airport and we said our final goodbye to our guide, Lee, who has been so good over the past weeks. He's really done a super job. Often times, the guide is the most important element to a trip, and Lee was simply the best. What made him the best? He kept us informed, he set realistic expectations, he worked hard to find and fix problems, he expertly anticipated our needs, and he was knowledgeable.

We boarded a plane for Cambodia. We landed in the town of Siem Reap, Cambodia.

It's the town closest to Angkor Wat, the big temple I've wanted to see for so long. In fact, it's the main reason I took this trip to begin with.

Once we got out of the airport, we met our new guide whose name is Chantha.

Chantha seems like a nice guy. He looks young, but he's older than he looks. The first thing that struck me about him is his accent. He greeted us with “Hi, y'all,” with a nice small, but still he had quite a Cambodian accent. He likes to use the terms “down there” and “over there” but he pronounces them “Dawn day-ah” and “Ova day-ah”.

Our Vietnam guide, Lee, was very good. He was a very tough act to follow. Some of us were concerned that Chantha would be a let-down, and he started off on the wrong foot. He started off quiet, not saying much and setting our expectations. But he got better throughout the day.

He put us on a small bus and took us to our hotel, the Angkor Home Hotel.

The hotel is alright, but the beds are hard. We found an amusing sign in the elevator. It said “prohibited” and showed a silhouette of a gun, a hand grenade and drug paraphernalia. I was joking to Kathy about how many tourists accidentally bring their hand grenades into the hotel before they see the sign. I could just imagine a man saying, “Aw, crap, Honey, I forgot to leave my hand grenades in the car. Hold the elevator while I run them back out.”

The hotel has strange square toilets.

After we checked in to the hotel, Chantha gave us two hours of down time to relax after our “long” twenty-five minute flight. Well, we've only got three days in Cambodia, so several of us were unhappy to be wasting two hours. We were also unhappy that we hadn't gotten any food, save for the box of rubbish given to us by the airlines.

A couple of us ate a light lunch of Pad Thai and Pad Prong at the hotel restaurant. After lunch, Kathy and I promptly left the building to go out and explore.

We walked down the street from our hotel. I noticed a silly sign for a modern gasoline station. The company slogan was “Power for Energy”. I laughed. What else do you use power for? Perhaps the sign was meant to distinguish between gasoline power and political power. After all, you don't want to accidentally go into the wrong store and unknowingly buy off some government official, right?

Eventually we came to a modern gasoline station called “Caltex” that had everything we could want: an ATM machine that gave only dollars, some soda pop for tomorrow, candy bars, and ice cream (which we didn't buy).

Across the street was a Buddhist pagoda. This was not some ancient pagoda to be viewed by tourists. This was a modern pagoda with newly crafted buildings and temples, designed after the old styles. Buddhist monks walked around the complex. We walked around, taking photos.

We let ourselves in to the temple where we took several photos. The walls and ceiling were painted with scenes from the life of Buddha. It was very colorful.

We realized our time had almost run out, so we headed back down the street to our hotel. We came in two minutes late, feeling very sorry, but I still had to go up to the room to put the soda pop into the room's refrigerator.

Chantha gave us an orientation talk, then we went for a walk down the street. This is something I really like about OAT: they take you around to get your bearings and don't get lost.

Unfortunately, our orientation walk really didn't orient us much. Some of us were concerned that Chantha might not be a very good tour guide, but we all warmed up to him eventually. At first, he didn't seem very informative, but it was just his style. By the end of the day, he was giving more information. Still, Lee was much better.

On our walk, we saw a man whose job was to deliver ice. He was cutting large blocks of ice with a handsaw in the back of his truck, preparing for some customer. You would never see that in the United States.

I noticed several changes between Vietnam and Cambodia. First of all, there are a lot more children here in Cambodia. They're everywhere and they're very cute. We took lots of photos. Second, there doesn't seem to be a motorcycle helmet law here. It's not uncommon to see people rolling down the street with very small children, none of which are wearing a helmet. In one case, we saw a motorbike with a woman driving, and behind her was a box. Behind the box was a small girl that looked to me like she was about three years old. Her arms were around the box and her little hands were grabbing onto mama's waist for dear life. It was an incredible sight but unfortunately, we didn't catch it on film.

The stoplights here have timers so you can tell how long you have to wait, or how long you have before it changes. But here in Siem Reap, they have the absolutely most amusing walk signal. When the light turns green, the little green LED-man starts walking like some Asian athlete, with smooth, fluid motions. But as the timer ticks down, he walks faster and faster. When there are only a few seconds left on the timer, he's absolutely running in place. We were laughing our asses off just watching the green LED-man!

Next, we got back onto the bus (which met us down the road, outside the market). The bus took us a very short distance to a poor neighborhood. The local people were lined up to give us ox-cart rides. Each cart had two oxen and the cart. Chantha joked that this was the original “Ten Wheel Drive” car.

The ox carts took us through the village where we saw how the poor people lived. Basically, they live in small thatched huts with little or no furniture. They sleep on mats on the floor, and their one appliance was a television. Chantha said some of the villagers had electricity in their homes, but often they use a series of car batteries to power the television. When the power runs out, they go to the gas station and have them charged.

As we went through the village, the little children all smiled and waved at us. Their smiles were precious. I could almost have had “children of the day” photos rather than overloaded vehicles of the day.

Our ox-cart driver took us to his home and invited us to take a look around and take photos. He was proud of his home and family. Our travel company, OAT / Grand Circle, helped him by buying a water pump and he showed it to us.

Outside, the sun was going down, so we spent a few minutes taking photos of the sunset. It was beautiful.

We thanked the driver and walked back to the bus, which then took us to dinner and a cultural show. The food looked excellent, but in fact, it was not very good tasting. The show was a bit boring, but hey, I never pass by an opportunity to watch women on stage showing off their bodies. I sat on the ground in front of the stage and took lots of photos.

Oh, I suppose there were a few men there too, but they weren't as interesting to me.

After the performance, people got a chance to have their photo taken with the performers.

Aside from the big gas station we saw on the main road, there are several of these small Cambodian gas stations at the side of the road. These were even more amazing to see than the Vietnamese gas stations. Basically, the people took a bunch of used liquor bottles, filled them with gasoline, and stuck them in a wooden stand. So motorbikes can drive up, empty a bottle into their tank, pay and be on their way. You won't see that in the States.

I think that tomorrow we will see Angkor Wat. Yay! Unfortunately, I now have to try to sleep on another hard bed. This one isn't quite as hard as The Rock of Hanoi, but it's still worthy of the title, “The Rock of Siem Reap.”

Overloaded vehicles of the day: