Siem Reap: First taste of adrenaline, freedom and impending alcoholism.
I embarked on a spiritual journey; one that would allow me to examine my thoughts and discover myself.
Flight was great, nothing spectacular. As the plane prepares itself for touchdown and I got a glimpse of Cambodia from the tiny pot hole I had the privilege to sit next to. The view is gorgeous! White fluffy clouds foretold good weather for the day. A huge muddy river rushed along, the waters smooth and shiny, sort of like brown satin. Then the landscape turned into lush green, divided into smaller squares. Some are packed with houses and trees, some are just lush green fields. Irrigated paddy fields reflected the blue skies with just a teeny bit of green peeking out of the waters. Sometimes, if you look hard enough, you would see a cow or two. I literally soak all this in with my seemingly permanent ‘wow’ shaped mouth. Like I said, I was raring to go.
|Woah, just woah|
|Flight AK540 touched down!|
Once I reached the airport, the first thing I did was to get internet. But before that, I had to go through immigration. I’ve heard people saying that I have to bribe officers for a hassle-free entry but I am very reluctant in case I got arrested for bribery or some other unnecessary shit just because I listened to ‘advice’. Again, nothing spectacular happened but I got a little stalled for God knows what reasons. The immigration officer took my passport and showed it to some other officer, came back, flipped through the pages for a while and bestow the stamp upon my passport. Yeah, he wasn’t all smiles but he didn’t do any harm to me, so I smiled at him anyway. To my surprise, he returned my smile promptly! I consider that a success!
Internet is actually cheaper in Cambodia than Malaysia. The internet, as I would soon find out, is loads faster as well. I got the cheapest package, which is $5 for 5GB plus 30 minutes international call. All I did on my phone with internet is to look for routes and how to go where. Most hostels have wifi so you don’t really need a lot of mobile data. I’m wandering to see life after all, not looking at my mobile screen.
There’s a transportation counter towards the right side of the airport entrance. Don’t worry if you didn’t get it, there are security guards everywhere to point you to that direction. I was prepared to pay extra for a tuk tuk ride although I was very reluctant to fork out such a huge sum of money(for me). Surprise, surprise! I ended up on motorcycle, which is about $2 versus $5 for tuktuk. You could travel in style in a taxi for $10 too, if you’re so willing to pay for it.
My motorcyclist (?), Rith, is the first taste of Cambodian charm. He’s super friendly. He told me where I could go, what qualifies as a real Cambodian trip and of course, offered his services to me. He is so willing to share. He told me about his family, his hometown and all sorts of stuff. I didn’t have to fish anything out of himis at all, he just talked to me automatically. I’ll find out soon that that’s the norm for most if not all transportation driver. They are insanely friendly!
|Friendly Rith holding my red backpack|
When I arrived at Kochi-Ke (my hostel), I was greeted by the receptionist at the counter. I paid $6/night for an aircond female dorm. I was staying with at least 5 other girls from different nations. It was exhilarating; I never thought I’ll be in the proximity of so many people I couldn’t even dream of meeting. I couldn’t sleep with all the excitement building inside me so I went out and explore the neighborhood nearby the hostel. The main road is very busy; cars and motorcycle sped past like nobody’s business. But out in the neighborhood, it’s a different world altogether. The streets quiet, deserted if not four the few children with slightly brown matted hair chasing each other. Go a little further down the dirt road and there’s a shop row. A few Cambodian uncles sat by the road, occasionally waving at me. Opposite the shop is a huge deserted school complex. It’s odd, I hear laughter, like children playing, but I couldn’t actually see anyone. It’s not creepy, just a little sad I guess.
|Children playing on the streets,|
|Overlooking the main road.|
|Shop row, I’m standing by the school.|
The Apsara performance restaurant (Kulen II) that Rith got me was not very far away, so I thought I would walk there. I like Rith and I think he’s getting a cut of it and it’s quite reasonable at $12 for the buffet, so why not help him out? Yeah, bad idea for a person who can’t read maps. I asked some random strangers but I couldn’t really understand the thick Cambodian accent. A tuk-tuk driver approached my lost little self and asked me where was I going. I was just planning to tell him the name of the restaurant and walk there myself, but he even offered to bring me there for free. I declined politely though, because I needed to get home later also. He’s not going to wait for me to get me home for free again.
The place was decorated to look like a huge banquet hall. I love tables in a row are adjoined together, Friendship opportunities! I was seated at table 12, but I had no neighbors to my side yet. There are 2 Japanese girls two tables across mine, but they weren’t keen to talk. Just when I thought of enjoying some alone time, Peter from Vietnam sat next to me. He’s alone as well, so we joined tables and initiated the interaction process. We talked about ourselves, he talked about temples and I talked about Malaysian food. We played a guess the food game. It was fun! The show and buffet starts in a bit and I saw a pair of girls sitting next to us. I saw a girl in a hijab and I was seriously debating myself whether or not to talk to her. Truth is, I was wondering whether or not she’s Malaysian. Once I mustered enough courage to talk, I found out that she’s Hidah from Malaysia and she’s travelling with a college friend, Katrin from Germany.
I couldn’t really enjoy the show a lot. It’s not really enjoyable when most I could see are a aparently permanent display of hands and camera flash. They did a lot of other dances with different themes, most of which I couldn’t get. The one I could understand is about a love story in a paddy setting. The boy tried to woo the girl and they called up their friends and dance battled. It sort of reminds me of Bollywood. Apsara came in last as a finale. It’s really careful and elegant, but like I said, I couldn’t really appreciate nor could I understand it. Hidah said that the performance at the cultural village is loads better and more emotion-evoking than this performance.
|A harvesting dance of some sort, I think?|
|Apsara, I think?|
|I’m so embarrassed to say I don’t understand anything.|
When the show’s over, we went over to the night market to hang out. It’s really fun! I love listening to Katrin talk. She shares so much. The same goes for Peter. Even though he’s not fluent in English, he tries his best to tell me about Vietnam. He was eager to tell me about Vietnam and that got me enthusiastic as well! He even asked me to Phu Quoc Island where he works if and when I get to Vietnam. When I was cruising through the night market, there are so many things I wish I could buy for my friends back home. But, the exchange rate is so horrible between RM and USD that I really don’t want to spend excess money on stuff that isn’t going to help me survive. So, sorry my friends.
|Bridge near the night market.|
|New friends: Katrin, Hidah and Peter.|
Peter had to leave soon for him bus to Vietnam, so we disbanded. Katrin and I had an alcohol date with each other, but I waited for her to send Hidah back to the guesthouse before going towards Pub Street. I’m more sensitive to the surroundings when I’m alone, it seems. As I sat on a bench overlooking rows of shops, a bunch of stimuli swept over me like a gentle wave. I could hear children laughing joyfully playing with each other. I heard Cambodian merchants talking with each other, maybe about the weird Chinese-looking girl (me) staring at them. I saw bugs flying around the intricately carved streetlamps, stopping only to die. I saw people walking around, haggling like a champion. I waited till most of the shops closed; even the streetlamps dimmed. A ringing bell caught my attention. Turns out it’s Katrin. Drinking time!
Photo credits: laorock.wordpress.com
Photo credits: www.photocory.com
Pub Street is insane! Music was blasting from everywhere! Katrin and I were sort of waiting for each other to decide. We went with Angkor What in the end, the place looks so cool! Graffiti filled the walls and the music is so sick! It’s so full we couldn’t even get a seat to ourselves. so we sat with a group of Westerners; Katrin on one side of the table, me on the other side. We couldn’t even hear each other over the loud music. So when there’s another empty seat next to each other, we moved there. Even then, we had to shout to barely hear each other. The atmosphere is awesome and the cheap beer is definite must. I let myself go and danced with the tune. A Cambodian boy noticed me and hit on me (first time unlocked!). But I was disgusting; I think I even smell of armpits. I wasn’t dressed for a night out, much less clubbing. And of course, Katrin got more invites, but she’s so nice that she rejected the offers and stayed with me. I feel like it’s going to be a habit from now on, drinking I mean.
|75 cents beer!|
As it gets later, Pub street gets crazier. Temple Club is just across Angkor What. It’s so full that people are stumbling out of the dance floor and made the streets their new favourite dance party! People started dancing on the streets, phones were whipped out to record their friends’ super drunk moment. One dude even went into Angkor What and danced on the table. It’s not like a I’m-drunk-and-I-don’t-know-what-the-fuck-I’m-doing dance; more like a I’m-here-to-show-you-a-good-time sort of dance. It’s crazy!