08 April 2004

. . . and who could forget cambodia?

how could i forget in the last entry to at least mention our trip to cambodia? perhaps it was a subconscious decision to create a space just for the experience. and it was certainly an experience unlike any i have ever had before.

alfy and i had 8 days vacation time during which we opted to visit angkor wat in cambodia. to this end, we attained the requisite re-entry permits so that our non-immigrant b visas would not be null and void upon our return, our tourist visas to cambodia and our bus tickets. the going was good from kao san road in bangkok just up until the border.

and then we reached poi pet. poi pet is described in the "lonely planet" as the armpit of cambodia, and far be it from me to disagree. it seems the place where wayward souls congregate to pull the hair and coerce the minds of hapless foreigners hoping to visit the ancient wonders of the former khmer kingdom. after weaving our way through the labyrinthian border checkpoint and casino clusters, we were ushered into a delapidated van captained by a smiling octagenerian bent on finding and experiencing every road deformity. because alfy's legs are so much longer than the average thai's, we sat in front with me next to our fearless driver.

after bumps and scrapes and a close call with the transmission, we finally arrived in siem reap, the closest city to angkor wat. alfy and i found a cheap guesthouse with a swiss couple who were so cool that we spent the rest of our time in cambodia travelling with them. we rented bicycles for three days and were on our way to great adventures.

i don't mean to build it up for anyone who has not yet experienced angkor wat, but nothing prepared me for the majesty and wonder of it. there is a scaled version of one of the main temples in bangkok's grand palace, but i had no notion of the whole complex's sheer size until alfy and i pedaled around it with sweat and dust coagulating on our tired bodies.

the first morning, alfy and i got rather lost as we "navigated" (i use that word loosely) through microscopic villages and little pathside markets. having finally spilled onto the road to angkor, we rode up to angkor's main gates and asked where we could procure a three-day pass. after some confusion, one shocked and rather worried guard asked how we had managed to miss the checkpoints on the road. apparently we had missed all four checkpoints during our rural trek, which no foreigner had ever done before. cambodia is not the safest country in the world due to strife and landmines, so the guard did some hand-wringing while we tried to assure him that we never strayed from the path (which at least protects some against landmines).
after an eventful morning and a swell conversation with the woman who processed our passes, we continued on to our original destination - ankgkor wat.

the actual wat is beyond description. i won't try to describe, but only to say that you must go and experience it for yourselves. some temples have been restored while others have been left in the manner in which it was found, the jungle creeping into and becoming a part of the stone structures.

sacha, dorian, alfy and i decided after three days that we should see at least one other city before departing cambodia. the bad road experience from poi pet to siem reap had made us bus-shy, so we took a boat to battambang through floating villages and beautiful countryside. gorgeous! upon landing, we were informed (well, we deduced from the activity around us) that we had to climb on a pickup with our luggage and drive the rest of the way through into battambang. so much for avoiding the roads. as it happens, poi pet to siem reap was a cake walk compared to the treacherous mudlands optimistically called a road. a few times the pickup swung up to an embankment on the left tires and down into swamp on the right side, nearly tipping the truck over in the process. the cambodian passengers didn't seem overly concerned, but all the foreigners had heart palpitations and jumped off to walk until the road evened out again. i have never been so afraid or dirty in my life. we had wondered why one cambodian insisted on bringing some cardboard and a scythe with him. the answer was cardboard for traction and a scythe for brush if the actual road proved impassable. it was a shock and surprise to actually reach our destination. we stayed one night in battambang and drove in a car to poi pet the next day. alfy and i spent two days on koh chang, which has been built up beyond all recognition. still, a beautiful area is a beautiful area, and we returned refreshed and ready for the classes and schedule craze that lay ahead.

that's the trip! sorry it was so long. best to you all, my two devoted readers.

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