Friday, April 22, 2011

Grand Circuit

Met with Mr. Seng at 8:00 again to go to the further temples and do the Grand Circuit. We started with Pre Rup:

These flowers are around parts of the temple, which I haven't seen anywhere else.

Followed by Banteay Samre (BAHN-tee sam-RYE):

This temple is relatively in tact. It gives you a sense of what the temples might once have been like.

Then to faraway Banteay Srei (perhaps two hours by tuk-tuk, but much faster on motorbike):

The carvings here are much more intricate. Will said it's because it's so far away that the Vietnamese didn't "wash" it with acid, like the did to all the other ones.

Then Mae Bon:

The last place we stopped before lunch was Ta Som:

Some kind of hopscotch-ish game. You can't see it, but she's drawn lines in the dirt.

A little girl here saw Candide and got really excited. It was when I had stepped pretty far back to take a photo, so I think she thought someone left it there. So I had to swoop in and save Candide either from being sold off to the highest bidder (and actually, he'd probably get a higher price than I paid for him) and/or living in Cambodian heat.

We went to restaurant No. 7 (which is not a real name - it was next to no. 8 and no. 9), where I ordered fried noodles with vegetables and chicken, only by fried noodles, what they mean is ramen.

Free fruit

Before I sat down to order, I felt something surprisingly painful on my foot and looked down to find a red ant walking around. It's not that it's extremely unbearable, it just stings for a while and then fades. It's definitely an attention-getter. Some of the mosquitoes here also seem to have teeth; you can feel it when they bite you. It's like getting a shot, only a bit less intense.

I bought two of the checkered Khmer scarves here for $1.50 total (though the asking price was $2 each). You can pay in a combination of dollars and riel, as for all intents and purposes, $1 = 4,000 riel regardless of what the exact exchange rate may be. So for example, I paid her in one $1 bill and two 1,000 riel bills. The scarves are used for everything from blocking dust from flying in your face to wiping sweat off your neck to wrapping it around your hair as a hat, etc.
Sort of in the same way a pareo is a dress, a towel, a beach mat, a blanket - it's whatever you need it to be.

After lunch, Mr. Seng took a short nap while I walked around Neak Pean, where there was a really cool snail-like thing and something falling from the trees that made it look like it was snowing.

Snail thing

All the vendors were napping, so I sneaked in some photos without having to worry about being asked for money.

The last temple was Preah Khan:

This guy was hanging out along the walkway to the temple.

As was this one.

Throughout the day, a couple people tried to force me into a tour that I didn't ask for by starting to introduce the temple and pointing things out. Once they get about 15 seconds in, I just said, "No, thank you; I don't need a guide," and they stopped.

I would recommend bringing looser long shorts, maybe something you'd wear to practice yoga, because anything in denim or that is form fitting is going to feel sticky and hot. You want something billowy that won't stick to you when you sweat. I also recommend heavy duty flip-flops, not the Old Navy type. You are going to be walking on very uneven surfaces and you need decent shoes to do that. The flip-flops I'm wearing are non-slip and have heavy duty soles and mesh wire in them, as well as air holes so your foot can breathe.

At this point it was about 2:15PM or so, and I wanted to catch the sunset since it was too cloudy yesterday, so I asked Mr. Seng to bring me back to the guesthouse and to pick me up at 5:00PM to head back for the sunset. He said he knew a place that would be good at the corner of the south gate of Angkor Thom.

During this break, I sent off a deposit for law school and applied for housing, so I will officially be attending Columbia this fall.

We left at 5:00, and Mr. Seng told me that his friend would be driving me back from the temples to my guesthouse because he had to pick up someone from the bus stop or airport at 6:30. This new person would also be driving me around tomorrow until the evening. So I suppose this is an instance of a transfer of a client, although it really makes no difference to me. We waited for his friend to go to the sunset place together, at which point Mr. Seng would leave to pick up his friend, and the new guy would wait until I was ready to go.

The new guy, Rahul, is much younger, probably a few years older than I am, and doesn't speak English, but he speaks Mandarin. (I cannot explain how useful it is to be multi-lingual when you're travelling.)

The motorbike ride to the sunset point was somewhat terrifying. There were parts of the road that had collapsed (because the "road" is in fact part of the south gate), and the remaining area was so thin that I was sure we would fall to our untimely deaths. (We did not.) There were a lot of low-hanging branches, so you have to dip and duck your way through, and you might end up with a worm hanging off of your helmet like Mr. Seng.

After reaching the sunset point, it was clear that there would be no sunset to be seen today either, again because of one enormous cloud in an otherwise clear sky. I was chatting with the new guy and found out that he lived in China for five months at a factory that makes explosives, but he quit because the job was too dangerous. He had also just quit from his job at a guesthouse today, because he was working 13-hour night shifts from 6PM to 7AM with only one day off a month for a monthly salary of $60. He seems really nice, and I think I like him better than Mr. Seng just a little bit, because he's always asking me if there's anywhere else that I'd like to go and giving me very honest advice; with Mr. Seng, I feel like he's always trying to fit a commission in somewhere, and by contrast, he doesn't proactively ask if I want to go anywhere else and initially seemed reluctant when I asked about a sunset place today. Rahul on the other hand, is always, like, "Yeah, sure. Is there anywhere else you'd like to go?" In short, I get the sense that with Rahul, it's service first; with Mr. Seng, it's how much commission he can make and how much time and gas he can save.

On the way back from the failed sunset attempt, I asked Rahul where the cheapest place to eat is. He said he always eats at home, so he doesn't know, so he calls Mr. Seng, who invites us both to dinner at his house (for free). His wife and three kids are there (aged 12, 8, and 4), who are adorable, as well as his younger sister and her son, and a guy whose relation I'm not sure of (brother-in-law, perhaps). Dinner is a lot of rice with two dishes: a soup with papaya and fish, and stir-fried pork and vegetables. It's delicious.

After dinner, Mr. Seng offers to take me to buy a bus ticket at a place that he knows that's "cheap." I suspect that what he means is a place he gets commission. The price they tell me for the night bus that leaves for Phnom Penh at midnight is $10. The seats recline to a nearly horizontal position and there's a bathroom, but no blanket. The price range of bus tickets to Phnom Penh is $5-$11 to begin with, so this is on the pricier end. I buy the ticket anyway and mentally consider my dinner paid for.

We go back to Mr. Seng's, and Rahul asks me if I want to go anywhere before I go back to the guesthouse, so I say I'd like to check out the night market. Arguably, once you've seen one, you've seen them all, but here are a few photos anyway:

When I'm finished with my quick walk-through, Rahul again asks if I want to go anywhere else, but I'm pretty pooped and want to go back, so he drops me off at my guesthouse. I ask the ticket people here how much the midnight bus is, and sure enough, they say $9. They get commission too, so I think it's probably only $7 or $8 at the bus stop. Harrumph. This is why I don't like this city. Trust no one.

We are scheduled to meet at 5:00AM tomorrow for the sunrise at Angkor Wat, unless it's cloudy. So that means I need to get to bed. Since I leave tomorrow night, I doubt I will have a chance to blog tomorrow.