Bangkok to Angkor Wat

So suddenly on my own… but not really! The Kiwi, Carl, and the French guy, Franc, were off to New Zealand and were leaving the English guy, Russell, behind. So, Russell and I decided we would travel together for a while. We got back from the trek and Chiang Mai with all options before us. Christmas was coming soon… where were we to go?? The beach sounded nice. But, it’s the thick of the high season for the beautiful, world-class Thai beaches, so we decided to hit the beaches next door in Cambodia. So after a night’s rest in Chiang Mai it was back on the 12-hour overnight train… this time kicking it with Russell and a local Thai guy who kept trying to rope me into going on a “special week-long trek” with him that was much better. Yeah right.

We arrived in Bangkok at about six in the morning. Russell’s mates Carl and Franc were actually still there. They were supposed to fly out that day, so we crashed their guesthouse room. They had just gone to bed… about an hour before. Hehehehe. They were troopers though and got up to have breakfast with us. Then, Russell and I went in search of a tourist agency that might be open that early. We eventually found one and explained we wanted to go to Cambodia. We barely got the words out when the lady was like “Okay. You leave in 5 minute. We take care of visa.” What?!?! So we rushed back to the guesthouse room to grab our bags and rushed back. The bus showed up shortly after and suddenly we were on our way to Cambodia. Where in Cambodia… we didn’t know. The road to the border was an easy ride. Then we got dropped off at a little joint to grab a bite to eat, while the organizers took our passports and disappeared to get our visas. Oh geez. But, that’s the normal procedure and they came back with our passports and shiny new Cambodian visas. Yeah! We found out by that time we were headed to Siem Reap, home to the ancient ruins of Angkor Wat. Little did we know what we had in store for the remainder of the ride there though.

We walked through a border market, went through customs, changed money for a ridiculously rip-off price and then waited in this empty room for a bus (there were other travelers). Finally, it was time to take off… and yeah, as I wrote before, it was nearly a 9-hour bus ride along a cracked and cragged dirt rode. We were bumping and bouncing like those silly gangstas in the U.S. with their cars tricked out with hydraulics. The landscape was just stunning though. We bumped past acres upon acres of wet marshland. The locals lived in stilted shacks with trash littered everywhere, clothes hanging off posts, pigs wallowing in mud. There were tons of little shack shops too that served as the local version of 7-11 or QT … snacks, cigs, batteries, etc. It’s just a different world. It is one major dry and dirty dustbowl though. The palms are all coated in thick, red dust and about half of the locals all wear cloth masks around their faces and noses.

We finally ended up in Siem Reap late that evening. At this point Russell and I had been traveling for a solid 30+ hours straight (with that brief breakfast in Bangkok). Whew! We made it! Sort of… we weren’t at the beach. But, at that point we gave up trying to make it to the beach by Christmas. We had to stay and check out the temples! Angkor Wat is actually just one of the temples. There are about a dozen ruins concentrated in the same area. It’s recommended that you take 3-days to explore them all properly. But, Russell and I opted to just go out and see what we could get in with just one day. We managed to tackle the three main attractions: Angkor Wat, Angkor Thom and Ta Prohm.

Angkor Wat is the largest religious monument in the world and was built in the early 12th century. The detail on the temple was… well, you really couldn’t get your mind around it really. There are more than 2,000 asparas, or goddesses carved into the rocks. Not to mention the tiny lotus flower carvings. Those would have to number in the hundreds of thousands at least. The detail of this temple really can’t and shouldn’t be downplayed. But, I can’t help but come out of it thinking that Angkor Wat, from a distance, resembles a drizzly sand castle. You know the ones I’m talking about? Where you made sand castles at the beach by just grabbing a handful of sand and slowly letting it drizzle from your fingers, allowing it to build into drizzly, peaked piles? Yeah. I always loved drizzly sandcastles. And I think it’s cool that the world’s largest religious monument reminds me of my childhood. Russell and I spent four hours just at this one temple. (The monkey pictured randomly showed up just as we were leaving Angkor Wat. I hopped up on the ledge of the temple where the monkey was walking and began snapping pics. He just kept coming towards me, and I kept snapping away until he literally just strolled on right around me as if I were some lump of rock in his way. It was funny. I then stalked him paparazzi style and he posed for a couple pics for me before getting annoyed and turning away from the camera every time I pointed it at him. He seemed pretty darn used to, and bored with, humans.)

Angkor Thom is the temple with all the huge face carved into it. It’s just cool. Faces staring at you from every direction.

Ta Prohm should be recognizable to most. It’s the Tomb Raider temple. I didn’t realize at first that they actually did shoot bits of the film at Ta Prohm and I kept commenting that it looked like something out of Tomb Raider. Well, dur, it is… Apparently, some French colonialists found these ruins pretty much as they are today… totally taken over by the jungle. The roots of these huge strangler figs and silk-cotton trees. I mean really, these trees have completely taken over. Wrapping themselves around the ruined stones and springing up from them as if they were nothing but mere soil. It’s really cool. Too bad it’s all touristy. It would be so cool if you just stumbled upon that in the jungle like the French guys did!

The only thing not so cool about these temples is that, as far as I’ve been informed, they’re not owned by Cambodia. It’s a bit unclear if it’s Japanese or Korean owned… but either way, only 10 percent of the entrance fee to see these ruins are used for any sort of upkeep. The rest of the money goes straight to a foreigner’s pocket. So much for using the ruined treasures of a country to help fund the rehabilitation of that country.

After three of those temples, it was time for a break. Especially after being haggled by relentless, high-pressure salesmen trying to hawk their goods off you the whole time. They were cunning. They were clever. They were mostly ages 4-15. That’s something I would like to explore further: these young kids that are learning the cunning savvy of high-pressure salesmen at such a young age. Learning that tourists are dopey targets for money, giving up so much of their normal childhood pastimes to sell, sell, sell. Russell and I tried to get some of the kids to forget their wares for just ten minutes and goof around and play with us. The best we could do is get a momentary crack of a broad smile, but then they were back to “You buy. One dollar. You buy. One dollar. You don’t buy, I cry. You buy, so I have money for school. You buy. One dollar.” More than once I just wanted to turn around and scream, “give it up already!!!” You say no, but they just follow and repeat themselves like only kids know how to do… you know, the old broken record routine. We did stumble upon some kids that were “salesman” but were actually taking a break to play. So we joined them. When they’re not selling, the kids are great. When they’re selling, they’re robots… or more like devils.

So, yeah, anyway, Russell and I headed back towards town, our hired Tuk-tuk navigating the streets. Along the way back, we saw this rather posh restaurant with a beautiful big terrace and decided to go for it. We’d been eating on a budget from local street vendors and markets for so long that we just craved some finer dining. It’s custom for the Tuk-tuk driver to just wait around for their customers. That’s what our driver did at the temples. But, I just couldn’t eat at this posh place leaving our tuk-tuk driver waiting outside. Plus, it was Christmas Eve. So Russell and I invited him to join us. He came and that was cool! It was Russell who actually did the treating though. He paid for all of it… Christmas present he said. He had quite a few of those “Christmas presents” though. Russell is an incredibly generous guy. Incredibly gracious too. He thoroughly enjoyed that he was in a 3rd world country with another random traveler… just living it up. His companionship and the timing of it was priceless.

Cambodia

So… need to write more about the amazing jungle greens and deep blue skies and amazing waterfalls and elephant rides and bamboo rafting and white water rafting… all a part of the trek I did just outside of Chiang Mai, Thailand. Need to post pics too…

But, first I’ll catch up on where I am now. I’m making this brief because I just wrote this and lost it once already. Anyways, I’m in Siem Reap, Cambodia where you can find the stunning ruins of Angkor Wat. Just got in tonight after taking a12-hour overnight train from Chiang Mai to Bangkok, then taking an early morning bus from Bangkok to the border and finally taking a bus from the border of Cambodia to Siem Reap. But, that last bus ride was more than 8 hours for just 150 km. The road in Cambodia is dirt, full of pits, crags and gashes. We bounced all over the place for nearly 9 hours straight. Crazy. Dry dusty roads. Wet soggy marshlands. People living in stilted shacks. Then… bam. Paved roads and five star hotels that cost $1000 a night (simply outrageous… I’m staying at a place for $6 a night). I’m traveling with an English bloke I met on the trek. We were planning on “jogging over to the Cambodian beachs,” since it’s the high season and the Thai beaches are insanely busy. Jog… ha. Anyway. We’re finally in Siem Reap. Will check out the ruins. Then head down to Phnom Penh and finally to the beach at Sihanoukville.

I guess my plans are still to do what I came to do… get to everest. But, instead of hiking to base camp (which i’ve heard is just the world’s highest dump), I’ll do a trek to Goa. It’s higher than base camp and gives an absolutely fantastic and unobstructed view of Mt. Everest. Fellow American clued me in to all this during the Cambodia travels…

Trading Bells and Chimes for Gongs and Bongs.

I need to get more pics up for this one… but this is a pic of Moritz, Peter and I.

This Christmas market in Graz, Austria is bigger than the one in Saarbrucken, Germany. A little more ornate… more bells chiming… the same cozy, comfy feel of bringing the people together.

That’s where I spent my third and last night in Graz with Claudia and Lisa (last night at least for awhile). We had spent the afternoon in the city… Claudia introducing me to all the sites. Graz is a rather artistic city with a floating boat sculpture in the river and an art museum that looks like futuristic bubbles. The building is made from dark blue glass and no two pieces are alike in size. The Austrian clock tower on the hill is Graz’s distinguishing landmark… and to get there we walked through the inner courtyard of a monastery. My brief tour of it all really made me curious to discover more… but, that will have to wait. Right now, I’m on a train to Munich… hoping that my reservation for a plane ticket to Bangkok will be finalized by the time I arrive in Munich. I am planning to be in the air tomorrow evening… on my way to more wild adventures… in Asia with Ben!

Remember Ben? I met him in Atlanta in October and we spent a fantastically fun couple of days together … all just before he was taking off to rough it an Asia on his own. I’ve since directed you to check out his blog about his journey. The things he’s doing and seeing are incredible. It’s fun to read Ben’s blogs… getting glimpses of his Asian adventures through his stories and pictures. But then a post came about an opportunity that I did NOT just want to read about… I had to be in on it! ; ) So, I beseeched Ben to hold off on his trek to base camp on Mt. Everest, until I came to Europe and we could rendezvous and take on the mountain together. Ben is so great… he was up for it from the start! So… it was settled. We’d go together!! But, the when part was still being worked out. Originally, Ben and I were going to meet up after he finished a two-week gig teaching English. That meant I could then keep plans to visit other friends around Christmas and New Year’s and I’d be making my way to Asia just a few days after the new year.

BUT, Ben’s teaching gig fell through because of a mixup with paperwork… and, his email suggesting we could bump up our rendezvous and get a head start on Nepal came, literally, just as Claudia was feeding me all her stories of strange and exciting adventures. Thus, I was enticed by Ben’s offer like a bee is attracted to honey. Of course, I bought the next reasonably-priced ticket to Bangkok. I’m ridiculously excited about meeting Ben and going with him on this trip. Every time I think about it I want to do a little dorky dance! ; ) The plan is to meet in Bangkok and then make our way over land to Nepal. That’s actually quite a ways. We’ll be traveling through India and China… perhaps Cambodia and Vietnam. Ahhhhhh! Really, I’m so crazy excited! I’m really looking forward to this trip… and I’m really looking forward to seeing Ben again!

First, I have one night in Munich though… and, funny enough… my host Moritz from Saarbrucken is in Munich for the weekend. So, I’ll have a familiar and friendly face to kick it with during my last night in Europe! I love cs… I love how it brings so many cool people into my life!

***update: Met up with Peter, my host in Munich, and after dropping my bag off at his place (yeah! one bag! Claudia let me leave a lot of my stuff with her…) we headed to Tollwood. It´s like a gigantic Christmas Market… but also more of a festival. You can find food from every corner of the world… but there´s tons of typical Bavarian food and beer of course! Peter was great and let me ramble on about all my adventures. We also plunged into some hefty topics of discussion within like 30 minutes. Really, couchsurfers are just amazing people! Moritz (my host from Saarbrucken) then met up with us and we all had a blast just goofing off and drinking too much Feuerzangenbowle, Gluehwein, hot Caipirinha and Almrausch (a hot rum punch)! Peter and Moritz definitely gave me a great send off for my last night in Europe! Can´t wait to come back and see more of this city though!!******