Thursday, June 3, 2010

Days 7-9, in which the naive travelers encounter Indonesia’s best shopping in unexpected places, crunchy little crickets, become Tomb Raiders and elephant tamers, melt slowly into oblivion, and endure the bus ride from hell

After leaving the ethereal shores of Phi Phi Island, we boarded a plane to Siem Reap, Cambodia. There’s a couple ways to get to Cambodia from Thailand; you can take a plane to Bangkok (as we were on Phuket Island after all) then a train, then a bus, then a tuk tuk, then a bus, which would take an entire day OR, you can take a 2 hour flight from Phuket. We opted for the direct flight. Go ahead and call us unadventurous! I dare you!

So we flew to Siem Reap, Cambodia where we planned on spending our one full day there at Angkor Wat – aka – the ONLY place to really visit in Siem Reap. Angkor Wat is to Cambodia as Moab is to Utah (you like my logic game? Eh?). In Moab, you enter a national park and cruise around visiting the various arches and geographical wonders. In Angkor Wat, you enter a national park and cruise around visiting the various Wats and geographical wonders. So yes, I just compared Moab, Utah with Angkor Wat, Cambodia, but for those of you who have visited both places, you know I’m right. Angkor Wat is the Moab of Indonesia… loosely.

While disembarking from the airplane and leaving the airport (with the coolest looking Cambodian visa stickered nicely inside our passports), we of course encountered many helpful taxi drivers wanting to drive the foreigners to their hotel. We found ourselves one of these helpful chaps who ended up speaking impeccable English. He explained that he was trying to be a certified ‘tourist guide’ and he had a big test coming up, so he was using us to practice. Don’t worry, it was legit. After reading that explanation of how we found our Cambodian friend I realized how very “sucker American girls” it sounded… but like… so wasn’t that way. So wasn’t. Anyway, we decided to use this fresh faced, eager Cambodian, to our advantage (what? It’s how they DO things here… sheesh! We’re just trying to acclimate to the local swindlery… ing… swindling). When he dropped us off at the hotel, he offered to come back the next day and take us all around Angkor Wat and then subsequently, drive us down to Phnom Phen the day after that. We discussed this and I told him we’d be interested if he’d do it for mucho less then what we’d get with a certified tour guide. That way he gets practice, and we get an air-conditioned car complete with native expert for a much better deal. And thus, a deal was struck! We shook on it! And in the end, this chap turned out to truly be heaven sent. If you’re ever in Cambodia, look him up. I kept his card.

We arrived at our Siem Reap hotel around 7:00pm and then ventured out to roam the streets of Siem Reap. It was naturally reminiscent of many of the shopping districts we’d encountered in Bangkok, Phuket, and Phi Phi Island; however, the vendors weren’t nearly as aggressive and the prices were cheaper than dirt… cheaper than dirt on dirt! And what’s more, after exploding our minds with ‘baht to dollar’ conversions – turns out Cambodia likes to accept the US dolla. Holla! Their domestic currency is the “riel” but it’s basically worth more as toilet paper – so they fill their ATM’s with US dollars and prefer to take US dollars. The convenience! What’s ironic is the main body of tourists going through these places hail from England, France, and Australia. I’d say 1 American for every 30 of the afore mentioned nationalities. Go USA. Another nice relief was buying $2 t-shirts that weren’t totally cheesy and ridiculous! They were really good lookin t-shirts! I never thought I’d be one of those t-shirt buying tourists but in Siem Reap, how could I say no? I couldn’t do it! So I bought a handful of t-shirts (one of which featuring a silhouette of a dude on a toilet with Ipod buds in his ears that read “I-Poop.” That gem went to my 17 year old brother. He dug it.), an exquisite turquoise bracelet, an ornate elephant stamp (as in the ink to paper kind… not the mailing kind), and get this, 6 beautiful scarves for $6! What??!?! It was a much more pleasant shopping experience than anything we’d experienced in Thailand. We voted Siem Reap “best shopping ever” – and didn’t worry once that we were giving the title pre-maturely. We knew we’d found the best.

The next day, our helpful tour guide in training picked us up punctually at 7:30am (one thing to be said of these various pick-up and drop of guides, they’re always very punctual… something you know I admire), and we entered Angkor Wat tailing a large bus full of Chinese tour groups, naturally. Now there’s a good time. We proceeded to enjoy the various Wats (here comes the joke… and Wat nots (bwahahahah! Never old!)) throughout the hottest most face melting day I’ve ever experienced in my life; “Not many tourist come during this season” said our Cambodian guide, “too hot.” Holy liquified brain Batman! Nothing gets hotter than Cambodia in April. Nothing. Go ahead and find it… go on, Sahara Desert, and exert your mighty deserty power… I give you Cambodia in April!!! Phhhhheeeeew….

The pics are sweet though… observe:

Whats Faces? (snicker)

Look familiar? Well, that may be because this is the Wat used in Laura Croft Tomb Raider! Holla!

No, that's me, not Angelina Jolie. Happens all the time!                       Little Cambodian Girl

Yeah! Turns out, this is here!

Road one of these.

After melting in Siem Reap, the next day our guide took us to Phenom Phen, about 3 hours from Siem Reap. On the way, we stopped by a snack stand and got us a sack full of crispy crickets. What? No you read that right. A sack full of crispy crickets. And I ate one. It’s really a matter of mind over matter… its glossy little eyes, chubby body, and spindly legs. Shuuuuuuudder. But truly, it just tastes like a very salty potato chip. I could only force my mind over the matter once though… and gave the rest of our sack-o-crickets to a group of dusty Cambodian kidletts.

(So... I know this picture is fuzzy and tiny. But, at least you can see that I was nervous about eating that crunchy little bug in my hand, right? Shore.)

We ate some of these too... to compliment the salt with the sweet... naturally... ahem.

Have you read the novel “First They Killed My Father” by Loung Ung? Well do it. It was most of my inspiration for visiting the capitol of Cambodia, Phnom Phen. Here, you will find a city still stunted in time, trying to overcome a regime of terror headed by extremist Communist leader, Pol Pot, that occurred over a 4 year period in the late 70’s.  His regime was the Third Reich of Cambodia; a veritable Indonesian Holocaust. And I do not offer that comparison lightly; as one never should. that day in Phnom Phen was a somber day… one I won’t forget for a very long time.

The Killing Fields

School turned Torture Chambers

That night, we made a decision that affected the rest of our vacation. We ate with the locals. Haven’t we always been eating with locals? Well kind of. Most places we’d been, there were other tourists hanging out in the same areas, naturally, and eating in the same places. The place WE found, however, down the creepiest street that has ever been my unfortunate luck to stumble upon, there was not a single tourist in sight. This, my friends, is red flag number 1. Red flag number 2, being so brain-numbingly fried we had no desire to ‘think before we ordered smoothies with ice in the strange foreign country.’ The last red flag being the incredible inconvenience OR expense it takes to get from Phnom Phen, to Vietnam. Keep all these things in mind as our story treks forth…

That night, Terilyn experienced some seriously ragging sickness. The next day, we struck out to make our way to Vietnam. I can tell you, Terilyn’s sickness shook me up a bit… I took a mental inventory “do I feel okay? What did I eat? Did we share something?” But I tell you Internet, I felt 100% fine. I proudly thanked my consistently stalwart immune system, and tried to make Terilyn as comfortable as one can be, being sick in a foreign country.

To get to Vietnam, there was a boat and a bus involved. The boat because I thought it sounded much better than a bus and a bus… and a bus because… that was the only option for the second leg. Now, shore we could’ve bought a plane ticket for $500, but why in heavens name would we do that when we could take our trip by sea and by land for $30? Exactly. You’d get on that boat with me. And the boat was fine. It was 3 hours, a little sweaty, but in the end, we made it to the Vietnam boarder feeling okay… me feeling a little better than Terilyn but both of us well intact. Naturally our confidence at this point had peaked and when one’s confidence peaks… it’s time for some humbling. The bus was the beginning of that humbling. 6 hours. And it’s not a "6 hours to Vegas on a strait smooth 80mph" road. No. Its "6 hours on a bumpy, swervy, 40(max)mph, sitting on a bus brimming with 10 other people, one of whom is vomiting rather consistently and sitting right in front of the backseat where Terilyn, a French dude, a young British girl, and I were stuffed (white people to the back!)" kind of road. And if THAT doesn’t sound like a little piece of torture, add a dash of soft-core porn playing lucidly on the fold down screen in the front of this very small bus. And once you finally feel all moral principle slipping from your soul, they switch out Brittany and Jessica’s Bodacious Floss Bikini Bods for Kill Bill times 500, Vietnamese style. I kinda wanted Brit and Jes back at that point. The only way I made it through this bumpy, vomity, bloody, and booby trip, was a fully charged Ipod blaring Swan Lake and Phantom of the Opera. No really… it helps me visualize prancing swans instead of grinding hips and the music of the night rather than slow head sawing and blood sploshing. It kinda worked.

Finally, FINALLY, we reached Ho Chi Mihn City at midnight and nearly tumbled off the bus and made a run for it… not caring where we ended up… so long as it was away from that demonic instrument of suffering and torment (that’s the bus…). We checked into a hotel to sleep for 5 hours, and then hopped a plane to Ho An. Yes. Ho An was this worthwhile destination we had employed such diabolical measures to finally reach. And why was Ho An so worth it? I have no idea. Alas, see afore mentioned red flags (weird resturaunt, ice, and a ton of traveling in two days). For the two full days we had slatted for enjoyment of this small French-esque beach town, for me, never left the hotel room. The bacteria that had ruled Terilyn’s body for a night… ruled mine for two full days. Ruled it in every way a sickness can rule your body… and all I wanted… the only thing I could FATHOM trying to put in my body… was Chicken Noodle Soup and Gatorade. Does Vietnam HAVE chicken noodle soup and Gatorade? I can tell you, it does not. However, it does house very nice, English speaking Vietnamese doctors used to treating Western tourist's weak intestinal tracts. Oh, and they make house calls. Another man I bless. He had the bacteria dueling pills with him and made my last 3 days in Vietnam… doable. How doable? Well this post is far too long already… and I’m sure I lost most of you at “so we boarded a bus full of vomit and porn” but just in case you made it passed that point… I’ll promise you to round out the Fantastical Adventures of Americans in Indonesia… very soon. Thanks for pushing through…


Annie said...

This is the most interesting and enjoyable trip diary I have ever read and I am SO looking forward to the next installment! Way to go!

Andrea Jolene said...

Hurah! I'm glad to hear it!

Just ME the MOM said...

What an adventure! Such excellent photos also!


jaime said...

Adventure! I wish I had been there...sans the intestinal problems...and the porn.