Travelogue Thailand 2000 #2
This Travelogue is Incomplete
12/28/00-1/4/01: Hong Kong
1/4/01-1/7/01: Los Angeles
Sunday December 3, 2000
Well, I'm going back to Thailand again. Why? I dunno. I like Thailand and I don’t like December, so why not?
Normally I fly United, but this time I'm checking out American Airlines and Cathay Pacific (they are both part of the "One World" group which is analogous to United Airlines' "Star Alliance".) The American Airlines Ambassador's Club in Denver is a pleasant but unremarkable lounge. They provide free tea and coffee, but no food whatsoever. There is a cash bar. On this Sunday evening the lounge was almost completely empty. One of the few people there was TV actor Gary Coleman, straight from the "where are they now" files. We chatted briefly about the horrors of Denver's unrestrained growth, the relative merits of Denver vs. Los Angeles, and the mint marks on one-dollar bills. I pretended not to be phased by his celebrity. In truth though, I wasn’t pretending.
During my stopover in Los Angeles I met my friends Richard and Heather who live here, and just arrived in from Las Vegas. We met up at the Encounters restaurant in the strange UFO/Jetsons building that sits in the middle of the airport. That is the building that is illuminated with ever changing colored lights. We were joined by the sculptor John Sisco, who lives in Seattle but was co-incidentally traveling from LA to New York tonight. The Encounters restaurant is really good! It’s a tad on the expensive side, but for an airport restaurant it is amazing.
Thailand is really, really far away. I was picked up by the Super Shuttle at my home in Boulder, Colorado at 3:30pm. 9 hours later I'm boarding the Cathay Pacific flight from LA to Hong Kong at 11:30 pacific time - 12:30am Mountain Time. With air time and the stopover in Hong Kong, I'll be landing in Bangkok only 20 hours later. By the time I get to the Sheraton Grande Sukhumvit in Bangkok, my travel time will have been about 30 hours. You've really got to want to go somewhere to travel for 30 hours. Believe you me!
Monday December 4, 2000
Due to travel and crossing the date line, this day does not exist.
Tuesday December 5, 2000
Cathay lounge in Hong Kong. Shower was good, but doesn’t compare to Arrivals by United. Also, had to wait 15 minutes to get a shower. They Cathay lounge has a number of interesting features (like a noodle bar and a day spa), but none of them are open at this early hour. The finger food, fruit and beverage selection is very good thought. Also, there are free internet terminals, a nice touch.
Arrive in Bangkok, go to Sheraton Grande Shukhumvit. Not as nice a room as my prior visits. The hotel is very full this time. For the first time ever I can hear people in the rooms next door. I don’t know if this is because they put me in a less-well insulated room, or I have never had neighbors before. This room is fine, but just slightly smaller than the rooms they usually put me in.
Wednesday December 6, 2000
Lay out by the pool reading.
Museum of science, Sukhumvit soi 40.
Thursday December 7, 2000
Lay out by the pool reading.
Friday December 8, 2000
Fly Bangkok Airways to Ko Samui. Travel agent booked me onto 3:30 flight, not 1:10 flight. Got in off waitlist anyway. Bangkok Airways built and owns the airport on Ko Samui and has a total monopoly on flights. Thai airways only flys to Surat Thani, have to take a ferry from there. Uneventful flight.
Check into Amari Palm Beach Resort. Nice. "Suite" for 5500b per night. A nice big room, not really a suite. Very comparable to Baan Sukhotai in Phuket. I chose the Amari because it was near the main section of Chaweng beach, but north of it so it wouldn’t be close but not too noisy. I chose the suite because it was the only room they had left with a king bed. The suite was 50% more than a deluxe room, and while it is a very nice room, I expected more given the price differential. Looking around the complex, it appears that at least half of it is located across the street from the beach section. In both sections a substantial number of rooms are right on the busy, noisy street. My room is right near the beach and pool; very quiet and with nice views. I suspect a big part of the price is location, not size of room.
There are tons and tons of hotels, guest houses and resorts along the main drag here. Several of the others appear to have more beachfront, and more beachfront rooms. The Amari has really nice deck chairs around the pool, but the deck chairs on the beach are kinda lame. The Blue Lagoon right next door has much nicer looking beach chairs. Also, the main drag here in Chaweng is so long, that being on the northern edge is really being out of it. It takes a good 1/2 hour to drive from one end of the strip to the other. Ouch.
Dinner at Yellowfin restaurant on the beach. Food was OK, service was horrendous. Price was good.
Check out different discos and bars. Very happening scene. Lots of people of all ages and nationalities.
Saturday December 9, 2000
Raining. Not like the rain I am used to in Thailand, very light but continuous rain. Good (not great) buffet breakfast at hotel (included.)
So much for the light rain, it is now seriously pounding down with rain. But unlike the tropical showers I am used to, this is going on and on.
Very good lunch at hotel, watching the rain and reading.
I can't drive my motor bike because the road is completely flooded. I take sampows everywhere (20b per ride.) It is very slow going because of the deep water running through the streets. Dropped off laundry (35b per kilo), then went to get massage. I had noticed two spas during my perambulations last night, and managed to find them again today. It turns out that Line Thai and Classic Thai Massage, located next door to each other, are owned by the same people. I have no idea why they don’t just combine the two structures. I chose Line Thai (for no particular reason) and had a 1 hour herbal oil massage and 1 hour facial. Repeatedly said I didn’t want a "hard" massage, and they listened! It was the nicest, most relaxing Thai massage I've ever had, not at all painful. Attractive tranquil place, but the long massage room is right over the street. The door to the massage room has a big "quiet please" sign on it, but the room is noisy as hell from the non-stop traffic! Ah, Thailand.
<Compare Chaweng to Patong. - not any smaller or quieter, less conveniently arranged.>
Had dinner at the Long Table restaurant. Had my favorite shells with chili and sautéed morning glories. The food was very good, the service excellent and friendly. The music was the worst of Muzak interspersed with performances of live musicians playing traditional Thai music. A very weird combination. Total price was cheap. Recommended.
Sunday December 10, 2000
The rain stopped yesterday afternoon, and the stars came out briefly last night, but today it is overcast and blowing like crazy.
Had a Thai omlete for breakfast at the hotel. A different interpretation from what I am used to. Went to talk to the folks a the Discovery Dive Center. Apparently they sent a group out on a dive today, but only because they were doing a class and needed to do the certification dives. They expect the diving to be bad due to the weather. They don’t have any dives scheduled until Tuesday, but they aren't sure if that one will go off or not. Apparently the dive season here is almost exactly off from that of Phuket (I wish I had known that when I arrived in Phuket off-season last year.) They tell me the weather and diving is best here when it is summer in Europe.
For lunch went to the restaurant on the beach at the hotel next door. Very nice covered platforms with mats and leaning pillows. Had a good Thom Kah Gai (not great.) Really enjoyed the breeze and the sound of the waves. Afterwards, had a great massage on the beach from the Amari hotel's certified massage people. It was really nice, on a covered platform right on the beach, the strong winds blowing over me with the sound of the waves. The massage wasn’t as high quality as I had yesterday, but the environment was so nice that it was well worth it. Then I went and got a Cuban Monte Christo #3 cigar (800 baht) from the bar at the Amari, walked down to the beach and smoked the whole thing while drinking a fresh green coconut and staring at the sea. It would take a lot more than a Michelob to make life better than this! The wind is really amazing. I had a number of conversations with vendors on the beach. There are almost no customers out today because of the clouds and winds. Even though I wasn’t buying anything, they seemed to enjoy chatting with me anyway. I think they thought a guy smoking a cigar and smiling goofily at the sea was amusing.
Had another excellent dinner at the Long Table restaurant.
Monday December 11, 2000
Another dreary, windy, rainy day. I hope the plane to Phuket can take off in this wind!
Sat at breakfast and watched the hotel's guareners climb the beautiful coconut palm trees and cut out most of their leaves. Afterards the trees look lousy. The explanation they gave me is that it is now the windy/rainy season, and the trees might fall over. Clearly Lonely Planet was right about not going to Ko Samui in December. The "full moon party" on Ko Phang Nga is tonight, but I cant deal with that scene. Also, the weather is sucking. I think going to Phuket is a better idea.
The two o'clock flight on Bangkok Airways was completely uneventful. Though only 50 minutes long, they managed to serve sandwiches and a couple rounds of drinks. The Samui airport is quite pleasant and very low key.
In Phuket I am staying at the Orchid Residence
Patong, (171/22 Soi San Sabai, 66-76-345176
email@example.com, www.orchidresidence.de.) This is a hotel that I had checked out on my last visit when I got tired of the Sand Inn. The rate is 1680 baht (about US$39) for a deluxe room, which is quite reasonable for Phuket in high season. The place is pretty nice, having been recently built. However, the staff isn't nearly as nice as at the Sand Inn, and didn’t help me bring my luggage up the 4 flights of stairs to my room. Also, the room was not as quiet as I had hoped. Patong Beach's inexorable growth has resulted in ever more bustle and noise. Though the Orchid Residence is much further up the road from the main drag, the street noise has grown to reach this further stronghold. The Orchid Residence has a few other drawbacks as well; the bed and pillows are exceedingly hard (I later discovered that the mattress has two sides, the side which was made up as the top was hard as a board, the underside had some padding - I flipped it over myself.) Also, they provide virtually no amenities. Just a couple tiny bars of soap, and nothing else. No free potable water, no shampoo at all, etc. Oh well. Easily remedied at the 7-11. One last odd thing about the Orchid Residence; thought the place is very new and looks clean and serviceable, all of the linens look like they got them second hand from some bowery hotel.
After checking in I went down to the beach and had a swim. It was so nice after Samui - the water was warm and the air was pleasant, so I lay on my back in the surf and watched the sun set.
For dinner I went to the Malee Seafood Restaurant located among the collection of open-air seafood restaurants on 200 Year Road. I had my favorite shells in curry sauce and curried mud crab. Though the seafood in Samui had been good, the Phuket seafood is just amazing. I dream of this stuff.
Tuesday December 12, 2000
Wow is Patong Beach crowded! I haven't been here in December in quite some time, and it is really jammed. Totally overrun. The beach was chock-a-block with people, noisy, crowded and downright unpleasant. Hi ho. The water was still nice, but the incessant speedboats, longtails, and jetskies really impinged on the environment. One thing about Samui, the beach was tranquil.
<very Mediocre lunch at Number 6 restaurant on the beach. Just as poor as last time I was here.>
<researched dive operations, signed up with Scandinavian Divers for 4 day Similans trip.>
<fried red snapper with chillies at one of the seafood restaurants. Not made the way I like it - Europeanized, not spicy. The fish was so damned fresh that it was good anyway.>
Wednesday December 13, 2000
Excellent Thai Omelet at Number 6 restaurant on 200 Year Road (not Number 6 on the beach).
Packed up and checked out, went to the beach, wandered around, got a massage on the beach. Told the woman repeatedly that I didn’t want a hard massage, but clearly she knew better. Ouch. All the noise from the loud tourists, blazing stereos from the restaurants and bars, and watercraft conspired to make the experience singularly unrelaxing.
It is blazingly hot today. Downright unpleasant.
Had another excellent meal at Malee Restaurant (now avoiding the other place that has become badly westernized.) Then went to the Scandinavian Divers office to meet up for the Similans trip. This trip is going to be great, a fun group of people. This operation leaves directly from the dock in Patong Beach instead of the schlep out to Chalong Bay that is required for the Scuba Cat operation.
<about the boat: Silver Arrow. Huge, underutilized, insane layout.>
Thursday December 14, 2000
A stunningly beautiful day today, sunny, clear with a cool breeze coming up off the ocean, I awake at 6:30am to find us anchored next to Similan Island #4. We have a little pre-breakfast snack then do our first dive at 7:30am.
Dive (hard current, very little to see.)
Excellent lunch (my favorite shells!)
Really good dive
Skip the night dive
Insanely hard bed (consistency of a nicely padded linoleum floor.) Hard pillows, noisy room right near the engines and the kitchen.
No sinks on board, only 4 tiny toilet rooms with handheld showers. Nowhere to brush your teeth, shave, wash hands, etc. Stupid. Also no amenities (no towels, no soap, no shampoo, ear drying drops, sunscreen…)
Dive deck is terribly laid out. There is plenty of room, but it is organized all wrong. Divers tripping all over each other. It is hard to get the tanks out of the tank holders. There is nowhere to put cameras and computers. This boat has tons and tons of room, all of it is organized wrong. Given this much space I could design a better dive boat with a scant minute or two of thought. There are only 11 paying guests on this trip, plus 5 dive masters and instructors, plus a Thai crew. They tell me that the boat can hold 40, but Scandinavian Divers never puts more than 24 guests on the boat. With 11 people the boat functions fairly well in spite of its poor design. I think with 24 people it would completely fall apart. 40 would be insanity. Though the boat has worked out pretty well for my trip, I think I would avoid it in the future, lest I find myself on board with a full compliment.
Friday December 15, 2000
Another stunning day. Up at 7am, then into the water at Tachai's Reef by 8am. I screwed up and didn’t have my booties, so I wasn’t ready for the entry. The dive master went in before I was ready, I rushed and jumped in before I was ready. I was all ungepaqued; my weight belt came undone as I was going down the mooring line - I held the weight belt with one hand while tracking the mooring line with my elbow and attempting to equalize my ears. By the time I was at the bottom, had my weight belt on and my shit together I had wasted a lot of air. The rest of the dive was quite beautiful.
Dive - awesome dive, mating cuttlefish (other two groups had aborted dives!)
Unfortunately a storm was coming in and the current got quite strong, so the night dive was cancelled.
Saturday December 16, 2000
Dive master tells us all to get ready long before the captain has us near the dive site. We stand out on the dive deck for 5 minutes sweltering in our wetsuits and gear, breathing the diesel fumes while the boats steams to the site. Poor coordination. I am used to situations where the boat gets to the site, then we get ready; this is painful.
Always do dingy exits. I hate dingys. I keep pulling my left shoulder muscle climbing into the dingy. The Thai crew does a very poor job helping us into the dingy, often standing where I am trying to climb in.
Trip to island #4, heavy rain while walking through forest to the other side of the island. Totally soaked.
Boring night dive.
One of the Sweedish guys gets an electrical shock going up the stairs, then we see blue flames arcing from a wire to the side of the boat. Someone pulls out a 1 quart fire extinguisher. It turns out that this one tiny extinguisher is the only fire extinguisher on the entire boat. Oh, by the way, there are no life preservers so you’d better not fall overboard.
Sunday December 17, 2000
Woke up really tired this morning. First dive was OK, by my mind was elsewhere, and there was nothing exceptional on the dive at all. No sharks, nor cuttlefish, octopus, turtles, etc. Really nothing to report.
After breakfast I really didn’t feel like doing the final dive. At the last minute I decided that I would go on the dive. On the dive deck the Thai crew was in the way instead of helping (as usual), but this time trying to step around the deck-hand I tripped on the dive deck, fell in the water, and lost my weight belt. As I came up I was almost hit by the dingy. Everyone else was heading down, and the boat was pulling away, not noticing that I was having a problem. I sent my buddy down with another group and attempted to swim back to the boat to get a new weight belt. Between the current taking me one way and the boat heading off the other, I was soon alone in the water. I inflated my safety sausage and waited for the dingy which came and picked me up. On the boat they were very apologetic and offered to send me down with Sam, the dive boat's company representative, but I decided to take the sign that this dive was not meant to be.
I took a nice long shower and relaxed.
I've been trying to figure out what it is about this operation that just doesn’t quite work. Clearly I am spoiled; Mike Ball in Australia runs a very tight operation. Here in Thailand my friend Sergio on Scuba Cat somehow manages to make everything go smoothly. But on this trip a dozen little things were just a bit off, there were rough edges. Every dive they would tell us to get ready, I would feel very rushed, then we would stand there on the dive deck for 10 minutes while the boat got into position. Sweating in my wet suit, standing there with the tank on my back, I was usually tired before we even got into the water. Finally the boat is in position and then its everyone into the water at once in a mad, uncoordinated rush. In 60 prior dives I've never tripped on the dive deck and fallen in, I've never had a weight belt come loose, nor have I ever seen anyone else lose a weight belt. On this trip one guy lost two weight belts on one dive! I had my belt come lose on the first day, then lost a belt today. The Thai crew, thought pleasant, hurt more than they help, tightening my fins too tight, standing in the way, etc. Last night getting into the dingy I pulled myself up onto the pontoon, then couldn’t get the rest of the way into the dingy because one of the crew stepped right in front of me and started fiddling with the outboard motor. I had to yell at him to move. On the dive deck they arrange our tanks so that all the tanks for one group of divers are next to each other. That means that a group cannot get suited up at the same time.
Then there are the dives. This time around we saw absolutely nothing "big" (or what divers like to call "big".) No sharks, a fair number of small blue spotted rays, but no big rays. No Napoleon Wrasses, certainly no whale sharks. There were no octopus. During the dive briefings Kay would give lengthy descriptions of the sea life would could expect to see. We rarely saw any of the things she described. What went wrong? Is it the time of year, the currents, the particular dive sites we went to and the particular times we went there? Or does my friend Sergio just know something that these people don’t know. I suspect that the reality is that after diving here for over 10 years, he simply knows when to go to each dive site, exactly what path to follow, what time of day is best for what set of currents. People in Phuket say that Sergio sees more whale sharks than anyone else. Perhaps he just has the touch. His Thai crew was so helpful that they were overly helpful. His boat is a lot smaller, but it works 10 times better. [Please note: Sergio is a friend of mine, but I am attempting to give an honest comparison.] Don’t get me wrong, the Scandinavian Divers people were not slacking off, they were helpful and friendly and tried to make this a great trip, and it was a great trip, but Sergio in Phuket and Mike Ball in Australia just do it better.
We got back to Phuket around 5pm, and I checked back into the Orchid Residence hotel. This time they put me into room 106, a small, dark room with only a tiny window, noisily located behind the reception and kitchen area. Again the bed was made with the rock-hard side up, so I unmade it and flipped it over.
The plan was for everyone from the boat to meet up at 8pm, have dinner, and hit the town. I was pretty sure I'd be unhappy with the dinner plans, so I went out to Malee seafood restaurant for a nice dinner of deep fried fish with chilis. It was good, though not as excellent as their curried shells and curried crab. When I later met up with the dive group, we walked down to the beach and went to (drumroll please), Number 6 Restaurant on the beach. The place I used to eat lunch all the time, but no longer go to because it has gone downhill. The dishes that were ordered were quite small portions and did not look like very authentic preparations, though everyone seemed to enjoy the food a lot. Later we went barhopping for a while, but the ground was swaying so much from my "sea legs", that I packed it in early.
Monday December 18, 2000
Got up this morning to find that the room I am in is insanely noisy as the hotel staff starts out the day at 6am. Also, there is only enough hot water to last for 1/2 a shower. I don’t need to leave for the airport until 1pm, so I asked for late checkout. They tell me they cannot give me late checkout as the hotel is full and they have a guest waiting for my room. Almost every other hotel on the street has open rooms. Hmmm. I think I am done with this hotel.
I go out for breakfast, and then walk around town checking out some other hotels for future reference. Here is some of what I found:
Hotel Summer Breeze 171/12 Soi San Sabai, next door to the Orchid
Residence. (66-76) 340464. firstname.lastname@example.org, http://www.phuket-summerbreeze.com
Looks pretty good, but some of the superior rooms are small internal rooms with no windows. The beds are hard. High season prices range from 1900b for a suite to 1300b for an interior superior room. There are safes in the rooms.
2) Sansabai bungalows, 171/21 Soi Sansabai, (66-76) 342948-9/292541, email@example.com. Genuine bungalows in garden setting. A bit run down, but still serviceable. 1600b in the high season for a stand-alone bungalow with air conditioning. Less in low season. A big sign in the bathroom warns not to put toilet paper in the toilet.
C&N Hotel, 151 Rat-u-thit Song Roi Pee Rd. 076-341892-5, firstname.lastname@example.org
They have recently completed a new wing that is set farther back from the main road. Rooms in the new wing are nicer than old wing (no surprise.) Basically standard Patong accommodations. Serviceable but not fancy. The place is quite cheap at 1200b high season, 600b low season.
At 1pm I am picked up by a private car for the 500b, 45 minute drive to the airport, then a 1 hour wait in the Thai Royal Orchid room before my flight to Bangkok.
Check in to Royal President Hotel, Sukhumvit at Soi 15, “Ruby Suite”. Blew up electric toothbrush. Price is 1650b (US$38) for a suite with kitchenette, living room, bedroom, big bathroom. Not as nice as Sheraton, but pretty damned nice. I don’t know why the prices they list on the internet are US$80-US$150. They do themselves a disservice driving potential customers away with incorrect high prices quoted online.
Tuesday December 19, 2000
Spent over an hour getting a ticket at the lousy travel agency for travel to Phnom Penh and Siem Reip. Checked out of hotel at 4pm without warning them first, but they didn’t charge me for the extra day - how nice!
Flew Royal Air Cambodge from Bangkok to Phnom Penh. Nice jet plane. There is a business class section, but the lousy travel agent had told me there was only one class of service. Even though I bought a full-fare ticket, when I asked about purchasing an upgrade at the airport they told me my ticket was non-upgradable and I would have to buy a whole new ticket. Oh well, the flight is only an hour.
Uneventful flight, reasonable food served.
At the airport, met by representative of Hotel Le Royal on the tarmac! He takes my passport and visa documents and leads me through immigration and customs, all the while telling me about how all the police are friends of his. In spite of his "connections", it actually seems to take longer for me to get through immigration than the other passengers who don’t have escorts.
Hotel Le Royal, one of the Raffles hotels, is really really beautiful.
At 10pm every restaurant in town is closed. Hotel restaurants are closed. Take hotel car and drive around until we find an interesting looking Khmer/Chinese restaurant on the street. Have some good food that I chose at random - hot pot, bbq pork with fat noodles. Am surprised to discover that Khmer food is not spicy. Heavy rain.
Wednesday December 20, 2000
Arrange for car for tour of Phnom Penh. Go to Wat Phnom, among the least interesting wats I have ever seen. Beggars are relentless, very hot, nothing much to see.
Lunch at R. Ponlok restaurant overlooking Tonle Sap river.
Central Market, Grand Palace, National Museum.
> Lots and lots of shops that sell rubber stamps - rubber stamping things must be very important here!
Barrelling down with rain. Dinner at <name?> restaurant over the Japanese bridge on the Mekong river (name?) Same show as at Joking Star in Bangkok - same singing and physical comedy, except here I don’t understand even a single word.
Foreign Correspondents Club - Wow. What a cool place. Totally hip, fun, relaxed, not contrived. So cool I even bought a t-shirt for the unbelievable price of US$15. Sure that’s less than a Metallica tour shirt, but hey, this is Cambodia.
Rained heavily all night.
Thursday December 21, 2000
Drive around town. There are cigarette advertisements everywhere - everything is sponsored by a couple of cigarette companies (555 and Mild Seven.) There is one billboard that makes me wonder - it is a Mild Seven cigarettes billboard showing a spandex-clad mountain biker on a tricked out bike doing a big jump with the snow-capped Rocky Mountains in the background. Everyone in Cambodia rides a bike, but they are 50 pound utilitarian clunkers. I wonder if anyone here has the cultural context to make sense of these billboards.
Try to get to Tol Suok museum, but couldn’t due to flooding. Every street is covered in feet of water. At the edges of the pools of water people work furiously on their motor bikes trying to get them dry enough to start up again after running them through the flooded streets. The car tries several approaches and finally we give up. We also cant get to the Killing Fields.
Go to a couple Wats: Wat Lang Ka was closed, but we were able to watch some workmen building a new stupa. Nearby, walked by the Victory Monument. Second Wat, talk with some monks in English, French and Thai. They invite me back to their room where we chat for a while.
Lunch at a Thai restaurant named Chiang Mai, very good.
Fly Royal Air Cambodge to Siem Reap. 50 minute flight, uneventful. $5 for car from to Grand Hotel D’Angkor, another of the Raffles group and certainly tied with Hotel Le Royal for best hotel in Cambodia. Stunningly beautiful room at the significantly discounted rate of (what? 275++?) per day. Rate includes breakfast and dinner each day, making it slightly more tolerable. Hotel is full. Room is beaufitul, but smaller than the room in Phnom Penh.
At about 4:30 I paid $10 to have the hotel car take me over to Angkor Wat for sunset. Sunset is said to be astounding there. Spend a long time at the entrance gate buying a three day pass (US$40), which requires having a passport photo taken to put on the pass (free.) [Aside: I later learned that the entrance fees are collected by a Vietnamese hotel management group which owns a concession for Angkor Wat admissions. Apparently none of the money goes to Angkor Wat, nor anyone in Cambodia, aside from the original concession fee.] Getting the pass tonight means that I don’t have to go through this rigmarole tomorrow morning, and also I can get in this evening before 5:30. Otherwise I would have had to pay for a full day to enter, or wait until the 5:30 closing time to enter for free. By 5:00pm I have my pass and we drive in to the complex. The driver takes me up to the west gate of Angkor Wat and I get my first view of this legendary place. [Tour Wat as sun sets, kids show me around, difficulty working my way back down in the dark, give the kids a couple bucks each.]
Dinner at hotel in fine restaurant. Yummy Khmere/French cuisine.
Friday December 22, 2000
Breakfast at hotel (very nice buffet spread with option of made-to-order omelets.) Then, 8:30am start. I have arranged for a private car and tour guide. A huge extravagance vs. what most tourists do, but I really want to see this place well. [Consider; value, prices, $45/day for two people’s time, less than US minimum wage. Opportunity cost of being in Cambodia.]
Start out at Angkor Thom.
Story: relentless vendors selling books “I already have that one”, “No. You not have this one.” “Yes, I have that one.” “One more, only $3. Three dollar, three dollar, mister three dollar, three dollar.” Finally I say “Mai ow, khrap kuhn kahp”. Without missing a beat the girl says “Loi ha-sip baht, loi ha-sip baht, loi ha-sip baht.” “Mai ow, mai ow khrap kuhn kahp”, I say. She turns away and goes up to a tourist walking behind me, “three dollar, three dollar, only three dollar”, she waves the book in his face. I hear him say to her “Mai ow khrap kuhn kahp”, and she walks away. Another man says to him “What did you say to her?” He replies “I don’t know, but it worked for that guy” (pointing to me.)
View of Angkor Wat at sunset from hill Phnom Bakheng
Dinner and show of traditional dancing at hotel.
Tonle Sap lake, nice drive to river, river boat trip, Vietnamese boat people.
Tried to get out on earlier flight. Even though it was 45 minutes before departure, the woman at the gate told me that the plan was already boarded, and even though there was room on the plane I couldn’t get on.
Got back in car, drove to Western Barrado. Ate, watched kids, had fun, bought souvenirs from pesky vendor kids.
Back to airport, flying Bangkok Airways from Siem Reap to Bangkok. Chose Bangkok Airways for this final leg at extra cost because Royal Air Cambodge did not have an evening flight. Would have had to leave in the morning.
Adding insult to the earlier injury of not letting me on the earlier flight, my scheduled flight is delayed 1 hour.
Macau: Lou Lim Ieoc Gardens. A nice quiet little garden where old Chinese people like to go and shout at each other.
Lunch: Bistro Manchu, Manchurian food. Noodles with chopped pork – subtle and nice. Burdoc leaf - yum. Beef in sesame pocket – excellent. Harbin Beer – the oldest beer in China, really good.