Wednesday, June 01, 2005

Cambodia - Day 1 Part 1

The best decisions of my life have always been the ones that I made without thinking too much.

Which is why – when Max told me he was planning a trip to Cambodia with friends – I jumped at the chance. I did not want to think. What was there to think about? My friends are going away forever this year. This was probably my only chance to spend some good quality time before they left for their MBAs. I did not know when I would meet them again.

They say, "It's a small world". I don't believe in the concept. There is no small world. The world expands and contracts in contradiction to what we want. If we want to meet someone, they go far away, and if there is someone we don’t want to see, we keep bumping into them in the most unlikely of places.

So, I decided to go. And, boy, was I glad I did!

Everything happened suddenly, and it was as if I woke up and found myself at Changi airport on an early Friday morning, all packed and ready for a holiday with friends. The flight was uneventful, and even after we had landed at Siem Reap airport, it did not feel any different from landing at Calcutta or Hyderabad.

They took webcam photos of us at the airport! Max was scrutinised for longer (I suspect his frightening facial hair had everything to do with it!). It was only when we got out of the airport that I felt like a tourist – an outsider. I liked the feeling. I had never travelled to a country where it was obvious that I was a tourist. I always blended in with the locals. And so it actually felt good to get curious stares from the people in Cambodia. It felt like the holiday had begun.

And yet, in spite of those curious stares, it felt like Siem Reap welcomed us with open arms, as if we were absorbed into it within seconds of arriving. Some cities take you in, as if they have known you for long. Others just surround you with vibes that make you never want to return again. Siem Reap had a rural, sleepy quiet aura to it that was almost inspiring. Isn’t it always the simplest of things that are the most beautiful? Last week, I was editing an article on simple life forms, anemones, jellyfish, sponges and the likes, and I came across some breathtakingly beautiful photos. It suddenly struck me that these animals are made up of just a bunch of cells put together, without any complex body systems. That’s as simple as any living organism can get. And yet, their beauty is beyond description!

We took a van to our hotel, the Auberge Mont-Royal. I liked the old-styled look of the hotel. Although we could not get a room on a high floor, who cared? Hotels are only for dumping stuff anyway.

We freshened up and were ready to leave the hotel. There was a slight problem. Max and Jeeves were having an extremely heated discussion on where to go first. Ro, Viv, Chin and I could not be too bothered, as Max and Jeeves were in charge of the sight-seeing decision-making.

Notice Chin lying on the bed? This is a pose we were to see a lot of during the holiday.

After about half an hour of poring over maps and Lonely Planet's Cambodia Guidebook, and discussions punctuated with words like 'Preah Kahn', 'Preah Ko', (which at that point in time sounded like names of women, and I wondered what the two ladies 'Priya Khan' and 'Priya Koh' looked like), a decision was apparently made. I still had no clue what it was.

We took this photo right outside the hotel. Look at Max's beard. Can you really blame the airport officials?

Lonely Planet’s guidebook recommended a place called Bopha Angkor restaurant for lunch, which was within walking distance from our hotel. We stepped out into the Cambodian sun and made our way to the restaurant. On the way, we were greeted by a bunch of kids carrying postcards of Cambodia, all saying the same thing, “Leddy, you want to buy postcard?” I said, “No, I’ll buy later.” They said, “You come back and buy from me, okhay?” (The Cambodian “khay” of “okhay” stretches on for a full five seconds, by the way.) I said, “okay” (which I learnt was a big mistake, as you will find out later). We managed to find Bopha and were in for what I would call the best Khmer food we had during the trip.

Bopha restaurant, where Max "lost" his wallet 

After the delightful meal served by a sweet hostess who did not understand most of what we said, and most of the time, got away with it by smiling at us, we were ready to start our journey. But there was a technical problem again. Max could not find his wallet.

Max has a habit -- he almost always forgets to get all his stuff before he leaves a place. Sure enough, after lunch, he had left his wallet lying on the table when he walked out. Two of the guys spotted it and picked it up. And they decided to be a little mean to him by pretending not to know anything about it when Max realised his wallet was not on him. The rest of us had no idea that it was a prank.

"I must have left it in the hotel. I have to go back and get it." Max said.
"We don't have to go back. You can check when we get back in the evening."

"But it has my photo, I need my photo to get the Angkor pass!"

And then (*drumroll*) Chin made the "duh"est statement of the trip.

"Never mind, you can use my photo." he said.

(Huh????????? What was he thinking when he said that?)

I guess that gave the game away! Max got suspicious, and the wallet was subsequently returned.

When we stepped outside, tuk tuk drivers were already waiting for us -- their potential customers. The prices they quoted us were quite high, but then bargaining comes easily to Indians, and soon we were on our way on two tuk tuks to the Tonle Sap lake for a boat cruise to the floating villages of Chong Kneas.

Chin, Ro and me in our first tuk tuk. Ro sat on the seat opposite
to Chin's and mine, and he had no idea that his hair was in for
a mind "blowing" experience.

A tuk tuk is one of the most amazing modes of travel in Cambodia. It is basically a motorbike attached to a carriage. I will never forget the first tuk tuk ride we took. Not only was it extremely bumpy, throwing us about in all directions, but the wind was blowing in a direction that was not quite conducive to Ro’s hair, and soon, it was flying in all possible directions. Soon, it got quite exasperating for us to have a conversation with his hair instead of his face.

Chin asked, "Maybe you wanna borrow a hair-band from Sayesha?" Ro looked apprehensive, but then asked, "Do you have one in your bag now?" Yes, I did. One of the many things that were to pop out of my black bag during the trip.

“I hope it is black?” Ro asked, when I was rummaging for it in my bag. I smiled to myself. Guys will be guys.

View of Cambodian houses (most of them were on stilts) from our tuk tuk

Just a regular day

Yellow fields on the way... reminded me of Yash Chopra!

Our tuk tuk was leading! You can see Max, Viv and Jeeves in the tuk tuk behind.


  • A very interesting account of what we did. I can't wait to read about the rest of the days. Excellent work!

    - Max

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 12:03 AM  

  • :-)

    By Blogger virdi, at 6:15 AM  

Post a Comment

<< Home