Siem Reap & Angkor

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September 17th 2006
Published: September 24th 2006
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I spent my last day in Singapore walking more or less aimlessly around the city with Ashley, stopping to eat some Chinese food that was sort of mediocre in Chinatown, watching some old men play Chinese chess, and just chatting and catching up with her. I guess she is actually studying here for the fall term, and then returning to UCLA to take a couple more classes in winter, even though she has already "graduated."

I've spent the last few days in Siem Reap here at the Rosy Guest Gouse, which I found and made an online reservation for. Something I did for the place I stayed in Singapore, but which I haven't been doing. I guess since I was straying into territory that my guidebook hardly had any information for, it was reassuring to know that I would know where I was going. Plus, they picked me up from the Siem Reap airport for free. Not bad for a place that only charges $3/night for the dorms, which are nicer than the one I paid 25 singapore dollars for (about 17USD). The food here is not as cheap as Thailand/China though. So I'm going through my budget fairly quickly here, especially since a three-day pass to the ruins of Angkor cost $40, and a tuk-tuk driver for the day is another $10! I know it might not seem like much to you, but I'm not used to spending that much money. And since they use American currency here, it feels weird to be spending an amount that I know exactly how much it is.

For the first two days the only person who stayed in the hostel with me was this Czech guy named Filip who'd actually recently finished an internship with Sun Microsystems in Silicon Valley for a year, and was returning to the Czech Republic to finish his Master's Degree in computer science (apparently he skipped the Bachelor's degree entirely, a track that has since been eliminated in order to be more in line with Western Europe and the EU's systems). Although we didn't visit the ruins together, we have been hanging out a bit. He left on the third day back to Singapore to spend a few last days before returning home, but I spent a third day looking at the ruins, though I thought I might get bored. I did get bored, since they all started to look the same even after the first day - the rediculously large number of pictures I took that I won't be able to tell apart later will be testament enough to that. But I did have some interesting conversations with locals and Cambodians from around the country. Apparently the 22nd is a big party for the Khmer people that is the culmination of a 15-day festival honoring the dead. The same night is the beginning of Rosh Hashana for me. There are, however, no synagogues in Cambodia - the closest would be Bangkok in Thailand or Luang Prabang in Laos.

The temples (and other miscellaneous ruins) of Angkor are quite amazing. In fact, I can't believe that a bigger tourist trap hasn't developed here yet. It's true, there are hotels here that are upwards of $1900 per night, and that's not an exaggeration, but most of the places are relatively inexpensive. Visiting the ruins, though, there are plently of people who will come up to you with a friendly "Hello, you want cold drink?" or a "Hello, you want book?" The children that hang around trying to sell various knick-knacks to tourists actually do a great job of making you feel enough empathy to buy something - I bought some postcards. And a few cold drinks, including one for my tuk-tuk driver. But they're really good. They speak Khmer (the Cambodian's language), English, French, Chinese, and maybe a few other languages. All with much better fluency than my faltering Spanish. But they can't read, so the booksellers have to rely on their memory to tell you about what book says what thing. Actually, they have great memories for detail - I guess their business and well-being depends on being able to recall small details. For example, I was talking with a few of the kids before going to see one of the ruins, and mentioned something insignificant enough that I don't even remember what it was. When I returned about an hour or so later, she made some sort of mention of it. I was pretty startled that she remembered, and when I commented on it her mother (who was there at that moment) said "Of course, she remembers, you told her!"

Aside from visiting the ruins of Angkor, I thought about donating blood at the Children's Hospital since they are in need of my blood type (B). But, since I have been feeling a bit sick - nothing really, just sniffles and a runny nose that I would attribute mostly to the mildew and dust - and since I figured I'd never be able to donate in the States again if I do here, that I'd skip the blood donation. Instead, I've managed to pass the rest of my time talking with Filip, or playing pool with the tuk-tuk drivers that hang around here, since there is a free to use pool table in the guest house. I haven't been going out at night, mostly since I've been exhausted from the traveling and because I am really just looking to take it easy for a while.

Tomorrow I'll go to Phnom Penh, where the Killing Fields of the Khmer Rouge await - a much more somber experience, I'd imagine.


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