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Published: November 6th 2009
Street scene in Siem Reap
Do you remember that song from the 80s? We're still trying to figure out the lyrics. Can anyone enlighten us? Something about chess.
Today was a travel day, long on the logistics and coordination, short on sights and photos.
We decided to rest up, out of the hot Cambodian sun, and so spent the morning tucked away at the hotel. Our other options would have been to see more temples or a trip up to Tonle Lake, the largest lake in SE Asia. Its existence is unusual - when heavy rains cause the Mekong Delta to back up, the water overflows upstream into Tonle Lake. The lake is home to floating villages - but also to a lot of mosquitos and iffy tourist attractions like crocodile fighting. We decided to give it a miss and instead spent a few hours downloading and reviewing our photos.
At 11:15am, the hotel guys took us to the airport. We checked in, paid our $25 USD (per person) departure tax and went through immigration. All very easy. The airport was built in 2006 and is nicer than many U.S. airports. The facilities are very Western and so are the prices ($2.50 USD
Dragon fruit at the Old Market in Siem Reap
for a croissant, $3 USD for a small latte). We chatted a bit with an Australian couple (and got some great tips for our upcoming visit to Australia) and then boarded our Bangkok Airways flight. On to Thailand, the fourth country of our trip!
So thinking back to Cambodia:
1. What did we like the most? The temples in general, sunrise at Angkor Wat, the people and the food.
2. Would we come back to Cambodia? Probably not, unless access to the temples on the border of Thailand is improved; or if we ever lived in this region and had friends or family come to visit.
3. Would we ever consider living here? No. Our trip has made us more interested in learning more about Cambodia and helping the people here in some way but it would be a really difficult place to live.
Our flight to Bangkok was only 45 minutes and very smooth. Bangkok Airways bills themselves as the "boutique" Asian airline and the planes are new and comfortable. Bangkok's Suvarnabhumi Airport is the hub of all of southeast Asia. It's very new and is gigantic. We got through immigration and customs easily - including walking through a "thermal scanning area" - again, screening for H1N1. We got some cash (Thailand's currency is the Baht and the exchange rate is about 33 Baht to the dollar) and a cab and slowly made our way into Bangkok (about a 45 minute drive, with lots of traffic). We are staying at the Westin Sukhumvit (thanks Alison!!), a very nice hotel near a big shopping/hotel/restaurant area in downtown Bangkok.
A note on Bangkok's political situation: in 2006, then Prime Minister Thaksin was ousted in a military coup and there's been some unrest ever since. Last November the airport closed when anti-Thaskin people blocked access to/from the Airport. The Anti-Thaskin folks wear yellow; people who support Thaskin and who want him to be restored as Prime Minister, red. We were advised not to dress in either color (no problem given that our entire wardrobe is pretty much greens/blues/greys/blacks favored by North Face). There are metal (bomb) detectors everywhere - at our hotel, at the entrance to malls and subways, at some major tourist sites. However, other than occasionally having to walk through one, we didn't feel worried about any kind of civil war. In fact, we felt much more in danger of being hit by a speeding taxi or motorcycle than anything else.
Our hotel room is amazing and includes fluffy pilllows and linens, plenty of icy AC, and six complimentary bottles of water per day. We settled in, got a map from our extremely helpful concierge, and then took a short walk around our neighborhood.
A note on the hotel staff: they are so wonderful. Every time you come within about 5 feet of someone, they press both palms together (steeple-fashion), give a slight bow and greet you.
Bangkok is a gritty, grimy, smoggy, chaotic city. The street that our hotel is on, Sukhumvit, is a very long road which changes character as it goes - from the area of upscale hotels and restaurants to a red light district. It's difficult to walk in Bangkok because of the traffic and SE Asia's ubiquitious narrow, cracked sidewalks. However, the public transit system is pretty good and the elevated walkways that are part of the light rail system also make for convenient ways to cross the streets in relative safety. Vendors line the streets selling cheap (actually, some are pretty cute) clothes, fake designer bags/watches/sunglasses, porn (magazines, videos, playing cards) and, here's a new one, Viagra and Cialis. Adrian's started counting the number of men dressed as (or in the process of converting to) women. He's up to eight.
There are a lot of homeless people, including a lot of mothers with babies begging on the sidewalks and in light rail stations.
The Westin's gym is sparkly clean and we got in a good workout and then got a recommendation from our concierge for a nearby Thai restaurant called Baan Khanitha. The 10 minute walk was a bit iffy but we were marginally comforted by the idea that Bangkok has the best hospitals (along with Singapore) in the region.
The restaurant was quite good. We ordered chicken wrapped in pandan leaves (yummy! you eat the chicken but not the leaf), a seafood/veggie stirfry (finally something a little healthier after all the fried food and coconut milk curries) and a Massam chicken curry (lemongrass, Kaffir lime leaves, cinnamon, nutmeg, etc).
Bangkok's streets are lined with food vendors, most people just with a cart and a hot plate serving up grilled chicken/beef/squid skewers, bowls of noodles and all kinds of other delicious smelling goodies. We'd love to try it but are a bit hestitant. We've had surprisingly good luck with our gastrointestinal health thus far and don't want to jinx it.
A note on beer: now that we've been able to sample beers from several countries, we feel like we're in a position to begin rating them. Our favorite so far is Asahi (Japan); next is Anchor (Cambodian, a deliberate play on "Angkor") and Singha is last. We're looking forward to trying BeerLao when we hit Laos.
Now it's time to snuggle up in our Heavenly bed. We have a big hot sweaty day of temples tomorrow.
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