See The World
Early starts are only bearable if there is coffee and we made sure we had some ready in our room, but then we were early enough before our flight to have time to sit at a coffee shop that never closes (just as well it was 4:30 am), where I had my second coffee for the morning (never enough coffee as far as I am concerned).
As we are boarding our plane, we cannot help notice two very tall and fit looking gentlemen who not unsurprisingly, end up sitting in the exit row, which is where we need to go to accommodate my shorter than theirs, but, still long legs. It seems that the tall guys are Australian Volleyroos on their way to Siem Reap to play beach volleyball (no beaches there though), and they know the son of friends of ours. We are soon chatting and mentioning other people that they also know since they too live in Adelaide. It seems the six degrees of separation rule is about two in Adelaide, even though it is a city of over 1.2 million people.
A short two-hour flight in a modern aircraft with attentive and helpful air hosts would result in Lee and I landing in our 32nd visited country - Cambodia.
After walking the 200 meters from the stairway off the plane across the tarmac, the heat and humidity over powers you, so the air-conditioned airport building is a welcome relief. We need to toughen up - we have a month of travel in this part of the world.
Siem Reap is now a popular destination, and there are plenty of passengers waiting to obtain their visa to enter Cambodia.
The visa counter at which we were lined up at is L-shaped and positioned to the right of the voluminous arrival hall. We wait with passports, three forms we filled in on the plane, a passport photograph we had taken in Australia, and 30 US dollars each, at the ready. Our travel agent was spot on, and we appreciate the expertise that a good travel agent can provide.
The line of sanguine travellers moved quickly as there were two stern looking Cambodian visa officers in dark uniforms taking our bundle of documents. The officer I handed my forms to ripped off one form and gave it back to me and then asked for the cash, which was duly handed to a third uniformed officer who added it to the piles of cash in a suitcase. Maybe a quick get-away was anticipated.
My photo was stapled to one of the forms by the uniformed officer, but I noted that one of the passengers next to me had brought along some glue to paste her photo to the form (over preparedness if you ask me). My passport and the remaining forms are then passed onto an officer behind the receiving officer, and I am pointed towards another line some 30 meters down the long side of the L-shaped counter.
From my vantage point, I see 12 visa officers seated side-by-side along and behind the counter.
We in this new line are now all wanting again - to enter Cambodia and are eagerly awaiting the return of our passports at a location near the end of the counter. The minutes pass by, and then I observe the slow passage of a bundle of passports and associated forms along the line of uniformed officers. Hand to hand, sometimes they are inspected, sometimes they are just passed on, sometimes a form is ripped off, sometimes they are opened or turned over or ticked or stamped. I cannot image why it takes 12 officers to do what is required, but the procession is fascinating to watch. Some of the officers are talking and kidding with each other, and the last of the officers, the one with three stripes on their epaulettes, clearly the most senior, is intently looking at her phone. Seems no untoward person is entering Cambodia today.
The passports arrive at the end of the line and build-up to a stack of about six passports in the hands of the second to last officer. Only then does the officer begin to hold up a photograph in a passport to the waiting crowd. I suspect all the foreign unpronounceable names are the reason we all have to face recognize our own mugs before we can be on our way.
Off to the last hurdle, the obligatory step at most country entry points, and in this case being finger-printed and scrutinized by the customs official before I am officially a tourist in Cambodia.
A driver with sign in hand awaits us inside the airport building. We walk a short distance to the modern SUV vehicle where a cold towel and cold coconut water drink in an equally cold coconut is ready for us. We could get used to this treatment.
No highways but wide bitumen road surface soon transform into busy roadway with lots of mopeds and motorbikes, with young people driving like there is no tomorrow, tradespersons with long timber poles carried on the not so long trailer on their bike, and a two-year-old child standing on the floor pan of the moped between Mum and the handlebars. These kids have been cradled in their parent's arms as motorbike passengers since they were born, so standing, seemingly precariously, on a moped scooting down the busy streets of Siem Reap is as natural as climbing on playground equipment.
Our lodgings are located off a main-looking drag that has a double carriage-way, replete with vacant blocks and shops, along the sides of the roadway. The side street we first take off the seemingly main roadway has a primary school about 200 meters from the main roadway, and at about noon, the clean neatly uniformed kids with brilliant white shirts can be seen through the closed gateway entrance playing in the yard.
The next street we turn down has residential homes, one which is signposted as being a doctors surgery, and almost opposite but a little way down the now dirt-surfaced street is a modern looking fence and ornate archway. Four smiling staff members await our arrival. One of the staff members has cold drinks on a tray, another with cool towels, and the others are giving us a hand clasping gesture to greet our arrival. Maybe we have been mistaken for Royal guests arriving later that day?
Our luggage is whisked away, and the reception desk attendant takes our passports for recordal, while we sit under fans sipping our drinks.
The foyer is a glass-walled structure separate from the main buildings of "the residence" as it is called. The glass walls provide a clear view of the tropical greenery surrounding the foyer structure, an open-air canopied dining area and a pool in the distance. A little slice of paradise, in the suburbs of Siem Reap, and our digs for the next four days.
The room we are to occupy is on the first floor of a 3-story building, which has only nine apartment rooms total. The largest window of our room provides a view towards the garden and the pool; it is air-conditioned and spacious. It doesn't seem real that after just over 24 hours of travelling we are in a place that could be anywhere in the world, but in fact, it is in Cambodia.
The staff of the residence has kindly and thoughtfully provided us with a cake to celebrate our 40th wedding anniversary and best of all, a chilled bottle of Sauvignon Blanc wine. We are grateful to receive this thoughtful gift.
After consuming the wine, but not the cake, we are eager to see the city of Siem Reap and consume some local food, which is a given in our travels.
The front desk arranges a Tuk-Tuk to take us for an hour and a half tour. The Tuk-Tuk driver Rorth takes off at a leisurely pace along the bustling streets of Siem Reap.
The air movement of the Tuk-Tuk along the road provides some relief from the heat and humidity of the day, but that is not the only sensation we experience, as the sounds and smells of the city assail us.
The smell of petrol fumes, the occasional bad smell of rotting fruit and other things, some exhaust smoke from poorly maintained motorbikes, and the sound of seemingly hundreds of motorbikes that greatly outnumber passenger vehicles, and smoky trucks, along with the deathly stench of Durian fruit was apparent but thankfully the exception.
Seemingly, every building along every street has a storefront even though the building in the rear is a residence. Some of the store's fronts are selling bottled water and others drinks, and others canned, and packet food, bottles of who knows what, fresh and cooked food, and others are street food vendors tending their single barbecue laden with chicken and other delicacies yet to be explored by us.
Occasionally, there are motorbike repair shops with the motorbikes under repair. At some of them, the bike under repair is perched on a small mound formed on the footpath, so the mechanic can sit or stand more comfortably while working on the then slightly raised bike.
There are many many Tuk-Tuks on the roadside with their drivers sitting or lying on their bike waiting for the next fare. Some of the drivers had ingeniously strung a hammock between poles supporting the roof of the passenger compartment of the Tuk-Tuk and were restfully sleeping.
We stopped on the side of the road soon after starting our ride, and I thought that the place Rorth had stopped at did not seem to be anywhere near the city centre.
I was right, but completely missed why we had stopped until I looked closer at the storefront. There were soft drink-like glass bottles lined up on terraced shelving on a stand. Most of the bottles contained petrol. A petite young woman with fine eyebrows and a pearly white smile grabbed a bottle and proceeded to open the petrol tank of the motorbike which was powering our Tuk-Tuk and emptied the contents of the bottle into the tank using a funnel. A small number of notes exchanged hands, and we were on our way.
I immediately wondered whether there were large petrol stations (later the next day I would see three along the main street of Siem Reap).
Rorth, our Tuk-Tok driver had enough of a command of English that he worked out we would like to visit one of the markets, preferably one that is near Pub Street. Aptly named because it is replete with Pubs, and that he would wait for us for 15 minutes, while we had a short walk around to work out what we might do for the rest of the time we had booked with him. We walked the length of Pub Street and decided that The Temple looked a likely spot for a beer and somewhere to eat. So a careful chat to Rorth to make sure he would meet us back at the drop-off point in an hour and a half would allow us to have an afternoon feed.
Our first meal in Cambodia and local beer was "Chhnang" meaning delicious, even if the food was made at a popular tourist spot. We had a second-row seat made for six, but in this case, just for the two of us, and from its slightly raised position above the adjacent street, we had the opportunity to watch the world go by, as other tourists, Tuk-Tuks and many motor-bikes slowly passed by our perched position.
The outside temperature was 38 degrees Celsius, and the humidity was at least 85%, so no one was rushing about. We, on the other hand, had a beer in one hand and chopsticks in the other, and a fan churning away overhead, so the environment was very bearable. I made sure to order a jug of beer and I was going to take my time drinking the time away.
The beer seems low alcohol as I was not feeling any effects, but I was not driving anywhere, so maybe I felt better about the situation. After our lovely meal, we conducted a quick reconnoitre of Pub Street as we looked for a particular pub at which we might later meet a friend of a friend. We did not find the pub we were looking for.
However, my feet did what they had to, so as to get me back to the Tuk-Tuk meeting point as I was a bit unsteady from drinking just a little too much (maybe the wine earlier has snuck up on me). The trip back to the residence again assails our senses and the sanctuary of our air-conditioned room awaits us.
Since there was no luck seeing the Pub we were looking for, a quick check on Google Maps in our room after our stroll, located the particular pub a street and a half away from Pub street (seems there are plenty of good Pubs about in Seam Reap).
It was good to get a feel for where we were but no way could I navigate without Google Maps or a trusty Tuk-Tuk driver.
Back at the Residence and our cool room helps us to do some planning for the next day's events.
That evening we decide to have a meal in the restaurant that is part of the complex. The waiter smiles as most Cambodians do when we greet him in Cambodian “Suasdey"/Hello and thank him for pulling out our chairs "Ah Koôn"/Thank you. Lee and I try our best but not always successfully to say HELLO and THANK YOU in the local language.
The meal I had was Khmer Duck Curry, and Lee had a spicy steamed fish in Palm leaf with a salad. Both meals were delicious, and again our waiter smiled as we try to say delicious in Cambodian, but he thoughtfully and kindly corrects our pronunciation.
The entrance to our digs for the next four nights. The entrance and interior are of a standard quite incongruous from the surrounding street and homes.
Day 2 Cambodia and Vietnam
A typical street of Siem Reap
Our Tuk-Tuk driver Roth carefully driving through the streets of Siem Reap
with BILL'S EYES
I have seen better and worse but it is always a mystery as to how this all works
The Siem Reap streets have a surprise about every corner.