Saturday, June 02, 2007

Sunkissed Cambodia Chronicles

While the rest of Singapore slept on in silence, I roused myself up at an ungodly hour of 4 at the crack of Sunday's dawn, nary catching 2 hours of shut-eye, to check in with the rest of the girls for our 6am flight.

Miss Lala and her bodyguards

The 2 hour flight was uneventful and The Shining was a darn good companion on the flight. Before I knew it, we were gliding over the muddy fields of Siam Reap.

Hello Ang Kor Wat!

We were welcomed warmly at our hotel, Casa Ang Kor, with cocktails that tasted suspiciously like apple juice.

After checking in, we decided to orientate ourselves within the vicinity. We declined offers of tuk-tuks politely, choosing instead to explore by foot. However, we soon discovered we must have looked quite strange to the locals because there didn't seem to be any foreigners around and even if there were, nobody goes around on foot. There were plenty of gawking and gaping like we were some sort of tourist attraction ourselves. Siam Reap was quite the third-world sort of city, but at first world prices. Everything goes in USD and the foriegners are like walking carrots waiting to be chopped. The minimum price of everything seems to be USD1.

We decided to have our first meal of Khmer cuisine.

Khmer cuisine seemed to be a very confused one, influenced by Thai, Vietnam and even French. I must say, Cambodia is seemingly a very confused city. It does not seem to have a very definitive identity.

As you are eating anywhere remotely touristy in Cambodia, be prepared to be accosted by throngs of kids selling miscellaneous items and tuk-tuk drivers. We got ourselves a temporary chaffeur in Siam Reap when Mr Ritchy approached our lunch table.

Off we go!

First Stop - The Ever Famous Ang Kor Wat

Ang Kor means 'city' or 'capital' and is believed to be the biggest religious monument ever built. It was constructed between 1113 and 1150, making it rather surreal of me to stand in the midst of it, imagining ancient civilization tottering around.

The sights were awe-inspiring. But trust us girls to take the silliest pictures on such solemn grounds.

We are the white cappers!

The Leow Sisters trying to look lost.

Mindy turns suicidal.

Climbing to the top of the temple ruins was quite a rush of adrenaline. The steps were really steep and narrow. When you look down, you might suffer from slight vertigo because the steps are so steep you feel like you are abseiling. It doesn't help that the ruins aren't really stable, with signs that screamed - CLIMB AT YOUR OWN RISK!

Ang Kor Wat is just one of the many, many ruins in Siam Reap. Another colossal structure included the Ang Kor Thom which comprised of a great many sections. The structure is flanked by a long causeway that tranversed across a moat, which in ancient times must have been stocked with crocodiles.

We girls decided to use it as a catwalking runway instead. Ha ha!

I must add that the door frames of the ancient ruins must be really sturdy. Most of the times, it seems that the entire building might have crumbled except for the door frames.

It was mighty hot, exploring the ruins in the afternoon. By the evening, we were thoroughly embalmed in a coat of grime and sweat. Instead of watching sunset at Ang Kor Wat, Mr Ritchy decided to take us to Tonle Sap, a tributary of the Mekong River, also known as the Great Lake of Cambodia.

The tuk-tuk ride to the country side opened our eyes to the ghetto slum population of the country. Their habitat were nothing more that stitched leaves over bundled sticks. There were no furniture nor electricity nor fresh water. It was quite a humbling sight.

We waded through puddles of mud and stumbled onto our sampan motorboat.

The cool breeze in the evening and the sight of water expanse was a welcomed relief from the scorching sun and reflective rocks.

Ew, crocodiles galore! They give me the heebie jeebies.

Presenting... the six water monkeys!

Accomplishing a trek covering a good part of Siam Reap's ruins and a boating excursion on 2 hours of sleep was no mean feat. For that, we deserved a good Cambodian styled massage.

The massage was fabulous except that the power supply went off several times. Air conditioning was non-existent in most parts of Siam Reap, except for hotels. Even the hotel restaurants were mostly equipped with fans. Mosquitoes were rampant. Alcohol was dirt cheap. I had cocktails or wine every night for dinner if I could.

Huh, so many mosquitoes one leh.

Yah, that girl on the left with the crooked smile is Isabelle's sister. She is such a complete hoot, I tell ya. She goes 'GRRR, I AM A MAD DOG', bites you by the sleeve and drags you around the house. Simply hilarious. When she came to look for her sister, whom I was sharing my room with, she went yabbering and suddenly stopped to leer at my legs 'Wah very sexy leh, your legs!'

Subsequently, she has been trying to hit on me, or rather, my legs at every other opportunity. She would zoom in on camera and show me shots of my legs, or if I said something remotely innocent like 'Wah, I am so cold', she would go 'Do you want me to rub your legs for you huh?', giving a lecherous smile to further traumatize me. Don't worry, she has a boyfriend.

Day two comprised of more exploration of Siam Reap's ruins. Afterall, we got ourselves a three-day pass for USD40 and we jolly well utilized the hell out of it.

Look at the great numbers of picturesuqe framed portraits we took!

We visited Ta Prohm, a place where Raiders of the Tomb was filmed. Trees were burgeoning their way through the complex, pryin their way through the temples foundations.

All the climbing and trekking is tiring, okay.

When we finally stopped for lunch after an intensive trek, it poured cats and dogs. The whole city was flooded. Our tuk-tuk looked like a boat whirring in the muddy waters.

We woke up at 4am once more the next morning to catch the most talked about sunrise at Ang Kor Wat. Although it looked really bright in the pictures, it was really just 530am in the morning.

Sleepy-eyed girls

Our patience finally paid off when the sun sluggishly rose from beyond.

Notice the 'I-can't-believe-I-woke-up-at-4-on-a-holiday' look on my face.

By now, all of us are quite exhausted from seeing ruins and more ruins. Some of them decided against climbing up the ruins, leaving only Mindy, crazy Adeline and me to take a self-shot at the top of yet, another temple. Heh.

We're at the top of the world!

At the top, we can take photographs of the lazy asses who refused to climb.

Even though we are quite sick of all the stones and rocks, I could still convince them to pretend they love them tonnes for the sake of photography.

Here, Kissy Kissy.

We went as far as to explore the Roluos group of civilization, which is beyond the typical tourist itinerary. Steps, steps and more steps!

You know, in Singapore, when you are dripping with perspiration, all you have to do is to hop into an easily-available air-conditioned place and voila! you are all cool. In Siam Reap, we will happily spot a glass-enclosed convenience shop, hopping in only to find a rickety fan crocking a thin gust of wind. Bah!

Oh, and when I showered on the second day, the heater wasn't working very well. When Isabelle called to inquired, the hotel staff mentioned that because it was a cloudy season, there is no sun to power the solar heater. Ha ha! You can get hot water on hot days, and cold water on cold days! It doesn't make sense! Why would you wanna bath with cold water on cold days?

Anyway, very badly pirated Ferraro Chocolates!

With the absence of air-conditioning, we can only seek solace at cups of icy sorbet and gelatos at blue pumpkin.

Yes, I know. I am thoroughly burnt.

Before hopping on our bus to Phnom Penh, we went for a 15 minute foot massage. It was absolutely fantastic after the tiring excursion.

Happiness stems from good foot massages.

Then, it was bye-bye to Ang Kor Wat City and Hello Phnom Penh!

Our third-world bus ride was mostly occupied by Cambodians. They played Cambodians Music Videos which were poisoning my ears. Thank goodness for my iPod shuffle. Otherwise I would have frothed in my mouth and choked to death. The roads situation in Cambodia was quite chaotic. There is only one main road and vehicles just honked every time they needed to overtake. So, you can imagine there is a whole symphony of honking every other minute. How to sleep like that?

The best part was when a local Cambodian directed us to alight in the middle of the highway because the terminal bypasses our hotel. So there we were, 6 of us girls, carrying our lugguage, confused and perplexed by weaving traffic. There are no TAXIs in Phnom Penh, only tuk-tuks and motorbikes. As I was heaving their lugguage from the buses, I was suddenly surrounded by many, many motorcyclists who were trying to shove their fingers to display their prices.

Some of the girls were hysterical, mostly Mindy and Qianhui. As the motorcyclist grabbed our lugguage, I hurriedly hopped behind a screaming Mindy among the chaos. Yeap, you read that right. Two pillion riders, loads of lugguage, no helmets and a hell of a traffic. What fun! Too bad it was too chaotic to capture any of the hilarious moments.

I was half trying to balance my lugguage, half trying to pacify Mindy who was constantly screaming 'I am so scared! I am so scared!' As we weaved through the traffic, I patted her back and said 'Look, I am behind you! You are between me and the motorcyclist! If anyone is to fall off, it's me!'

As we rounded a corner, we came straight right smack at an approaching huge bus. Mindy screamed her lungs out but I just found the whole situation so funny, I almost guffawed till I fell off the bike. It was one memorable ride. It was darn fun! Too bad, some of the girls disagreed and we got ourselves another temporary chaffeur, Mr Sammeth.

First stop in the morning at Phnom Penh is the Killing Fields, where torture victims were executed by the Khmer Rouge. There was a huge glass tower filled with the skulls of men, women and children.

To date, 8985 corpses have been exhumed from the site.

Tuol Sleng Musem was a High School that became the Khmer Rouge main torture and interrogation center, known as Security Prison 21. Here, classroms are divided into small cells for holding prisoners.

There were displays of how victims were tortured.

Victims were also methodically numbered and photographed.

It was quite poignant, considering these violent doings occurred barely decades ago.

After all the depressing historical visits, we decided to cheer ourselves up by having a perk-me-up high tea at the Cambodian Raffles Hotel.

The Crazy Dog


Cocktails and Cakes!

Next morning was a relaxing casual morning ride to the countryside of Kien Svay. It is 12 km east of Phnom Penh and is more of the definitive Cambodian picnic spot for the locals. You can rent a water house for only USD2.

Wading our way to the water huts..

Our boat house was a very quaint bamboo stilt platforms protruding from the waters.

Ever so frequently, water hyacinths get nudged gently to our side, boats swung by to market their barbequed prawns and other seafood.

Water Hyacinths!

We soon settled comfortably to play cards and other silly games.

As the rest of the gang played Dai Dee, Isabelle and I sat listening to Mister Sammeth narrate about Cambodian way of life.

Mister Sammeth is such a sweet man. He wrote a letter to thank us for hiring him so he could support his little son to school. He told us the difficulties of poverty in Cambodia and other titbits. It was enlightening and very interesting.

He also singled me out, like the previous chaffeur, Mister Ritchy, in inquiring if I were a Japanese or if I have any Japanese blood in me. Adeline was scornful though,"Where got Japanese so black one lor."

After an enjoyable morning, we headed back to the city to have lunch at a gallery cafe opened by a German flutist. He educated us on flame cakes and the various aspects of his cuisine, mix of French and German.

Wah, Flame Cakes leh!

There were gallery of art works and cultural performances as well.

We adjourned to the Center Market for a shopping trip after lunch.

Grr! The Shopping Menaces!

There is nothing much to buy, except sporting goods. So, we were pretty bored after an hour. The fashion trend in Cambodia is atrocious! I think everyone pretty much dresses the same way as Singapore would three decades ago.

We ended up at a helmet store, buying helmets for Singapore.

We also purchased champagne from the supermarket because it was dirrrrrrt-cheap. Moet was going for around USD25? That is probably 40 buckeroos in Singaporean dollar. Pretty good deal, no?

As we sat around for dinner at the Pink Elephant, I bought a stalk of rose from a beggar girl and gave it to Isabelle.

She went berserk with joy, as you can see from the picture.

We were back in the hotel rooms, waiting for the champagne to be popped.

In that session, we realized Beehuay kisses fish, will call her son Queasy and Isabelle is just really, really atrocious in Mandarin. Boo!

On our last day, we invited Mister Sammeth to all our meals.

Isabelle inquired the beggar boy why he wasn't at school.

No money, he replied in a matter-of-factly manner.

Watching our banana flambe get torched...

After dinner spelt the end of our Cambodian holiday. We had to bid farewell to the city of Phnom Penh.

Yay, I am going home!

The craziness still persists as the Leow sisters gaped at boobs.

I was wedged between the two sisters on the flight and we had fun whacking each other while playing blackjack.

Ahhhh. When's my next vacation, I wonder?


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