The temples of Angkor were incredible. I never saw Angelina Jolie but there were plenty of lovely ladies, they just happen to be made of stone. Which I find is the case much of the time anyways. Built between the 9th and 14th century while the Khmer civilization was both powerful and culturally rich they embody both grace and strength. In this time they built 100 or so temples all made of brick or stone, the palaces were built with wood because the Khmer's felt that stone was only for the gods. We took the low budget tour, which is a couple of street fellas on mopeds. The distance between the temples would make a nice size hike. I got to know my driver quit well, enough so that I felt okay asking him the obvious questions, how did they possibly get those huge slabs of stone way up there? And how is it that the villagers surrounding it are now living in little huts? The second question, however crud has to do with all of us and the larger " food" chain of our crazy world.
Getting away from the ole USA has a way of giving a guy new perspectives. But back to Angkor, it is amazing what people can do, I mean it's not like they didn't have anything else to do. I'd have trouble taking on a project of that magnitude, other than Sundays my week generally pretty shot, and that's just not a Sunday type project. While the most popular was Angkor Wat, it reminded of my last visit to Disneyland, just too many people clamoring aimlessly all over the place. I much preferred the Temple of Bayon and it's 216 smiling faces. Locals believe it's the king Jayavarman VII overlooking his kingdom. The faces reside in 54 towers; beneath them are 1200m of bas-reliefs where about 11,000 figures are carved into the stones. Outside the outer walls are more carvings depicting scenes of the 12th century Cambodia. I wish I could tell you more about the temples, my tour guide said his job was to drive with me and that scaling these things would cost more than I had.
The final stop was a temple that everyone went to watch the sunset, you could either take an elephant ride to the top or hike, I opted to race Tom, he won. The last picture, is the sunset.
I was so enamored with the idea that we all traveled across the globe to crawl up this huge rock to watch a sunset with two thousand other people that I forgot to take a picture of the sunset; I did take several pictures of people taking pictures of the sunset.
I traveled to Phnom Penh from Siem Reap on the roof of a boat. It was a lot
of fun. The English punk rockers were huddled nearby smoking Cambodian jungle
pot. A few Scandinavian girls decided it was a good time to paint their toe
nails. The Aussies, they drank beer. Some how I got stuck above the engine, it
provided an unusually nice reverberation but it was so load my ears are still
ringing. We began in Tonle Sap Lake then down through the Tonle Sap River, which
met up with the Mekong River. I rocked out to Jay Z's Black Album song 3, the
BOATRIDE TO PHNOM PENH
When we arrived in Phnom Penh I finally received the welcome I deserve, see
the pic with the young lad from the Sunday guesthouse.
PP is a crazy city, semi-controlled chaos, sorta like a Dead Kennedy's concert. There are no traffic signals at least none that anyone cares to follow. You get around via moped and motorcycle; cars are here but there the exception.
ME ON A MOPED
The drivers weave in and out of traffic; I know they do that in NYC too, but not going against the traffic. The little lines on the road are merely suggestions, if you took time to look at them you'd be mowed over. My first big intersection reminded me of one of those great old battle fields, you know like the one in the current Lord of The Rings, where thousands of men line up across from each other then at top speed run straight at and ultimately through each other. Well, the intersection is a bit like that here, only instead of two ways there's four. Luckily for all, mopeds don't go very fast. On my first two journeys my driver hit another moped, since then I'm clean, call it good luck.
STREETS OF PHNOM PENH
I spent most of my time here just hanging out in the markets, walking the streets and trying not to get killed. There are so many stories of armed muggings that you get paranoid. For the last four days it's been a holiday, Chinese New Year, Cambodians don't seem to care so much, it's just a time to not have to work and set some fireworks off. At night they gather on the street in front of their homes and play cards, I still haven't figured out the game but laughter and cheating has allot to do with it.
Cambodia wasn’t on my agenda; most people wouldn't mistake it for a culinary
destination. Sustenance seems to be their cuisine and possibly their way of
life. Overall the food is bland, it's the England of Asia, yet the markets are
full of delicious looking fish, meats and vegetables.
My friend Tom coaxed me into coming; he said it's billed as the "wild west" of Asia and that they filmed Tomb Raider here. Hell, that was enough for me.
We left Bangkok by air-conditioned bus about 7am. The bus was full of
European hippies and backpackers which disgusted poor hipster Tom, I promised I
wouldn't sing "the Boxer" but something just came over me, so I hummed it. We
slept most of the way to the border town of Poipet where the bus stopped and
hurled us out onto the street. Our bags were dropped and the driver and bus
quickly disappeared. Our small group disbanded as we were overtaken by a throng
of barefoot kids shoving food, cigarettes, and clothes into our faces. I looked
for the four English faux-punk rockers that were on our bus in hope that they
might know the way, they seemed to fancy all the attention. Contact was made and
we began to wade through the endless sea of people. There were young amputated
boys with card board strapped to there bottoms dragging themselves along the
dirt road, little shirtless girls exposing there skin diseases carrying tiny
infants in the beating sun. Old ladies passed pulling their entire family in
flattened out wheelbarrows with wooden wheels returning home with a month of
supplies. It was brutal, like Tijuana, hot, dirty, and sad. Bangkok began to
feel like Rodeo Drive.
Customs consisted of standing in a small non air-conditioned room with about 200 hundred hippies all sweaty and suffering from heat exhaustion. The visa was the easy part, they figure if you hadn't turned back yet you deserved to come in.
Once over the border we hopped a thing they swore was a minibus and began our trek of about 120 km to Siem Reap. The negotiated time of 3 hours became about 7 as we attacked that bumpy dirt road at 8 miles per hour. I thought of walking but the potholes were more like craters and I didn't want to chance getting lost in one.
As it turns out, that bus ride was important for me. It helped rid me of my initial reaction to the poverty in Cambodia and began to reveal a stunningly beautiful country. We passed through villages where school kids were climbing on their bikes to head home, through farmland where water buffalos and cows gathered to drink from the sparse water holes. As the sun fell the soil became red and the rice paddies a lazy green, the French man next to me yelled " Les Canard" and we all watched a flock of ducks walk proudly from a small pond down a narrow path and into the tall grass. Families gathered in there homes watched us as we went by, there houses consisted of a few beams and a roof so you could see easily see into them.
We stopped for a moment for gas, and locals came to meet our bus. Cambodians are much more open then Thais; they reveal themselves through their laughter and directness. I found it refreshing. Back on the bus we plodded through darkness, you haven't seen black until you've been somewhere with no electricity. I pulled out my Walkman and put in some Richard Buckner his voice wraps around words like the night, it is peaceful.
CHILDREN IN THE COUNTRYSIDE
Dining in Bangkok must be difficult for many, first of all the best places to
eat are on the street, literally. A few tubs of water, a make shift grill or wok
and a slab of ice and you got a kitchen. The dining room is a few tables with
tiny plastic chairs, condiments, a basket of silverware and paper napkins if you
beg. I don't see many tourist eating on the street, I think the gorilla facility
scares them away and keeps them confined to their sky rise hotels with dummified
Thai food. What they miss is some of the best food I've ever had all for about
one to two dollars, the flies, dogs and car exhaust are free.
STREET VENDOR, YUMMY!
I arrived in Bangkok about midnight, customs was quick and easy and the airport virtually empty. I followed the herd of sleepy Americans and tried to pretend like I was among them but not one of them. After all, I'm Thai and this is my country. I'd like to tell you that I was overwhelmed with emotion, that my legs stopped working in anticipation of touching the soil of my native land. But it just didn't happen, my legs felt fine and I maneuvered through the crowd in the waiting area. Young Thai women held signs like “Welcome Mr. Morimoto", or " Limousine for Mr. Suzuki", I looked for " Welcome Home Our Royal Son " but of course Thais are more subtle then that so I figured the party was just waiting for me at the hotel.
As I walked outside onto the taxi stand I noticed two things, the air was
rich and moist with smells of minerals, sweet fragrances and car exhaust. It was
like smelling NYC and Hawaii at the same time. Once I exhaled I came upon a
young man perfectly fitted in a police uniform complete with tall slender black
boots. What's with this country, minimum wage is $3.60 and the average annual
income $6000, and the cops are wearing Costume National. While others approached
him with questions of presumed importance like "Which way is Bangkok? " or “How
much should the Taxi cost?" I just asked, “Where you get those cool
I hopped a taxi and we jetted quickly into Bangkok, the highway was so straight and barren I thought my driver had fallen asleep. When I tried to take a picture of his pink retro steering wheel he became rather disgruntled (in Thai that means they frown) and I realized he wasn't sleeping just quietly contemplating.
Once at the hotel I snuck into the outdoor pool which was perched up on the 9th floor overlooking downtown Bangkok. The water in the unheated pool was cold and refreshing, the perfect remedy for a jet lagged body. I dried off quickly in the warm humid air and curled up on the terrace. Pockets of Bangkok were still bustling but you could feel her resting. Readying herself for the adventures of a new day.
THE CITY AWAKENING