Thursday, January 1, 2009

Cambodian Adventure Day Five - back to Bangkok

Day 5 was devoted to R&R, which is good because I woke up with stomach problems. We had a luxuriously long breakfast at yet another tourist restaurant along the riverside. We didn't have a fantastic view of the Mekong because there's some kind of sewage system upgrade project going on and there are a lot of walls put up around the river. But being near the river nevertheless provided us with a very comfortable breeze. The small part that I could see had a very nice green space along it, which reminded me, ever so slightly, of Portland's waterfront.

While wandering around downtown someone had handed us a sheet advertising a couple of documentaries about Cambodia - one about Pol Pot & the Khmer Rouge and one about Landmines; each offered in French and English several times a day. We decided to watch the one about the Khmer Rouge. It was, oddly enough, the first movie I'd seen in a 'theater' since leaving the US. The 'theater' was over a restaurant and consisted of several rows of chairs in a medium sized room with the movie projected onto the far wall. To be honest, it wasn't exactly PBS quality. There was a lot of random news reel and stock footage of Cambodia that didn't necessarily match the narrative, and at the end when they showed Pol Pot's death & cremation they played oddly (offensive really) sentimental music. But it did add a bit more to what I understood about the Khmer revolution & genocide, so I'm glad I saw it.

All the tuk-tuks lined up on the tourist street.

After the movie we ducked into yet another street market. This one was far less touristy, with a lot of clothes (jeans, t-shirts, rhinestone encrusted flip-flops, etc), oddly- several hair salons, and of course, food.

A market's a market, and I love me some street markets!

And a word about the 'traditional dress' of Cambodian women. I started noticing this in Siem Reap and saw it several times looking out the bus window. A lot of the women wear PJs all day (most wear jeans & t-shirts... but I saw lots of PJs). If you think about it, it's just patterned capri pants and a matching short sleeved button down shirt... but really... it's pajamas! Most of the older women wear floral patterns, but some of the younger women wear Doremon or some other cartoon character. They're clean, neat, and a nice blend of comfort & modesty... but it just totally struck me as odd. Must be how the British felt when they first went to India all dressed up in their tights and pantaloons.

Buying, perhaps, bananas in her Pajamas?

We still had a few hours before our flight, so we just walked around. There was a massage parlor (as opposed to a "massage parlor") on the street offering $10 massages so we said why not? It was, yet again, a surreal experience. The other girls asked for an exfoliating body scrub, but I asked for the Swedish massage. First one lady came and washed our feet & offered us flip-flops, then another lady led Bobby upstairs. We waved goodbye somewhat melodramatically. Next she came down and led both Bunny and I up to the same large room divided up by curtains.

There was a row of mattresses on the floor each with a nicely folded towel and a batik sheet on them. We pulled the curtains closed, got undressed and I wrapped in the towel and lay down on the bed under the sheet. The masseurs come back up - whip all the curtains back and then proceed to remove my sheet & towel. I was glad I'd decided to keep my undies on, but really it didn't matter - she massaged wherever she saw fit anyway. At some point she did lay the towel back on me, but they just have a whole different concept of modesty here! The massage itself was okay - we all ended up getting something approaching Swedish style - (there was no exfoliating of Bunny or Bobby), but it wasn't nearly as good as massages I'd gotten in the states. On the flip side, it wasn't nearly as painful as the Old Lady massage I'd gotten in Chiang Mai, so you know, not a terrible way to spend an hour.

In the afternoon we took a tuk-tuk out to the airport for our flight back to Bangkok. Compared to the trip into the country it was a piece of cake. Of course there was an extra $25 "airport tax" that we had to pay before we could catch our flight... but I guess that kind of thing is just par for the course here. Getting on the nice big clean airplane was exciting. The Thai staff greeted us with a wai and a "sawatdee kaa/kap" which we returned cheerfully. About an hour later (I think it was even less), we arrived in Bangkok, waited in the long-ass line at immigration again, showed off our spiffy re-entry permits and waltzed right through.

OH! Did I mention that on my blog? Before our trip I needed to go with my boss to immigration (a local office) to get my non-immigrant visa & work permit extended (it's a year long permit but you have to check in to get it renewed after the first 90 days... which was for me - today). The three of us also needed to get re-entry permits for our trip, to prevent our non-immigrant visas from getting changed back to tourist visas when we crossed back into the country, so we all went together with our boss that day. Unfortunately, the entire packet of information & signed documents for the extension of my visa was accidentally left on top of the car when we drove off.

We got the re-entry permits, but we were unable to do the extension (thankfully my passport was on my person at the time & not in the envelope with all the other documents, which was subsequently run over by about 500 motorbikes before it was finally recovered). So as of today... my visa is expired and technically I'm in the country illegally. I'm holding onto the ridiculous hope that I won't have to pay the 500 baht over-stay fine since we were actually in the office well before it expired, and my boss explained to them about the papers flying off the roof of the car etc. But tomorrow we go, and if I have to pay, I have to pay.

Once in Bangkok we took a taxi to our guest house (got overcharged, again, but significantly less than in the past). The guest house was awesome, with an actual shower area with a depressed area of tiles so that the entire bathroom floor doesn't flood when you shower. Livin' it up I tell you! Then we met up with the Howie, the Vietnamese Frenchman Bunny & Bobby had met on Ko Samet. He does some kind of research on dengue fever for a pharmaceutical company or something like that. I wasn't totally clear. He seemed really nice & friendly... and didn't yet have the sense of entitlement that a lot of guys develop while living in Thailand. Unfortunately the Mexican food place we wanted to go to was closed - but there was an Indian place a few doors down. I wasn't really up for eating... but I did indulge in some garlic naan, and actually, eating made me feel better than not eating.

After dinner Howie took us back to his apartment, and we nearly died of amazement. This place was NICE. It was a two bedroom, two BATHROOM apartment with a kitchen, living room and actual furniture! And it was on the 13th floor of a pretty nice high-rise off of Sukhumvit. I'm sure he paid a ton for it, and when I asked him if was being paid in Baht or Euro he replied "Both - shhhh don't tell, I get a double salary." While I'm sure if I wanted to, I could afford a nicer place than where I'm staying right now, I think he probably pays close to my entire salary for his apartment. He took us up to the roof for a look at the city lights. Yeah... amazing! I got a pretty strong sense of vertigo standing close to the edge, but even standing back and looking around was just amazing.

the view from the top of Howie's apartment

The sticky part was when we were ready to go back downstairs, he realized he couldn't open the door again. Yeah, in sit-coms it's hilarious when this happens, but in real life it's a bit scary. However, still not as scary as the three hour Cambodian taxi ride over unpaved roads (my new measure for these situations). And fortunately we live in the age of cell phones, so he just called his landlord who called the night guard who came up and let us in again. And the three of us went back to our guest house.

In the morning the girls were going to hang out in Bangkok shopping & getting haircuts etc. before going to Ayutthaya with Howie on Saturday. Unfortunately, when I woke up I was still feeling fairly rotten, so I just took a bus back home. And here I am. Slowly but surely recovering from all my travel related ailments, and rather quickly actually unloading all the crazy experiences from my brain onto this blog for your general amusement.


Jeannette said...

Shopping in your pajamas, reminds me of college.

Rebel said...

thanks for visiting my blog! Yeah, I did a lot of things in my jammies back in college - I miss those days!