Goodbye Siem Reap

Day L – Mai 7

We try sleeping in but it’s just no use. We’re on our way to breakfast by 10am. Otherwise we have the calmest day.
We try Aqua but they’re closed today because something went wrong with cleaning and now the pool is green.
But there’s a pool in Siem Reap Hostel you can use as long as consuming. It’s semi-indoor, but with this heat it’s nicer to be in cooled areas anyway. Plus they serve great burgers and make a splendid iced tea. I can very much recommend this place.

In the evening we collect our knapsack, oreo’s and other necessities, for we’re both bussing out of here tonight, and go for dinner at a farther out local food shack and some last beers at Garden Village.

Then it’s time to, after three days of a lot of fun and Dutch, say goodbye, and I’m on the road alone once more.

My pickup is at 2am and until then I sit in an as good as empty rooftop bar, wasting some time online and writing thank you notes to those sweet friends that helped me out filling the HCMC-robbery gap in my budget. Honourable mention goes to mum and dad, Wendy, Michelle, Siebrand and Carmen, Daniel and Melchior! And of course to Jasper who’s been my sugar daddy these past few days.

I put my backpack behind the counter and actually encounter some trouble getting it back, since I didn’t get a tag, but my bag now has one… I finally convince them it is mine just in time to climb onto a truck that takes me to another of those silly Cambodian night busses with a TV show on.

Angkor Wat-up?!

Day XLIX – April 6

I set my alarm at 4.30. I’d saved my shower, which I usually take at night when it’s cool enough not to start sweating as soon as you dry off, to use it as a wake-up this morning.
We were able to get those delish coffees to go at the reception. And there we met mr. T, our driver for the day. Last night he was one of the many asking “Go temple tomorrow?” so we agreed on a pick-up.

The east is already starting changing colour so we rush over to Srah Srang. And with a crowd of no more than 10 -all heavily armed with cameras- we watch the sky go purple, pink, orange, pinkish again, until it settles in light blue and yellow over this majestic pond on the outer perimeter of the holy grounds of Angkor with that beautiful forest of palm trees to hide it from the outside world.
Then Mr. T. drives us to Ta Prom and Ta Keo, both so quiet still we even beat the staff at getting there, and have each ‘room’ to ourselves as we explore the rubble and walls still standing with the helping hand of those trees with those long fingers at their base.
We take a half an hour hike to the relatively unknown Ta Nei and have the entire place to ourselves.

So the whole morning couldn’t have been better! The waking extremely early had paid off and we got to experience the best I think this ancient place could possibly offer. To walk alone through the moss- and tree covered ruins of 1200 year old temples, hidden in Cambodia’s forests, carved all over with the stories of Buddha and Vishnu and Shiva and many other Buddhist and Hindu heroes to the morning chant of birds, crickets, geckos and monkeys…
Just to imagine how it must have been when it was a busy inhabited city of kings, all these buildings in their glory. They’re still unimaginably beautiful, now taken over by the hand of nature.
Once again I cannot find the words to do justice to the feeling.

Then we’re driven to this food plaza, and I suppose mr. T. gets a commission for doing so, but even still we’re set with drinks and a plate for just 5$; in the whole of Rome you won’t find it this cheap and that place is nowhere near as sacred is this one.

I suppose after that break we sort of lost our head start, but the route we chose is a rather quiet one so I still manage to keep most of my photos clean. We visit Preah Khan, Neak Pean, Ta Som and East Mebon where we climb the several sets of stairs to find an incredible view around the shrine that’s build on top of it in a sort of closed room, with a roof light to highlight the altar in the most magical way.
It’s hardly noon when we walk down the steps, where I’d calculated us to be near sunset. And to be quite honest we’re both a bit templed-out by now.

So instead of watching the sun sink into the earth from atop Phnom Bok (a 212m bump in the otherwise flat lands) we climb it’s 300-something steps in the heat of midday. Also because we’re informed it would be closed to visitors after 4pm.
We found that hard to believe at first, but when we arrive up there we find the explanation in the form of a small (2 pax?) millitairy ‘base’ –no one is home to ask, if that’d even be a wise thing to do- and 2 anti-missile-attack-machines or something Jap suggests they are. I just find it another very controversial image -as I’ve seen so many around Southeast Asia- there, next to a pagoda and an abandoned temple.

After that little workout -first climb since Blue Lagoon in fact- I’m dying for a dive and locals suggested Srah Srang so I ask mr. T. to pull over as we drive passed it on the way back. I get ready –take of my pants to keep them dry but not after putting on my sarong; a girls must always have her knees covered. I’m already being rude wearing a tanktop outside of temples – and walk in to find out the water was is hot; must’ve been about 40°, no joke! So that’s a big flop.

We drive on to Angkor Wat where we give mr. T. 3 hours off and go for a wander, a snooze and a walk over to Phnom Bakkheng for sunset.
During the Angkor Wat stroll we find a section to way up there with a line and officials controlling those who go up. So I put on my sarong, cover my shoulders, make tidy like one’s supposed to. However, they saw me putting it on or something, I don’t know what I did wrong, but I’m not allowed..?
That, and the crowd we ended up in by now, cloud my good mood. So we take the long way around and stroll over the fields outside of the wall, where we find a stunning scenery laid out by these spiders that build tunnel webs. From shore to wall the place is covered in them.

We arrive at Phnom Bakkheng too late and it’s already closed, so after going back and forth we ended up enjoying the sunset from the steps of Angkor Wat again. Still very nice, but we did that yesterday already when we went over to get our tickets, and it’s so crowded here.

Dear mr. T. drives us back to town, to the place we met last night; Pubstreet food court, for awesomes as many as on a day like this makes many hungry!
After, it’s more beers and cocktails and hometown gossip just because we can, while we make the rounds: Angkor What?! Temple Bar… With amazement we stare at those little braceletgirls, 12 years old maybe, dancing like crazy to the loud music, really good, and cute on one hand but quite disturbing on the other. Anyway, they’re having fun, so that’s good.

Unfortunately the internet connection in this end of the world isn’t very consistend. Uploading photos is just not gonna happen today. I can however supply you with the link to my Flickr.

Reunion time

Day XLVIII – April 5

In proper local manner we drive off; the trunk too stuffed to close it, the 3 of us stuffed in the back and 2 more passengers in the front next to the driver.

When we get to Garden Village Guesthouse again, my long time friend Jasper is already sitting there. And it is good to see a familiar face, to meet a good friend from back home to share a little taste of Asia with. We spend the day strolling around and catching up.

In the evening we meet Pat and Rikke again to try the Khmer BBQ at the food plaza. It’s a sort of flipped-over colander with a gaslight under it, a soup and vegetables floating around it, and then you get a plate of different meats to grill on there yourself. It’s a lot of hassle for a little food, but it’s fun and tasty!

Back at Garden Village it’s reunion time again; I see Lara and Cain, the Welsh couple, saying hello to Rutger, the other Dutch in Spicy Laos Luang Prabang that tried to hide his nationality so much he ignored me as much as I ignored him.

When I’m telling my stories here I keep wondering how to put it; I or we. How do I say that really? I was with people that were briefly my friends and facebook gives this false illusion of staying in touch but of course you won’t in fact ever see each other again and will go on to go your own ways and live your own lives on different sides of the world again.

Jasper and I finish our last beers –he keeps gloating over my newly adapted drinking habbit; I only learned to drink beer here in Asia- in the rooftop bar around 1 o’clock. The noises die around 3 and this rowdy bunch comes in at 4; that’s backpacker budget hostels for ya.
jap angkor

School’s out

continental gameDay XLVII – April 4

Already it’s our last day here!
We made a little game out of all the subjects we covered. We’ve divided the kids in teams. We then ask each team to take a certain colour balloon and place it in a certain continent on the map we drew on the floor. And then to step into the continent and act out an emotion or disease, or ask them for directions to another continent. And they’re really enjoying it! And even better; they remember everything we’ve thought them!

After one of the classes this boy comes running after me to give me an origami swam on a rope and stick; just the cutest! That will make for a great bookmarker.
The principal leaves us with a present as well; a traditional Khmer scarf. So sweet!
One of the teachers –of that super good grade 6 class- went through lengths to thank us, taking photos and exchanging e-mail.
school's out
Even though I’d gotten pretty tired these last few days and was looking forward to my week of nothing along the coast, parting is heavy! So much is left to be taught, so much fun is left to be had
During our last lunch together we’re talking about supporting and adopting the kids in the orphanage and what we could do to help them once we’re gone.
This adoption is a figure of speech, meaning you’d decide to send one specific kid a monthly or annual amount to pay for his or her education or health or whatever you decide on. There’s a whole official form. Mr Ya gives us his details so we can also just send him something for all the kids to share or to put to a project.

greenway team You know what, the term orphan is also a figure of speech. Most of them do still have parents. It’s just that the parents got divorced, which isn’t uncommon in Cambodia. Children from a previous marriage make it harder to find a new spouse, they don’t fit in in the new situation and they’re expensive. So they’re thrown out. And that’s how they end up in the orphanage. Some of them still see their family sometimes, but it’s a very sad story.
All in all; this experience has been amazing and I am so grateful for how people here have opened up to us and showed us around in their simple every-day-lives. I truly hope to come back one day and be able to make a big difference.
I now totally see why Angelina Jolie felt the need to take one home…

Peculiarities of teaching in remote Cambodia

Day XLVI – April 3

It’s the time of harvest and planting anew before rainy season is here. Now the burning isn’t as bad here as it is in Laos where they burn entire acres of rainforest to create new land.
It’s just small piles of rubbish, and I think some of that has the purpose of drying and grilling vegetables. Still, a lot of the stray plastic ends up in the fires and a nasty stench fills the air.

Another extremely hot day!
Leak, who normally wears a black sweater and the long jeans and socks everybody wears to keep their skin out of the sun, has even reduced to a t-shirt and a skirt today.
I’m sweating so much the skin in my neck and on my back is covered in a rash.
And thus I discover the power of sugar! Maybe I’m weird, but I never noticed it like this before. Today is no cooler than yesterday, but I was dead-tired than, couldn’t even move. And now I seem just fine, after a lunch of Khmer pancakes with bananas and pineapple and sugar: noms!

When we come back to school the classroom is closed, hung with a padlock, the teacher’s gone home and took the only key there is. So, no class, we skip it all together and go to the next. Pretty odd, no?
Another one of those occasions you shouldn’t try to understand… I propose an outside class or in the library maybe? But we don’t have the tools there and it’s just not going to happen.
Another peculiar fact: when we’re repeating yesterdays lesson I tell the kids “Just look it up in your notebook, you wrote it down yesterday…”
Leak explains to me “They can’t read that.” She always gives them the Khmer translation so they know what it says. And those are very different letters, characters actually, from ours. They’re all very good at writing the western alphabet; they just don’t know what it means…

But despite these little things I feel completely at home here.
And I can hardly imagine my trip will be over and I’ll leave SEA in a month. I’m sure I don’t want to!
I’m reading back a bit to those first days with Sit and the crew in Thailand, and they still feel so close, yet it’s such a long time ago and so much happened since! It’s strange how time works on the mind in these circumstances.

And still you’ll have this notion that there is stuff you HAVE to do. I NEED to finish this book while I’m here so I can leave it behind. I MUST read up on this or that before I go there. I HAVE to book this flight asap.
The western code programmed to always rush to the next thing. And despite the pace in these regions being more like “It’ll happen when it happens, things will come around eventually. Don’t sweat it, it’s hot enough already.” it’s hard to let go of that little voice in the back of your mind completely.

This evening the sky is so bright! The moon is nearly full and there are no clouds except for a hazy veil caused by the fires. I walk for a little bit and when I’m out of the light, the land around me looks as bright as during a solar eclipse. It’s breathtaking! Again that loss for words.
The sounds of weddings have finally died down and all I hear is a concert of crickets, frogs, geckos and some far-away dogs. And all sense of time and space leave me. I don’t have to – anything. It doesn’t matter where or when I am. ‘I’ don’t even exist.

Khmer heat and cravings and weddings

class and me
Day XLV – April 2

I caught a tiny little gecko that was walking over my toothpaste, exactly the size I would want that tattoo to be. Is it a sign?

After yesterday’s shower things seemed to have cooled down, even this morning. But the sun has reclaimed his throne in the blue and taken over temperatures. I’m too tired to even teach today…

But it ends up being a fun day like all the other ones. We’re teaching about emotions, drawing smileys on the board and acting out the faces. The kids are having a hoot at it, and learn us the Khmer translation in return.

A sandwich with cheese, just Dutch cow-cheese. And mayonnaise. And ham. On a baguette. Not the fluffy ones they have here, but a crunchy French baguette. Like the ones I made in Lyon all the time. With a chipolata sausage and onion and grilled zucchini and selery salad. Or a rice cracker with proper Dutch peanut butter. And nutella. And a stroopwafel. But most of all just chocolate. Can’t find any real chocolate anywhere.
Cravings for your native cuisine; they’re bound to happen when you’re away for a longer period. (And it’s got noting to do with my being late.) But that doesn’t mean I’m not still loving the local dishes!

There’s an explosion of weddings going on. Leak explains to us it’s because everyone here gets married between January and May. There are both religious and traditional reasons for it, but mostly it’s because of rainy season. And rainy season is about to break, so every day there are a few weddings, squeezed in right before it.
By the sound of it they start at 5am, they take over 24 hours each and they’re very loud. It sounds like a festival sounds from the campingsite.