I walked past this corner yesterday around noon. It was an empty storefront; no stock, no sign, and not even shelves. What a difference this morning.
I'm not sure if it's been forty one or forty two years (getting old is a bitch, eh?), but either way, it's been just a bit of a time gap since I set foot in that tattoo parlor in Loveland, CO. I remember it was a Friday night, and the artist was adamant that he would not tattoo a drunk person. Rich Adzgowski and I were both sober, so we got our tats. Nice deal that mine was on sale and was only $60 for a nicely colored dragon holding a pearl in a three-clawed hand. Why a dragon? Well, at the time I was pretty involved in studying Pai Te Lung Shi Yang Kung Fu, which means White Dragon Fist in English. Cut me some slack, I was not yet twenty and easily influenced, and that was the image the artist had on the wall. Little did I know at the time that a three-clawed dragon isn't Chinese anyway, it's supposed to represent Japanese dragons.
Of course, I couldn't allow my parents to see it, and since I was away at university at the time, that proved to be relatively easy to do. Even when I returned home for summer, it was no effort at all to hide all but just the tip. You see, I had thought about it and I knew I was going to be in the mainstream working world and at the time (early 1980s) tattoos were still frowned upon by "polite society" as were earrings and pretty much any other personal flash on a man. So I had decided to put the tattoo on my lower leg. It was easy to hide, because back in those days, three-stripe tube socks (to the knee, natch) were the thing.
Almost a year after I had it put on my body, my father saw it.
“What is that on your leg?”
“What? Where?” I had no idea what he was talking about. For all I knew it was an alien predator sucking me dry.
“Poking above your sock. It looks red. Orange?”
Uh oh. Here it comes. The Brow is going to blow.
“Uh, it's a tattoo, Dad. It's a dragon." I pulled down my sock. “See?”
He leaned in a bit closer and peered at it. “Huh. You know that's permanent, right?” I assured him I was aware. “Your choice.” he said. Then walked away. Damn, I miss him.
Fast forward several decades, and there I was, standing outside a tattoo studio in Siem Reap, Cambodia. I’d been noodling with the idea of getting a tattoo for about the last six to nine months. I’d finally found pretty much exactly what I wanted. All I needed was the courage to open the door. So I did. I talked to the artist to get an idea of how much, and how long it would take. After all, I can’t have sitting around getting tattooed cutting into my ever important afternoon $0.50 beer drinking time. Ninety minutes. Doable. How much? $60. Sealed the deal. How could I possibly turn around when it was the same price I paid oh-so-long ago?
As was alluded to in the comments of the previous post, Tineke and I went on a bike ride. Up before dawn (nothing new there, amirite?), I made my way across part of Siem Reap to where she was staying, and where the bikes were. We headed off in the gloaming of 5:45 am to beat the heat, and to hopefully get some good light for photos. I’d have to say we were successful on both fronts. It didn’t really heat up a lot while we were pedaling, and the light was interesting and varied.
All I had was my phone camera, while Tineke was toting along an Olympus OM10 digital. I can only imagine how much better her photos are. The highlight, for me, was the beautiful Chrysopelea ornata that we saw on the Phnom Krom temple. More commonly known as either a golden tree snake, or flying snake (yikes!) it was dripping down the wall of the hilltop temple, then disappeared into a crack between the stones. I thought it was really interesting how it was able to grip as it descended, not a part of it fell away to the side or out as it moved. Incredible, at least to me.
As we cruised around the top of the hill, just past the cleared areas were many signs and warnings for mines. So sad that 50 years after the war, there are still areas that are dangerous to even walk away from cleared areas. Tineke told me the small city of Battambang – just a few hours away from Siem Reap – has the highest incidence of amputations, most due to stepping on mines. Such a depressing statistic doesn’t warrant a fact check by me.
We cruised, stopping occasionally to take the odd photo, and made it back to the Big City™ in time for breakfast with a couple of very tasty Long Blacks and Americanos. Don’t ask me the difference! We ate at a nice little place called Brother Bong Cafe. No water pipes or associated THC-transfer mechanisms were available for purchase, despite the name. Just good coffee, good food, good atmosphere, and good company.
I’ve been in country now for <checks calendar> about ten days. I like the pace of Cambodia, and I like the activities and culture around Siem Reap. I’ve spoken to a few people who have been to other parts of the country (specifically Battambang and Phnom Penh) and, to be honest, I don’t really feel a pressing need to go. I’m completely content to spend another couple of weeks here in Siem Reap before jetting off to meet the man-cub. Maybe that’ll change, maybe it won’t. The best part of it is, I don’t need to justify my action – or inaction – to anyone except myself, and I’m easy. Just ask anyone I’ve dated.
Speaking of dating, I had an online match, and she and I met a couple of days ago for a drink. It went well enough that we decided to go see a comedian who was on stage at a local café. A lot of his act is improv with the audience, and he (and I, to be honest) had a fun time interacting when, riffing on online dating, had asked if anyone in the audience of maybe 45 people had been using the apps in Cambodia. The best part of that whole shtick for me was the play back and forth between us, and Tineke (my “date”) and Tineke’s daughter.
After the show Ahmed Ahmed hung out in the bar and we had a chance to chat further. Nice guy. Tough job! I may have provided some fodder for him regarding him wearing Under Armor. Time will tell.
After the show, we took a walk around the Water Festival activities at night. Combine residual heat, humidity, humanity, street food and music – all in exorbitant amounts – and you have the festival in a nutshell. We had to escape to a quieter place to have a beer and a chat. Nice.
Today is a moving day; I’m going to a new hotel in town. The current one is probably my least favorite stay pretty much anywhere. The décor can only be described as early Brutish, and if you actually like to have a place to put your luggage, clothes, bathroom accoutrements, other than on the floor, you’re sadly out of luck. Also, any aficionados of water pressure in a shower will be also greatly disappointed. How this place got a ⭐⭐⭐ rating is beyond me. My first stop in Siem Reap, a ⭐⭐, was definitely superior and less expensive. That last star must be due to the swimming pool. I did use it though, so there's that.
The sunrise over Angkor Wat was probably my least favorite part of the excursion. I’ve seen many, many better sunrises. Maybe I’m just not spiritual enough, but I was all “Meh” and then I was all “whatever, dude” and then “hey, let’s go inside!” and we did. That was pretty amazing. Angkor is simply on a scale I didn’t expect. Both Wat and Thom are just plain huge. For example, the wall around Angkor Thom is 12K, and there are a number of remaining temples inside. Our tour guide said the city held up to a million people back in the 12th century. I can’t imagine the smell to be honest.
The bas relief walls in Wat and Bayon were really interesting, depicting life and death carved in stone. And, again, they are huge. Dozens of meters long. I don’t know how much of them are in original and good condition vs. refurbished, but they looked amazeballs. The depiction of the stegosaur in Ta Prohm was a real head-scratcher, though. According to our guide, nobody really knows why that was carved in a line of other, recognizable animals. Maybe someone saw a fossil? Maybe we walked with dinosaurs. Oooooooo….
We walked through the central temple inside: the Bayon, and a couple of places outside that were a bit off the beaten track, since we were on bikes and not being motored in even a tuk-tuk. Even though Ta Prohm is kind of accessible (it’s almost a K walk to/from where the parking area is), there wasn’t a lot of people, despite it being relatively famous as a result of “Lara Croft: Tomb Raider.” I guess people don’t want to walk a bit. Also, tourism hasn’t yet rebounded from Covid. For me that combines to be a good thing, because I get unimpeded views and access to famous places without crowds. For the locals, it’s not a particularly good thing, since they literally survive on tourism. In places I know the locals are getting the money (not the big stores, restaurants or the parks), I’m happy to pay what they want, no haggling whatsoever. I’m staying in small, local boutique hotels, too.
The photos can’t do justice, but hey, enjoy anyway.
After taking a day walking Siem Reap, I booked a tour for Angkor Wat and Angkor Thom. The place names loosely translate to capital temple and capital city. I think more people are aware of Angkor Wat – the temple, and fewer know about or have even heard about Angkor Thom. After touring them both, I think I prefer the city. I’m splitting this into two posts, because LARGE, and I know people’s attention spans are lessened these days anyway, and particularly to my deranged drivel.
I booked the tour through a company called Siem Reapers Tours. I mean, who wouldn’t book with Reapers, especially on October 31! The day started early with a 0445 pick-up in the hotel lobby with a tuk-tuk ride out to the Wat. $37 entry fee got me a 1-day pass (they sell multi-day passes too, much like Disneyland), and I and my two tour companions (oddly enough, from Spokane, after living in Denver!) joined a couple of hundred others waiting for the dawn over Angkor Wat. Sadly, the dawn disappointed. It was a bit cloudy and there wasn’t much of one. Besides, I thought it was odd they would have the dawn-seekers congregate on the west of the temple. I’d enjoy a sunrise illuminating the edifice more than silhouetting it. But that’s me.
The condition of the original stonework is rather eroded, but what to expect from carved sandstone sitting out for 1000 years in a climate of significant rain? I wouldn’t have been surprised if the entire place was nothing but piles of sand at this point. Since they are both UNESCO World Heritage sites though, there has been, and continues to be a lot of restoration work. In the past, I would have sneered at restored monuments – restored isn’t nearly as cool as original. I now have revised my opinion. I want to see these places as they might have appeared in their prime and glory. A mound of stones isn’t nearly as interesting as a temple as it existed in 1100.
On the downside, I learned that the money I pay (and all visitors to the temple and city) goes not to restoration, or even the people of Cambodia. The sites are under a long term (99 year) lease to a Vietnamese company. Seems Pol Pot sold everything at the same time he was killing everyone. The country is owned by Vietnamese and Chinese interests. I’m happy to report my tour company was not outsourced to some international conglomerate. Locally owned and operated. And great folks.
I haven’t done a lot of mountain biking lately, and my trail balance was not what it used to be. Thankfully, the trails we traveled were generally fairly wide, and the terrain not technical. The few places where it was narrow and/or rocky/rooty I amazingly navigated without incident. I am inordinately proud of that. While riding along the wall, I thought that the route would make for a fun and fast trail race. It’s all dirt, reasonably flat and smooth – and 12 K! I don’t think it’ll ever happen, but how cool would it be if it did?
We wrapped up the riding and the touring about 1:30 with a lunch at a totally tourist place. Pricey and hawkers mobbing everyone who left. The price of the (pretty good) food was included in the tour, but drinks were not. I opted out of a beer since it was 5x the price of what I would be able to get in an hour when I got back into the city. Besides, the caffeine and sugar of a Coke sounded pretty good at the time.
Shower, and I was off to rehydrate and renutrate (that totally should be a word, right?). A couple of $0.50 beers and a bowl of $3.50 curry, and I was done, done, done for the day. I’m not sure I even got through a single Big Bang Theory episode before succumbing to the sweet, sweet embrace of the Sandwoman.
After a bit of sticker shock going from $1.60 bowls of great Pho on the streets of Danang, to seeing a Burger King meal “deal” in the airport for ten times the price, I’ve made my way to Siem Reap, Cambodia. A couple of things about the flight, first. It was the shortest and least crowded international flight I’ve ever been on. There were a total of 16 passengers on an A320 for a 70-minute flight. Also, why the fuck does it matter what my carry on weighs?! It’s going on the plane regardless. Making me check (at no additional cost) my main bag because it weighs more than 7 kilos, is fucking ridiculous. My small bag weighs nearly the same, and didn’t get a second glance.
First impressions of Siem Reap, since I’ve been here for all of about 14 hours, and about half of that asleep, is it’s nice. It’s a lot quieter than the cities I visited in Vietnam, the motorbikes are not quite as ubiquitous, but there are more tuk-tuks – either individually three wheeled, or a trailer pulled by a motorbike. It turns out, that was the method of my hotel shuttle. The temperature was pleasant in the late evening, and riding in relative comfort in the open air for the 15 minute ride was pretty amazeballs.
I checked into the hotel – a very small, boutique ⭐️ ⭐️ job located in an alley – and dropped my stuff and headed out for a beer. My hotel is not far from the main tourist streets that are crawling with bars, restaurants, and yes, tourists. This is the kind of hotel with physical keys on large fobs that you leave at the desk when you go out. Old school, and I like it. A less-desirable aspect of the hotel is a dearth of available power plugs. I’ve a desk and no plug anywhere near it. On the positive side, there are plugs on both sides of the bed, so both charging stuff and watching stuff is a go at night. The shower seems to have adequate hot water, but I haven’t pushed it yet. I also haven’t decided if I am going to stay here for any longer than the three days I originally booked. It’s quiet, and in a pretty decent location, so the tea leaves in the empty cup are leaning in a positive direction.
As soon as I got to a likely bar along Pub Street, I grabbed the $0.75 drafts of Cambodia brand beer and engaged in one of my favorite pastimes: people watching. I find it truly amazing just how much time and effort some people go through to get photos of themselves. Y’all should be glad I don’t have the penchant for doing that, otherwise this blog would be a paean to myself. Ain’t nobody want that.
Also of immediate and interesting note to me is the ATMs only will dispense USD for my card. Huh. The restaurants and stores all take USD for 4000/1 (the official rate is currently about 4135), and dispense change in Riels. I guess I can afford to eat the difference. Today I’m going to spend walking around and checking the surroundings, and probably will go for one of the amazingly inexpensive massages. I thought it was cheap in Vietnam, but here a 1-hour massage is $5. Even a bad massage would be relatively ok at that price. Coffee is $1.00 for an 8-oz Americano. It’s back to the kind of coffee I, as an American, am used to. The super strength, differently flavored Vietnamese coffee is in my past – except for the packets of instant I brought along as an emergency supply.
I’ve got a dawn bicycle tour of Angkor Wat scheduled for tomorrow. I’m really looking forward to that.
Just a guy out exploring the world. Former world-class never-was endurance runner.