Boxing Day

It was 2:30 am when the alarm went off. The taxi was going to be here for us at 3:30 am. We were up like a shot, least we fall back to sleep once again and miss our flight. When the phone rang at 3:00 am, we were duly impressed that it was a wake-up call since we never arranged for one, but they knew we were leaving at an unholy hour. We were downstairs by 3:15 and our driver pulled up at 3:20 as he said he would. The drive would take close to two hours, and I am not a chatty person before coffee, so I was hoping for silence. I feigned sleep so if there was a conversation to maintain, Ron would be responsible. We were at the airport in due time and was able to check-in immediately. All of my nightmares about the luggage weight were unfounded. They took our bags without a second glance. It could have been the six books we left behind, the three pairs of pants we gave away, the umbrellas we trashed, the shoes donated to charity, or the fact that I finally came to terms with facial products not being the holy grail of youthful appearances. Hence our gross weight of the luggage was less than a new born infant born premature. Air Asia used boarding tickets that look like receipts for the grocery store; cheap paper with print on them, no frills, no souvenir quality. When we were to board they had Express boarding for those who paid for the option and anyone over 65 years old, so I pushed Ron to the forefront and told him to save me a good seat. I may have a birthday coming up, but it is still not nearly close to 65 to try to worm my way in that line. Once they let you through, they don’t waste money or fuel bussing you six feet to the airplane, but make you hoof it. We found the plane on the Malaysia coastline, which really shortened the flight time. Good thing too, since there were mechanical problems with the plane, which delayed our departure. The pilots door was open and we saw him kicking the instrument panel, but minutes later announced there was nothing to worry about, so we all relaxed. All of the seats are black leather with red seat belts, looking like and S&M parlor, but comfortable with lots of legroom. All of the leather gave it a new car smell until the flight attendants started selling their snacks. It is amazing to see how my white people will eat Top Ramen soup that they are paying a premium for just because they are on a plane. There was a perfectly good McDonalds in the airport, not to mention the Asian Kitchen restaurant. The smell took me back to my poverty days in Philadelphia where I lived on Top Ramen for weeks on end. Landing in Siem Reap, (which means something like the Thais did not defeat us), was extraordinary. The airport is small, but quite lovely. We had to first line up and apply for our Visas after filling out the third form; the first two were given to us on the plane. If you had a photo, which we did, it was $20.00; otherwise, it was $22.00. They kept the passports and processed them down an assembly line, where at the end, one officer tried calling out the names and showed everyone waiting the picture. His pronunciation of names was not stellar. From here we went to Passport Control, a lengthy time consuming process where they took our picture yet again with computer cameras. Finally, it was through the line for Customs and we were free to be bombarded by taxi drivers trying to sell their services. We went to the taxi desk to make the choice between a motor bike rickshaw for $1.00 or a taxi for $5.00. Notice the dollar sign? Everything is listed in US dollars. We converted 100 Euros into Cambodian Riels and were asked if we would like a porter to help us cart it off. Our taxi driver was a young man named Chon (pronounced Than). He was chirpy, but I was not. He tried selling us services and Ron caved in since he can be chirpy at times in strange countries with strangers. We did not have a hotel booked since Ron read in the Lonely Planet, you did not need to, but they did not mention Christmas or New Years. The hotel we picked out was fully booked and everywhere they usually refer to has been calling them to see if they had vacancies. Not a good sign. Chon had a recommendation, but Ron was hesitant since the guidebook said to steer clear of taxi drivers’ recommendations. We could have traveled from hotel to hotel, but decided to see what Chon came up with. His first attempt was a great hotel, three minutes from the market area, where there are restaurants and shops galore. The room is huge, very clean and $30.00 a night. We booked for four nights. After we took a nap, Chon returned for us to take us to the temple on the mountain to see it by sunset. We first had to get our passes for Angkor Wat. We chose a three day pass for $40.00 each, but this gave us free admission this evening. Our first day does not start until tomorrow. Chon took us as far as the parking lot, and then directed us on where to climb the mountain, not one of my better honed skilled even if I was born under the sign of the mountain goat. The climb was not as some we have done, being a gradual incline upward. The temple was over 1,000 years old and still in great shape. People were all over it to watch the sun set from near the top, but I was grateful for making it to the temple. I hate heights and climbing up is easy; getting back down is vertigo valley. There were elephants up there where you could ride them down for $10.00, but I figured we had already done the difficult part of climbing up. I am not giving an elephant my money to do the easy part. They did allow me to play with them though. One put his trunk near my ear and the suction inward would have made the Hoover Company jealous. He could have pulled my hair out of my head just by sucking in. As it was getting dark, there was a shrill sound in the air. At first, we thought it was a siren of some type notifying people of pending darkness and the dangers of climbing down the mountain, but then we heard a guide say it was cicadas. They could use this for an air raid siren, they are so loud. We meandered down the mountain to find Chon, who drove us back to the hotel. We arranged for him to pick us up at 9:00 am for a day’s tour of the temples for $25.00. He wanted us to do sunrise at another temple, but 5:00 am did turn us on to the idea. Just a few doors down from us is a European style restaurant that has free WiFi. We mixed dinner with computer business, so I had German pork roast with brown gravy and potatoes. It was great, but Ron had a seafood curry and was disappointed. One of the menu items was Hungarian goulash!! Just cannot get away from it.