And what of Cambodia?

Oh yeah. The country I’m in. I suppose I should say a bit about it.

Well, to be honest I’m not a huge fan. I think the problem is that I’m only visiting the two tourist areas: Phnom Penh and the ridiculous tourist mecca of Siem Reap. Every 3 steps some guy steps in front of you and says, “hello lady need tuk-tuk? need moto? where you going?” If you’re walking along it’s as if the motorcycle drivers swerve to come as close to you as possible, for no real reason except (I suspect) to fuck with you. Evidently this village has undergone a gold rush-like tourist boom in the last few years, so perhaps the locals are taking out latent frustrations on tourists. I can’t blame them, but it makes this place quite uninviting.

In any event, on Tuesday and Wednesday I rented a bike to tour the incredible Temples of Angkor. The bike ride itself was an adventure – cars and motos deliberately try to cut you off and the drivers laugh in your face if you have to stop short and fall off the seat. But I’m still glad I did it by bike. First, I got a ton of excercise – I did around 35 km the first day and around 20 the second, not including climbing up and down and around the temples. Plus I was able to go at my own pace, without a tuk-tuk driver bugging me. And it was cheap $1.50/day instead of the $20 charged by tuk-tuk drivers. That, at least, offset the outrageous $40 that the Cambodians charge for a 3-day pass ($20 for one day). Yes, the money that doesn’t get siphoned into government pockets goes toward the upkeep and renovation of the temples, but it’s a pretty steep charge, IMHO.

Anyway, the temples themselves are quite impressive – the architecture, the wall carvings. I’d describe the temples as a whole in a state of atmospheric decay – trees, moss, animals and rain are slowly reclaming the sandstone structures and the ground they’re built on. I won’t bother trying to explain. Wait for the photos…though the internet is so slow in this cafe that I’m going to give up and try to upload more pics later.

Anyway, I’m glad to be leaving tomorrow morning. Finally….to Bali, beach and scuba!

What the hell…? #4

I’m going to run through the rest of Myanmar quickly, or else I’ll never catch up. 

We spent 3 days in Nyaungshwe, mostly resting and recovering from the trek. We did hire a longboat for one day, to tour the villages and handicraft shops scattered around Lake Inle. In town we met a local man who worked at one of the monasteries. He invited us for tea at his house, where we also met his wife, children and a few of his sisters-in-law. His wife insisted that we come back for dinner the next day. “No pay! Real Myanmar food!” We accepted. We feared that they’d want something – to hire the man for a tour, to buy some nice local stuff, etc – but instead we had a nice chat in broken English, with their two-year-old jumping around and being very cute. After dinner the eldest sister-in-law came over with a huge bag of clothes and cloth bags. She promptly dumped everything on the floor next to me and started sorting through it, saying she was going to a market to sell them tomorrow. “See this bag? Very nice! I sell one today nice woman just 2000 kyat!” Etc. It was clear who the entrepreneur in the family was. 

Overall, our time at Inle was a nice. We were relaxing while you guys were frantically calling the US embassy, etc. Oops!

On the 7th we took the bus to Mandalay. And from then on, I can honestly say that the aftermath of the typhoon kinda took over our trip – not because of infrastructure, etc., but because a good portion of our attention ws diverted to the question of staying or going, and making alternative plans, etc. We did manage to tour a few pagodas and see the Moustache Brothers show. We also took a day trip to see the nearby ancient cities of Sagaing, Innwa and Amarapura including U Bein’s Bridge, at 1.2 km the longest teak bridge in the world.

On the 11th we got up at 4:30 am to take the 15-hour slow boat down the Ayerwaddy River to Bagan.

Ahh, Bagan. After days upon days of pagoda-hopping in Thailand and Myanmar, I was secretly dreading this vast area of ancient temples. But boy, was that stupid. Whereas most temples I had seen had been “renovated” within an inch of their lives with whitewash and ugly gold leaf, Bagan was different. First, the temples weren’t these dinky, tacky things. Many were the size of cathdrals and featured thousand-year-old murals. Some were crowded with children trying to sell us postcards, laquerware, sand paintings and various trinkets, but most were empty except for the odd keymaster/guide. In some temples you could climb up to higher platforms, where we were treated to lovely views of the stupa-studded plains and the river in the distance. The Lonely Planet says to picture Bagan like this: Take all the churches in Europe and place them on the island of Manhattan. And it’s not too far from the truth!

Unfortunately, we were treated to more unseasonably rainy weather in Bagan, so only 1-1/2 of our 3 days there were good for sightseeing. And as there was no internet…I read all of George Orwell’s Burmese Days, whose descriptions of Burma (and government corruption) are still remarkably accurate.

Finally, we took the overnight bus back down to Yangon, and then flew out the next day.

There’s more, of course – plenty of odd and/or annoying characters and situtions, but there are just too many. For instance: Myanmar-language covers of western pop songs; the tag line for the thuggish and corrupt Myanmar police force is “How may I help you?”; some vehicles have the steering wheel on the left, and others on the right, but at least everyone drives on the same side of the road; being charged 700 kyat (about $0.70) for “air conditioning” at a local restaurant….