20th Floor WalkUp! Great Views! Big Pets Welcome!

Trip Start Dec 31, 2004
Trip End Apr 22, 2005

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Thursday, January 20, 2005

On my last day trekking the temples of Angkor I grew bolder and climbed faster and almost fearlessly. Having visited all the main temples I was ready for some more relaxed ones at first and then to view Angkor Wat at sunset I knew I'd have a challenge ahead of me and that's what I wanted. I'd already seen the tremendous hill that the guidebooks and my tuk-tuk driver said is the place to be for sunset and I felt a bit daunted yet excited. That said, I had a little over eight hours ahead of me to gear up before the sun would set and I thought that I'd see what else there was to explore.

After breakfast Prom picked me up promptly at 10:00 and we drove to Angkor. I love riding in the tuk-tuk so much that yesterday I asked if we could just drive around a bit and see most of the temples from the outside before we left. He didn't quite seem to understand why I wanted to be tooled about all over the place but he probably figured that I had some sort of memsahib complex. He obliged nonetheless. I enjoyed every second of it with my arms splayed out and my feet propped up smiling and waving as though I were in a damn parade and looking like a complete ass no doubt.

I didn't expect to be completely blown away -- as I said I'd already seen the heavy hitters but there were still some gems. While walking down a long passageway through the jungle to one of the minor temples I heard live classical Khmer music playing. There were five men seated on a mat near the dirt path and the music was intoxicating. There were parrots cawing above, the wind was rustling the leaves in the treetops and the strings, chimes and drum of the quintet reverberated an air of mystique that had me spellbound. I sat and listened in the cool shade and looked all around smiling knowing this was one of those moments that will always be cherished. It was beautiful and was made more beautiful still by the indomitable spirt of the musicians -- all of whom were land mine victims. I soaked it all in for maybe twenty minutes then I bought their CD and sauntered up the path to the temple after offering a grateful bow and respectful wai.

Hours passed as I trekked and then it was time for lunch at one of the stalls that line the street opposite each of the temples. They're all same-same-but-different and I've had some decent lunches at them for the past two days but not all stalls are created equally. This one in particular was a bit well, unhygienic and when I saw all the chickens roaming about and the couple's lunches across from me I told Prom to take me to his favorite place in Angkor and it would be my treat. He took me to a place that actually had a real floor and real chairs made out of wood and our amok fish (my favorite) was served in a coconut, which I prefer to the banana leaf that it's normally served in. When I saw the tablecloths I thought at first I was being fleeced but when an amazing lunch for two comes to five dollars who can complain?

A couple more temples later and it was time for the big challenge to scale the hill for sunset. Getting out of the tuk-tuk with my hands on my hips I stared up in disbelief. I looked at the sign that showed three paths; the "elephant path" where you could be taken up for 20 bucks on the back of a pachyderm, the trail to the right of the hill was listed as "easy" and the one I was facing was marked "dangerous". I opted for the latter. Climbing up this thing actually ended up being less terrifying than scaling most of the steep temples but it was exhausting. The chorus of sighs and nervous chatter between strangers continued all the way up but when we reached the top and I saw the ladder-like steps of the temple ahead I almost collapsed. All I could think about was how in God's name is this motley throng of tourists going to get down this treacherous hill in the dark? I started asking guides where the easy path was that we'd be descending and none of them had any idea what the hell I was talking about. After about the fifth person I asked had no idea I felt pretty sure that there was no "easy path" and it'd all been some sick farce in the first place. As the sun was beginning to set with roughly thirty minutes to spare I took a shot of Angkor Wat and realized that the sinking sun wasn't going to do much. With my simple digital camera it was becoming clear that it wouldn't even show up and as the seconds passed the top of the temple was filling up quickly and I was looking at hoards more who'd just cleared the summit.

Just as I was debating on whether to stick around or not I ran into Mark from Australia whom I shared a table with at lunch yesterday. He agreed that we should get the hell out of there before the great exodus. All I could think was that it'd only take one person to make one false move and slip and then dozens would quickly follow. We bolted down the elephant path scooting aside as the elephants trekked up with tourists precariously perched on top rushing to see a rather unspectacular sunset blurred by the Cambodian red dust. It was worth it where we left it but thirty minutes more would have been potentially dreadful. I love a challenge and I'll trod the dangerous path I just don't want someone straying from their path and ending up on top of me.

I'd already made dinner plans with Gary an ex pat I met a couple of days ago when a film crew was looking for extras. Gary signed up. I was going to until I heard the call time of 6:30 in the morning and I know myself far too well to even think twice about that. Gary is originally from the suburbs of Chicago and moved here on a mission to find a way to help the land mine victims and the beggars. Gary is chockful of the Lord but he's not preachy thank Christ and he's a very admirable and likable chap. We sat at an outdoor table in an alleyway and even though Gary said it smelled like cat piss we stayed because he said that he'd probably get used to it. I hope he did but I did notice that when we were leaving he was right. We'd just sat down when I saw Pablo from Germany whom I'd met in the Preah Khan temple yesterday and we had him join us. We had a great dinner and it was terrific to run into Pablo again who's seriously delightful. We had great conversation and Gary and I told him about some places to go to Phnom Penh since he was heading there in the morning.

Tomorrow I'll need to secure a ticket back to Bangkok in two days so that I can catch the train there for Chiang Mai. I've been to several travel agencies and that's about the cheapest option and it's either fly Bangkok Air and spend a fortune or fly Laos' national carrier and I don't like the sounds of that. It's looking like I'll be spending ten hours on a bus but by God I'm taking a sleeping pill or at least a Vicodin for that one.

While temple trekking was surprisingly thrilling I'm very much looking forward to meandering about this charming town for another day and doing very little a lot slower.

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