Tuesday, 15 December 2015

DAD to REP ( another stamp in my passport, culture shock,a Tuk Tuk, beasts of the air, and yellow Khmer Curry)

Today is the day.  It's time to say Good Bye to Da Nang, the hotel, and the staff.  I've only been here 5 nights and I've grown fond of people, in particular the mute bus boy of my age.  
But I must not get too comfy and I always should work on stepping out of that comfort zone. Why? Because it INCREASES the size of one's comfort zone !!!!

But my take-off time is still 12 hours away ....

I slept in today. I race to the beach (after 1 cup of coffee and no personal hygiene) at 6 am. 

The 5 graces of the Welcome The Sun Club have already dug themselves in (literally: they sit down, wiggle their toes, and eventually cover their legs with sand)

I wonder what the impresario has in store for us this morning ;-)

Hang on, where did the SIXTH one come from???

Rain is in the forecast so today's  show is not that spectacular. I go back to my hotel room before the end of the show (I assume the show is officially over when the 6 graces get up and wash in the ocean).

A shower is going down over the Bay and provides me with yet another never seen before light show.

I take the scooter for the last time to buy cigarettes, get sprinkled by refreshing warm rain in the process and then go for a last beach walk.

These may look a little like those tiny fish cookies for kids but do not be fooled, these are fish heads smaller than a 25 cents coin.

NOT what it looks like. He's dragging a horizontal metal bar through the sand at about a depth of an inch to dislodge edibles

The Khmer alphabet
10:40 am. Check out time is noon and I haven't packed yet  I guess I do NOT want to leave ;-) The only thing motivating me is the prospect of being hurled into the UNKNOWN again.A new country, a new language, a new script ! New customs and new experiences!

One hour until check out, I go  back to my room after  a smoke and the cleaning ladies are ripping the room apart even though I had told them earlier that I would not leave until noon.

UGLY fish!

When I return I see the Aussie in the lobby again.  His "Lady Friend" took him around on a scooter yesterday and showed him a 1 story house on a lot with ocean view (until they build something in front of it) that can be purchased for A$ 25,000.   And this is not at a beach in the country side but in the touristy part of Da Nang !!!  OMG !  I also learn that the hotel I'm staying in only was completed about two months ago. No wonder it's so fabulous ;-)

At 12:30 I waste some time in the lobby (plane doesn't leave for another 4.5 hours) when I hear this  strange noise coming from the direction of the ocean.  At first I can't figure out what it is,  I just  noticed that  the horizon seems to have disparu, only then do I notice the torrential rain that  is making the noise.  
Good thing I've lived in Vancouver for a while, so I'm used to  these kinds of downpours. But it's the first one I've witnessed in Vietnam.  
If I still had a room to change in, I'd run into the 26 degree warm rain, but I don't want to sit in the plane soaked to the bone.

Two grumpy-looking English-speaking women are delivered by the hotel's free airport pick-up service and he carries their luggage upstairs. I say to one woman " If you're lucky you get my  room; this place is fabulous"  She just replies "I don't like that stupid rain"
Well hon, I'm sure it doesn't like you either ;-)

I realize how much more easy-going I have become in the last 2 weeks.  Rain?  Whining about it won't make it stop so better learn how to enjoy it.

Ever walked on sand that was  just rained on? Different!

I hang out for 2 hours in the hotel lobby and when I leave the Mute Old Bus Boy makes a plane hand motion and gives me a questioning look.  I put my arms behind me to imitate a plane and say Cambodia.  Then he does it.  He speaks an intelligible word. He says "Campuchea?"  This is the first real word he has spoken to me in 5 days. Everything was hand motions and facial expressions and grunts.  He doesn't speak English and he realizes that there  is no point talking Viet to me.  So he doesn't. 

My cab arrives and I leave Mr PseudoMute a tip under a flower pot I lift on the chair he always sits on. 

Entrance to Da Nang International Airport. Marble or Tiles

So when it rains, the water sweeper women spring into action
VANG must mean Wine !!!! (Could that come from the French Vin?)
Off to Da Nang International Airport.  Don't smirk, In the airport restaurant I get the best Mixed Fried Rice for 69,000 VND (And what divinity brewed that Soy Sauce?) and their Free Airport Wifi actually works.  Eat that YVR!  Did I mention that EVERY SINGLE table has 2 power outlets for its occupants.  And that Vietnam is the country where you don't need an adapter plug, because they designed a wall socket that accepts ALL of the standard international plugs. How COOL and BRILLIANT is that?

2.5 hours until my plane takes off.  Munching on my fried rice, the shivers arrive.  They always do at some point. 

"See things you thought you'd never ever see" is my favourite line in one of my favourite songs.  You see, I'm not simply flying to Cambodia, as if that wasn't exciting enough already. I'm flying to friggin' Siem Reap.  That's the town where you rent a bicycle and in 32 degree weather cycle to Angkor Wat, the largest temple complex on this planet.

Monks at Bayon (NOT my pic)
And my plane will land there at 7 tonight! If there weren't any other people in the restaurant I'd be bouncing on my faux-leather booth seat !

Getting the boarding pass for my plane is quick and painless.  A miracle, given that I am on a FlightHub-booked Heli Air Monaco ticket for an Air Khalifa flight operated by Vietnam Airlines.  And I was lucky to get this ticket. Almost all flights from Vietnam to the rest of Indochina have a lay-over of anywhere between 3 hours to 19 hours in Ho Chi Minh City, but I'm flying to Cambodia (or Kampuchea) directly

Security check is a breeze. None of those "You all are suspected terrorists" looks from the security personnel.

Time to board the plane. OMG, it's a propeller plane. No wonder it takes 2 hours for the short distance.  

It looks like the sun but it's an airport light

A bientot, Da Nang. See you for TET ;-)

In the plane they hand out an immigration form and a customs form.

That temple looks familiar ;-)

Even gorgeous through the almost opaque plastic windows:  Sunset reflected underside of wings

Even with the gorgeous views, the plane ride is just a nuisance now; I want to be in Kampuchea now.

And then it happens. The plane breaks HARD. NOT a long runway here in the jungle

I like airports where they don't have those elevated walk-way hoses.  I step onto Cambodian soil for the first time.
I almost get lost because I'm not paying attention to where everyone else is going. All I can look at is the Myriad of flying things attracted by the bright airport lights.

My first impression is fear.

 I have NEVER EVER seen so many flying things swirling around the airport lights. Being from a Nanny-State, the words Malaria and Dengue Fever invade my brain faster than a mosquito can sink its sucker into human skin

I survive the walk into the terminal building without succumbing to Malaria and my second impression is a GRUMPY immigration officer who takes scans of all my 10 fingers. The only words I hear from him are "fingers' accompanied by a nod towards the scanner and then "thumb". I'm expected to know the routine for the other hand. Then he swears in Khmer, at first I'm afraid that my dilapidated passport finally lost a page.
When using booking.com I had asked for a free airport pickup, but upon closer inspection realized that this offer had expired. So I'm actually surprised that someone holding a sign with my name on it is standing there.  At first he doesn't seem to believe that I am the person that matches the name on his sign, but after I nod a few times, he says "I get my Tuk Tuk".  When he returns with the device, he says "Welcome to Siem Reap".  

Time to ride my FIRST TUKTUK ;-)
This is the picture best symbolizing this ride. Siem Reap roads are BAD
The roads in this city of  more than 175,000 are rough enough to shake a few shells collected in Da Nang out of my backpack.  At 8 pm it is 28 degrees and MUGGY. The sound of crickets is almost deafening.  My mouth hangs open looking at the roadside.  

Khmer dressed just in pants hanging out at local shops/gathering places alternate with giant expensive-looking resort hotels with outrageous Christmas decorations illuminating their entrance ways.  The contrast is appalling.

Yes, that's right, impressions of snow-covered Christmas trees in a 28 degree Celsius night ;-)
I keep rubbing my knees, not knowing whether the stuff caught in my leg hairs is cigarette ash or wild disease-transmitting biters.  OK, maybe I'm worrying a bit too much, Siem Reap  is supposed to be Malaria-free but 90% of Cambodia is not. How do the diseased fliers know to stay away from here and me?

The Tuk Tuk driver has been paid by the hotel, but he is such a pleasant person that I tip him anyway. 1 US$ is his tip and that is the normal  fare for a Tuk Tuk from the airport, or maybe it has gone up to 2 bucks now.  When I ask him whether he could be my driver and guide tomorrow, I realize that I have way exceeded the boundaries of his English skills.  Welcome to Siem Reap apparently is as far as it goes. Too bad, he would have been a good guide.   Little do I know at this time that he will be my driver tomorrow ;-)

I check into my hotel and while it is definitely not  a resort, it seems too  posh in contrast to the surrounding country.  The receptionist  who  brings me to my room and explains everything,  states that he wants to work in the hospitality industry  in Canada.  He inquires whether that is a good idea.

Yeah, but there are few tourists in Vancouver in the winter.

It rains a lot.
Oh, so is Rainy Season!

I've never heard anyone describe a Vancouver winter better ;-)

I walk out of the hotel, very wary of flying and walking monsters, to try to eat in one of the local red-plastic-chair eateries that I've seen along the way. Alas, they all seem to be packing it in for the day.

I felt out of place in Vinh, but Vinh was brightly illuminated compared to this place ;-)

So I end up eating in the hotel's restaurant.

But I'm ordering fresh seafood in Khmer yellow curry. 
The culture shock starts with the restaurant's waiter bringing me the beer. He asks the usual questions.  "Where are you from?" How long you stay?"
Then I hear one I never heard before:   "Stay only with one person?"  "So you lonely tonight?".

 Hotel Food disappoints again. Not only does the food cost US$ 9, but the 'seafood' is limited minuscule quantities prawns and carved squid. NOT cheap seafood, but cheap on seafood. And the curry is probably toned down to almost nothing for the Western palate.  Tomorrow I will figure out where to eat so I won't have to eat here again. 

What I can't get over it are the temperature and the humidity.  Whenever I come out of my air-conditioned room to have a smoke, I feel like walking into deepest jungle. This is only confirmed by stuff falling from above to the tiles surrounding the mini-pool. It sounds like leafs but it is tiny  geckos.  I have to look twice at the thing sitting right on the pool edge. It's a living frog.

I'm exhausted by the long day but also strangely awake due to the strange place and the expectation of seeing one of those places tomorrow.  You know, that song again:  See things you thought you'd never ever see.   I will be in Angkor Wat tomorrow morning !

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