Saturday, December 31, 2011

A Fond Farewell to 2011
Days 4.5 - 7 of our Southeast Asia Odyssey

And now here we are in Siem Reap, ready to kick off 2012 with our Habitat for Humanity Global Village Build. I love New Year's Eve. I like resolutions, festivity, out-with-the-old-in-with-the-newness, and party hats. I'm less fond of amateur hour in the bars, but I actually do like crowds and pubs and street parties and the like. From the looks of things, the market/restaurant area just across the little bridge from our hotel here in Siem Reap is getting ready for one big shindig tonight. I will definitely be shindigging!

A recap of the second half of this week:

Day 4.5: Wednesday night in Sihanoukville post-baguette, we mostly relaxed our sunburned tired selves. It was wine Wednesday in our Beach Road Hotel bar, and we enjoyed our glasses on one of the wicker/cushioned couches near the bookshelves, from which I plucked Heart of Darkness and finally read it. (Totally a Book You Should Have Read in College that I never did.) I finished it the next day and can't say I entirely understand it.

Day 5:  The last full day in Sihanoukville...sigh. I enjoyed breakfast and iced coffee on the second floor of the restaurant in a hanging cushioned/wicker swinging chair that overlooks the Beach Road activity. The day consisted of sun, the refreshing hotel swimming pool, good eats, and of course a sizable chunk of beach time. Have I mentioned that the beach in Sihanoukville is lined with restaurants and bars and you can either sit under the roofed part of them or in beach chairs on the sand where they will bring you menus, food, and drinks? It's really quite fantastic. As were the barbecued prawns we ate there on Thursday. In the evening we relaxed, had some more food and drink (falafel at a Middle Eastern place on cushions, rum/pineapple mixers while we packed) and then saw live music, a band of three middle-aged guys playing all sorts of classic rock. I am fascinated by these Sihanoukville long-termers, I tell you. Fascinated.

Day 6: Friday the 30th, we returned to Sihanoukville and we had air conditioning for the first third of the bus ride. Yes, that means we did NOT have air conditioning for several hours, including the crawling-through-traffic-on-the-approach-to Pnomh Penh part. But that's OK because they left the bus front door open for air flow as we sped down the highway. (For the record, I think that was the right choice.)  It was fun to come back to Phnom Penh - I like that city! - and back to our same guesthouse from last weekend.  In the afternoon we visited the Tuol Sleng museum, which is a building that was used as a prison and torture chamber for 20,000 people during the evil Khmer Rouge reign. It was simple, sparse, and haunting. The evil people who ran the place took photos of every incoming person they subsequently tortured and slaughtered, so the museum displays just row after row of mug-shot-like photos. You just walk up and down these rooms staring into the eyes whose fate you unfortunately know. There were seven prisoners who survived Tuol Sleng (seven! out of 20,000+!) and the paintings of one of them are displayed, depicting torture that happened there. It's all pretty grisly, and important.

After that we had another delicious, cheap dinner and a drink at the Foreign Correspondents Club, or the FCC as they say in Phnom Penh. Have I mentioned the lizards? I am overly fond of the lizards on the walls of these airy tropical courtyard restaurants (mostly because they eat bugs, but also because lizards are fun). The FCC, our guesthouse, and a ton of other eateries and watering holes are along the riverfront, and it was a lively gathering spot on Friday evening. We enjoyed our stroll past soccer-like games, break dancing, other group dancing, and the like. Later on we met up with another member of our Habitat for Humanity team who was also in Phnom Penh on Friday.

Day 7: The boat to Siem Reap is a marvelous thing. I mean marvelous in that there-are-no-U.S.-tort-lawyers-in-sight way. A bit cramped inside with no sign of emergency exit procedures (or even emergency exits), the boat was a little stuffy. But were we sealed in? Oh no! As the high-speed -- keep that in mind, that's an important detail -- boat travels from Phnom Penh to Siem Reap in five or so hours, passengers are free to stroll outside on the foot-wide ledge and clamber up on top of the long, tube-like speeding vessel. Railing? Seats? No, no, don't be silly. Just twenty or thirty travelers splayed on top, sprayed by waves if you lean too far over, and not inhibited by anything so mundane as safety precautions. It was a great way to breathe fresh air and watch the country pass by. And, you get to wave and be waved at with all the people in fishing boats along the way. A bit of a wild ride, but communal, convenient, and kind of awesome. Brian took a video so we can share our peril fun with you.

And then we were in Siem Reap. Such a different feel from Phnom Penh but already charming with its small river, our incredibly friendly hotel staff, and a slew of restaurants all packed together and clearly getting ready for the big New Year's wingding hullabaloo this evening. And now I will also go get ready for said whoop-te-do. Off I go, then.

Let's make those resolutions. Until 2012, y'all!


Kim Diaz said...

Sounds a lot like my growing up in Venezuela in what was a beach town in the D.F., next to 2 Western chain hotels packed with airline crews (all of Western Europe came through there: Alitalia, Lufthansa, Iberia, Air France, TAP, British, etc., and eventually landed in my grandparents' restaurant. Not unusual to hear 5 different languages on any given night in the packed dining room.) and tourists and - LIZARDS! So cute and harmless and ubiquitous. And they tend to look like they're smiling. Rock on with the perilous transportation! Very freeing! Happy New Year!

linda said...

I have already enthusiastically recommended the perilous roof-perching boat transport to another Habitat group member who will be journeying from Siem Reap to Phnom Penh after our project!

I love what you say about lizards smiling. Hey, I grew up in the desert. I love me some lizards.