Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Part 2: Cambodia (Poi Pet)

  I've been a bad blogger. Shame on me. It's tough to be diligent when I haven't been in a classroom for almost two months. My daily routine consists of waking up (eventually) followed by breakfast (sometime) and then wasting hours in the common room thinking about what to do with my day. I have such a hard life, right? It's definitely a relaxing lifestyle, but when every day is the same it's impossible to be satisfied with nothing to do. Living from paycheck to paycheck is exhausting and stressful. Now I know how to stretch a baht to a stingy degree. I can't tutor to make extra spending money, so I try to be frugal when possible. Buying a 2,500B Armin/Avicii ticket is a necessary exception. Over these two months I've learned two essential lessons while living the Thai lifestyle: patience and tolerance. The patience to wait for work and the tolerance to endure the extra time. I'm not the only one who is frustrated by our situation here. Without a sense of purpose it's hard to be motivated to do anything productive. The first day of school is finally within sight and many of us are anxious to have a busy schedule again. However, I'm expecting the first week back to be extremely difficult adapting to work mode. I've enjoyed my extended vacation, yet I feel the need for some daily work routine. Fortunately I've had the opportunity to work on textbook questions to make some extra money. 

  Now, for the recap of Cambodia. We set out from a Bangkok bus station for a six hour ride to the eastern border of Thailand and Cambodia. Upon reaching the border bus stop my friends and I were immediately harassed by tuk tuk drivers who pester you for a drive to the immigration office. Foreign travelers beware: the edges of both countries are infested with scammers and the sketchiest of people. Anyone who goes out of their way to 'help' you in a friendly manner is most likely taking advantage of you. At first I refused the offer from the tuk tuk driver, fully aware of the prevalence of these scams. I'll blame the girls for caving in to the driver's persistence. It wasn't more than five minutes before we figured out that we were getting ripped off. The strategy is simple. The driver ropes you into a short ride to the immigration office to get your VISA, but the truth is that the place is not even an official building at all. It's run by a group of scammers posing as immigration officers, distributing imitation documents and charging 2-3 times the normal amount for the VISA. We had a bad feeling about the whole ordeal, so two of the girls walked to the border checkpoint to inquire about the price of the documents. They reported back that we fell for the trap, so we immediately bailed and walked to the border checkpoint. That was a close one. 
  Getting into Cambodia was a straight-forward process from the official checkpoint. Show your passport, pay the entrance fee, scan your fingerprints and before you know it you're wandering through the wild west cesspool of scams that is Poi Pet. This place is notorious for hassling foreigners to an infuriating degree. All at once, everyone wants to take you somewhere, show you something or sell you anything that you could possibly want. It's like flies buzzing around your head that you can't swat away. A young Cambodian man wanted to take us to a bus station for a ride to Siem Reap (our destination for temples galore). Since we narrowly avoided the VISA scam, we decided to bail on him and do things our way. For some reason there were no taxis in sight. The only ones in existence seemed to be green Toyota Carolas with fake taxi stickers slapped on the driver and passenger doors. We were relieved to get our first cab until he pulled into a garage five minutes later to remove the broken air-conditioning unit. I didn't want to stick around while he made repairs, nor drive three hours without A/C. Moments later we bailed on him too and left him in the garage. He was reluctant to open the trunk for us to remove our bags. As we walked the dusty dirt road away from the border in search of a real cab, doubt eclipsed any hope of trusting anyone. I soon noticed that the same cab was slowly hovering behind us like a hungry street dog. I didn't care if he had actually fixed the cab. I just wanted our plans to work out. The ominous grey sky was turning dark and I could taste the dry dirt road as cars flew by. We were hungry, angry and stressed. Finally, we found refuge at a hotel that called a reliable cab for us. It was a miserable introduction to Cambodia, but we put that behind us as soon as we piled into the cab. 
  It was a cramped three hour taxi ride to Siem Reap. I was just happy we made it out of Poi Pet before dark. We arrived at Siem Reap sometime around 11pm. It's a small market-based city that proved great for shopping and dining. The only downside is being constantly bothered by the locals. "Hello handsome man! You hungry? You want tuk-tuk? You want massage?" (repeat). I almost bought a shirt with these three phrases: "No tuk-tuk, No massage, No thank you". I was so happy when we reached our safe and quiet hotel room. It was a rough day of traveling. I promise that the rest of Cambodia was more enjoyable! 

Song of the Day: 
  Yes, it's Wednesday, which usually means Same Same but Different. Due to a lack of a proper remix, I'm just going to postpone that until next time. The song for this post comes from the band Phantogram. By the way, a phantogram is an optical illusion much like a 2-D image that becomes three-dimensional with special glasses. The ghostly nature of the group's name is reflected in Sarah Barthel's echoing voice that effortlessly floats over shimmering guitar and hip-hop inspired beats. Moreover, one of their previous record deals involved the Ghostly International label. Their self proclaimed "street beat psych-pop" is certainly making waves in the music world. Click the song title for download. 

Phantogram - 'Don't Move'

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Final Lap

  For my last day I chose take a lap around the entire island following the coastline to the west. I had a few interesting sights in mind, particularly Hin Ya and Hin Tae (Grandmother and Grandfather rocks), the Mummified Monk and a few waterfalls. My first stop was the old monk. I imagined that I was going to see a dead body wrapped up in orange cloth and preserved in a glass coffin. Maybe I've seen too many mummy films, but I wasn't too far off. The cadaver was positioned upright, sitting in a hunched Indian-style position fully clothed in orange monk robes. When he was alive he was renowned for his meditation practice. "He was also able to foresee his own death, which happened in 1973 when he was 79 years and 8 months. After death his body remained under-composed" and he was placed in his current position. The guy has been dead for almost 40 years and he still looks freshly expired. His skin looked a bit leathery and the little hairs on his head are plainly visible. It was pretty cool to see a dead guy up close. What made the Monk even cooler was his black ray ban shades that covered his sunken eyes. This made the sight rather comical. Seeing a dead monk rockin' ray bans in the afterlife made me laugh to myself as I approached the glass case. I wouldn't mind being buried with my ray bans on my face. In fact, that sounds like a good way to go.
  The grandmother and grandfather rocks were even funnier than the monk. When I arrived at the sight along the coast I walked out to a giant rock platform which gradually sloped down to the ocean. I looked to my right and saw grandfather rock in all his glory, completely erect amongst the other boulders. It's hard to believe that the rock is a natural formation. Moreover, that it's coincidentally located next to a female formation of equal stature. Grandmother rock was more difficult to find. I finally found it within the gradual slope of rock that meets the ocean waves. I'm happy that I saw these hilarious formation and snapped some memorable photos.                                                                 
  My next destination was the main waterfall near the center of the island. I was dismayed when I made it to the entrance of the falls only to discover the 300 baht entrance tour fee. From the advertised photos it didn't seem to compare to the other falls I had seen at Koh Chang and Khao Yai. Rather than spend the money I hopped back on my bike and sped off down the coast to continue my lap. I had no more sights marked on the map, so I stopped for anything that caught my interest. When I reached the southern tip of the island I pulled over at a vacant restaurant for a break and a small meal. The restaurant had an outdoor patio area that overlooked the distant uninhabited islands. It was peaceful to enjoy my meal (chicken with ginger) and look out across the calm water as a few wooden boats bobbed up and down. The woman who owned the restaurant was eager to compliment my shameful ability to speak the only few Thai phrases I know. Maybe she meant to flatter me before telling me how old her daughter was. I'm sure the woman was just being nice, but to me it felt like some kind of offer or suggestive hint, using our comparable ages as a commonality. This made me wonder how many tourists actually visit this virtually deserted restaurant. When one unexpectedly shows up they must be pleasantly surprised. I'm sure the woman would have loved to see her daughter gleefully jump on the back of my motorbike and wave goodbye with a big smile. As I processed these thoughts I kindly acknowledged the woman's daughter and thanked her for the meal. This was my final stop before returning to headquarters at the Mermaid three hours later. I suppose my lap was a grand total of five or six hours. Focusing my concentration on the road for so long really wore me out. I promptly passed out in my bed when I reached the Mermaid. 

  Comparing the islands: So far I've visited Koh Samet, Koh Chang and Koh Samui. Each has it's own distinctive identity and culture. Koh Samet, with its bleached powdery sand is the smallest of the three. It is definitely a couple's retreat. From what I could see the coastline was riddled with romantic bungalows. There aren't any attractions other than the beautiful beach itself and the company of someone else. However, I can't leave out the spectacular fire show. Samet is renowned for its amazing fire shows that you'll find hard to match at any other island. Koh Chang offers great options for snorkeling and scuba diving at surrounding miniature islands. The main island itself is fun to explore by motorbike, as long as you can handle the twisting mountainous roads. In my opinion, the beach there cannot compare to Samet. The stretch of beach I visited required a trek through residential areas and along a few treacherous trails that were altogether disorienting. Upon reaching the coarse sand I could see palm trees following the coast. I had basically stumbled out of the jungle and onto the beach. As for the island of Koh Samui, it has it all. Beautiful beaches, plenty of sights to see and the terrain is easily navigable. You can have a wonderful time there whether you prefer solitude or a traveling party of friends. Also, it is conveniently located close to Koh Phangan and Koh Tao if you're looking to pursue your scuba diving license or go wild at a full moon party. My review of Koh Phi Phi will be following shortly...

Song of the Day:
  Sometimes when you're traveling by yourself you think about who you'd like to share your experience with. More specifically who you'd like to have sitting next to you in a beach chair as you watch the sun set. Yeah it sounds a bit sentimental, yet most of us can't deny that a similar feeling briefly catches us in the moment. Click the song title for download. 

Cut Copy - 'Need You Now'