Day 13 - Tuesday, Nov 4, 2003
Vientiane - Phnom Penh - Siem Reap

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- Phnom Penh Airport -

Bat Hanging From Roof 1:55 PM Angkor Beer 500 Riel Note (about 12.5)
So mellow leaving Lao, playing with last few thousand kip at Vientiane airport (Claire and Ruth got change in candies) - then an uncomfortably long layover at Phnom Penh airport but no-one wanted to leave others waiting with bags to take $8-$12 taxi ride into the city for 2-3 hours of sightseeing. So we sat at the airport restaurant (Dairy Queen kiosk; good espresso and pad thai) and at outdoor tables (one large bat hanging under the eaves of the airport) and for a little while on the sidewalk on the far side of the building because Ruth wanted sun. (Man walking by said "hot." She smiled and nodded.)
Siem Reap air - nice departure lounge, cushy chairs, antique-style weaving things on walls; horrid stuffy hot flight, A/C on plane never seemed to have enough fresh air in it; Dodo got restless and queasy. But a short flight.

- Siem Reap -

Cambodia: Massive culture shock!
We arrived in Siem Reap after dark. Very tiny airport with thousands of flying insects both inside and out. Fortunately we were prepared for the mob of taxi drivers/touts... we got a $5 taxi ride, very nice driver who didn't mind circling to find our guesthouse, which had changed its name from Green Park to Green Town and was down a rocky dirt side street. Many new BIG hotels are being built between the airport and town of Siem Reap, plus a "culture village" that looked suspiciously like a theme park. The town itself seems to consist of many underemployed men and women trying desperately to be helpful ... swarms of tuk-tuk drivers, six guys to carry bags and show us hotel rooms, "beer girls" in uniforms whose whole job at the restaurant is to pour you more beer - they get a commission from the brewery and their uniform is colorcoded to the brand they're pushing.
We walked about a block, just past the huge hotel on the main road, and many drivers greeted/accosted us, and our waiter talked at length about how poor he is and how he wants to go back to his village and teach English (at least he's aware his English is pretty bad now) - he claimed he makes $15 per month at the restaurant and puts $5 toward English class, sends $5 to his brother and sister at his village (riding his bike 32 km to get there) and spends the other $5 on books. (Presumably then he lives off tips... our total was $17.80 so we tipped the change on $20. So each of the 4 of us put in what he says he spends on monthly tuition, for our dinner.) Ruth and Dodo had a can of Angkor beer each - Dodo confused the beer girl by drinking from the can. Claire and Dan had a bottle (large) each, and they put them in an ice bucket and the beer girl kept refilling their glasses. Her uniform was pretty simple (red with gold trim, colors of Angkor beer, and a ponytail holder made of tinsel) -- way too much material for the heat or for the eventual mobs of US tourists; in 10 years Dodo fears they may evolve into much skimpier attire. Claire, Ruth and Dodo all had fried veggies, a nice but not exciting plate of stirfried vegetables and pineapple; Dan ordered fish in a coconut but got chicken. Big shared pot of rice (tin trying to look like a silver tureen). Hot, dazed, we got back to the hotel around ten and bought bottles of water for 12?! (on our hotel bill) from the guy at the desk (which is out in the courtyard, next to the open air restaurant/TV lounge).
Our $12 room has powerful A/C and 2 small beds, each with just one sheet (corners knotted to be a fitted sheet) and one small woven blanket. In the night Dodo got up and fetched her sarong as an extra sheet. There's no hot water in the bathroom, but probably once we've had a day at Angkor Wat, a cold shower will feel superb. So far this country makes us uneasy but we haven't seen anything yet. Everyone's [almost] too friendly.

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