Monday, June 9, 2008

Koh Phangnan & Siem Reap, Cambodia

With my one good eye, Christian and I watched more House together. I put him in charge of my eye drops as he claimed to be a professional eye dropper after having to stay up for 24 hours putting drops in his girlfriend's eye EVERY TWO HOURS. Ugh. Mine only had to go in every 4 hours. He set his watch and in the middle of the second episode, he stopped the dvd, crouched over me and expertly squeezed two drops into my bright red eye. And again a few hours later, his phone's alarm went off and he got up to administer more drops. And again in the morning. He's a sweetheart.

We were due to catch a 2 p.m. ferry to Koh Phangnan. We found a bus to take us there and said goodbye to the Swiss girls, figuring we'd see them again soon. At some point on the way to the ferry, I saw a sign that advertised a "Monkey Theatre." I imagined some sort of Shakespeare in the Park....but with monkeys.

The ferry was pretty quick and dumped us right where we wanted to be. We decided to just take it easy and find something nearby. We chose a hotel that seemed to be centrally located and 10 dollars a night. Perfect. Christian lay down for a bit and I went wandering, looking for internet. Everything was ridiculously expensive -- and exactly the same price. I couldn't understand it. All these internet cafes were empty but they weren't about to bargain for a lower price. I asked the hotel owner and he said that the travel agencies (which were the ones with the internet cafes) all decided to have the same price. But my hotel also had internet that you used by buying a card, which was much cheaper. Plus! I discovered how to beat the system! Most places, the moment you sit down, the clock starts. But at my hotel, you don't have to log on until you try to go online. So I could sit for hours for free uploading photos and working on my blog and then only spend a few minutes online by copying and posting my blog from Word. Mwahahaha. I saved a bundle!

I stopped by yet another 7-11 and picked up a couple of large Changs and went back to the hotel. Christian was reading "Harry Potter" and I beckoned him out onto our porch where we drank our Changs and watched the sunset.

Dinner at a typical Thai Island restaurant, a bunch of tvs showing movies. We were there for awhile before wandering around, checking out the small town.

Next morning, went to find breakfast and ended up at a cafe that showed all "Family Guy" all the time...unless it was showing "Friends." We ended up watching several episodes. Food wasn't too expensive. Beach time followed. We lay out for awhile and then I decided to go buy a blow-up raft. Thank goodness the swimming area is roped off because I went out on the raft and before I knew it, I was bumping up against the far rope, about to drift out to sea.

Christian’s friend from Australia informed us of a “Cross-dressing Pool Party” later that evening at her hotel. We said we’d come, although we’d most likely be wearing our own clothes.
We ate dinner at a rather chic restaurant that specialized in tapas and then tried to find our way to the party. The roads were a little tricky and we kept finding ourselves at a deadend. We knew it wasn’t that far away, so we decided to walk on the beach on the west side of the island to get there – which was barely a beach. At last we could hear music playing and two men went sprinting by us, one in mad pursuit of the other. It didn’t look like a friendly chase. The pool party was in full swing. Christian jumped right in. I took some pictures and then took the camera to Christian’s friends room and joined them. I had to keep my glasses on – still waiting for my eye infection to go away.

Next morning – Christian and I go back to the Family Guy place. They’re just opening up and we stand there while the owner tries to figure out the DVD player and flat screen tv. It’s almost as if he doesn’t have the tv going all day every day and this is his first time operating it. We’re about to sit down when Christian glances to his right. “What’s wrong with that cat?” He asks. I look over and that was one dead cat, my friends. Matted fur and a little blood on the floor. The owner glances at it and goes back to the tv. His wife is setting chairs out. There is a dead cat in the middle of the floor. Dead. Cat. Christian and I look at each other. Wouldn’t maybe you know...possibly handling the dead cat situation before opening the restaurant? Doesn’t a DEAD CAT rank a little higher on a list of priorities than, say, finding the Star Wars Family Guy episode in the dvd case? We left. Around the corner we found a nice place for breakfast while Friends played.

Afterwards, Christian was going to meet up with his friend and check out the island. I was going to stay behind and take a snorkeling trip. I also had to book my bus back up to Bangkok and to Cambodia – which the hotel took care of for me. It was going to be a ridiculous bus ride (12 hours back to Bangkok and then 9 hours to Siem Reap. (I don't know why I didn't fly more.)

The snorkel guide picked me up at the hotel. Two Canadian couples were in the truck already. We were taken to a shop to get flippers and then walked out to the beach to get on the boat. We settled in and the boat puttered up the east coast of the island. First stop was a quick hike up to some small waterfalls. Next stop was at a beach for lunch. Then a stop at another beach for swimming. Finally we pulled near some reef and tumbled off the boat for about 20 minutes of snorkeling. The water was a bit murky and there were few fish. The guide promised it would be better at the next site.

Climbed back on board and chugged to a new area while snacking on fresh pineapple. Thailand has the best pineapple I’ve ever had in my life (at least until I get to Vietnam). Sweet, fresh, almost always perfectly ripe. I could eat it all day. I noticed that some of the Canadians were bleeding pretty badly from getting too close to the coral. Eek. My own cut from Krabi had healed nicely.

At the second snorkel site, I saw some ominous clouds were coming up over the island’s hills. Everyone started jumping into the water to swim over to the reef and then the screams started.

At first nothing happened to me, I came up to look around and make sure I wasn’t too far away from the boat when I first heard the others squealing. “Ow!!!! What is that!?!?!” People were swimming madly back to the boat. Then I felt them. Little pin pricks. Thousands of them. Actually it felt like standing on a beach during a windstorm, your body pelted with sand. I couldn’t see what was causing it. I swam back and climbed onto the boat as fast as possible but the pain continued. I looked around and everyone was rubbing off with towels as frantically as they could. Several were bleeding. “Coral?” I asked. “No. Sea Lice!” Basically, as they explained it to me, we were swimming in jellyfish sperm. Ugh. My snorkeling was done. Our guide mixed up a lethal cocktail of coke and Thai Whiskey in a cooler and handed glasses out. That made us feel better. As we sat and enjoyed our cocktails and nursed our rashes, a storm blew up. We turned around and headed back home.

Christian was reading when I got back to the hotel. We decided to go find food eventually but were unsure where to go. Ended up back at Dead Cat Café where I asked if they could put the Star Wars Family Guy on, as I had never seen it. Cat was gone by the way. The power went out about 1 minute before the ending. Then they put Friends on. The power went out 3 times and we finally gave up and went for a walk.
It was raining again so we went back to the hotel and watched one last House episode episode together as it was our last night to hang out. Oh, and I told him that if he’s ever traveling with a girl again and she has to go to the hospital – HE SHOULD GO WITH HER REGARDLESS OF WHAT SHE SAYS. Christian went to sleep and I stayed up to watch more House.

Next morning, we had breakfast and Christian departed. I packed and did some emailing and writing while it rained before eventually heading to the beach one last time when the sun emerged. After about two hours, the sun went away again so I moved to a bar overlooking the beach and watched two dogs have the best freakin’ time EVER with each other. These two dogs made me so happy--- they must have played for 30 minutes, just out of their minds having such an amazing time. Everyone was watching them. They were just so happy, you couldn’t help but grin and watch all the wrestling and chasing and jumping and chasing and rolling and chasing.

I ended up talking to the manager for a bit. He is from Burma/Myanmar and most of his family is still there. He didn’t seem to know if everyone was okay from the typhoon. I can’t imagine. And he can’t go back to check on them as I take it he might not be legally in Thailand. He asked what I wanted to drink and I told him to surprise me so he introduced me to the lady-boy bartender and I told her/him to make me her/his specialty drink (this is something I like to do in New York as well). I was hoping to try something new and exotic. She/he whipped it up, handed me the drink. It was a Sex on the Beach. Ah well.
Two young men from South America sat next to me. We got to talking and eventually they invited me to join them for drinks later. The sky showed not signs of turning blue again, so I decided to head back to the hotel and write. For dinner, I went to a different place than the Dead Cat Café where I could eat, have a Chang and watch a movie. “I Am Legend” was on, which was good since I’d miss the beginning back in Krabi. As I sat there, I realized that the South Americans had arrived and were eating dinner behind me. I joined them and when the movie was over, we wandered out on the beach.
Saturday night was only just revving up. One lone fire twirler worked the meager crowd. The beach was lined with bucket stands – most of them advertising their wares as “Fu—Buckets.” Uh. One of the SA guys disappeared and the other appeared with a bucket for me. I hope he didn’t take the advertising seriously. Music was playing very loudly and I was just too tired of the whole fratboy scene. I made my goodbyes and headed back to the hotel.
Sunday a.m. – a van picked me up to shuttle me to the ferry. It was pretty dreary out, which was good. No one likes to leave the beach when it's a pretty day. I decided to sit outside on the prow of the boat, listening to music as the seaspray whipped my hair around. We briefly stopped in Koh Samui before reaching the mainland. Buses were waiting on the dock to take us to the stop where the bus to Bangkok was waiting. On the drive up country, we were treated to the movie “The Butterfly Effect” (not exactly a new release like the bus ride down and no interesting subtitles) followed by “The Kingdom.”
Once again, I had finally nodded off when the bus came to a halt after midnight (at the exact same rest stop) for dinner. I sleepily crammed in some noodles and climbed on the bus again. We were due to arrive in Bangkok at 6 a.m. and I had a second bus to catch at 8:30 a.m. to Cambodia. This was going to be one looooooong day.
Around 3:30 a.m., my blanket was rudely yanked away from me. Many people have lost a digit or an entire limb for waking me in the past so this was a grievous offense. I sat up with a growl. One of the bus workers was systematically going down the row and swiping everyone’s blankets without so much as a “Good morning.” Apparently we were rolling into Bangkok. Early. REALLY EARLY.
We came to a stop near Khao San Road at 4 a.m. Now what? I fended off touts, hoisted my pack onto my back, picked up my other bags and drowsily wandered down the empty street to the 24 hour McDonald’s. A cup of coffee, my book, and an Egg McMuffin somehow managed to kill 3 hours before I headed out to call home and find the Tourist Agency where the bus was picking me up. I also read an article in a daily paper about a man in Northern Thailand marrying a python:
“ Satian Kenkudlung, 35, married his python because, he says, the giant snake is actually the 600-year-old spirit of his former lover, reincarnated in the form of a snake so that the couple could be together again.”
When I stepped outside, it was a gray dawn and monks in bright orange robes were the only people walking down Khao San Road, carry large metal bowls. I called Mom and Dad and then waited for the bus. And waited. And waited. I was getting seriously worried. I was told to be waiting for someone to get me at the tourist agency at 7:50. Now it was 8:20. The bus was due to depart in ten minutes and there were no signs of the tourist agency opening up. Now it was 8:40 and I was in full-on freak-out mode. See, my tourist visa was due to run out the next day. I didn’t actually have to be of the country until Tuesday but I didn’t have time to waste, waiting around for the next bus to Cambodia. Just as I was about to give up and go find a hotel, a young man ambled up to me and asked if I was going to Cambodia. He guided me through some back alleyways to the bus, waiting on a parkway a few streets over. I climbed onto the mostly empty bus and relief washed over me.
I was feeling pretty familiar with Bangkok at this time so I was a little sad to see it go. The movie the bus played was “The Kingdom” (they must all get the same movies) which I half watched (since I’d missed a lot the night before) and half dozed after gorging myself on oreos and various other snacks.
Just before lunch, it started to absolutely pour. We were going to stop just before the Cambodian border, so one of the bus workers stood up to announce how the visa situation was going to work. At lunch, they’d process our visas then we’d head to the border where we were advised to change our money. The guy explained that Cambodia doesn’t have many banks or atms so it’s best to get out Thai money, cross the border and exchange it. I looked in my Lonely Planet, and sure enough, it collaborated that atms were scarce and I didn’t know how big Siem Reap was. I had about 40 dollars in Baht on me still so I thought for a week in Cambodia three hundred dollars ought to do it. After arriving in a torrential downpour, dodging children trying to sell umbrellas or just walk you to the border under an umbrella, I got money out at an atm and was guided across the border and through customs. While filling out paperwork, I didn’t have a pen. I asked one of the military men sitting at a desk if he had a pen. He shook his head with a cursory glance at me and went back to his paper. Ah, work ethics. I can’t tell you how many shops or whatnot I went into in Thailand where workers were dead asleep on the floor with a pillow. I crossed into Cambodia without further hassle and was instantly stricken by the change in scenery. I had gotten way too complacent in Thailand. Mud six inches deep sucked at my feet. Ox carts, chickens, cattle roamed the streets. We were herded into a money changing shop and told to hurry as the bus was departing shortly. Now, I’ve only ever used atms on my trip but the money exchange places I’ve seen all have chalkboards or even LED boards that indicate what the daily rates are. In this shop, there was nothing but a guy behind a plexiglass booth. This is NOT good. I don’t have time to text someone how much the Cambodian real goes for. They had told us that they also tend to do more business with the dollar. The guy on the bus had said that you get more for your money if you use Real vs. dollars, saying (twice) that if a bottle of water might 1 dollar or 2 real (at 3 real per dollar). I had looked in the guidebook which said that it was 4 real per dollar but considering the book was 2 years old and the dollar stinks, and every other currency I had encountered had plummeted, that sounded right. So now I have to exchange my baht for real, all while trying to do math in my head (math and I are not friends) on all the different exchange rates going on. I’m digging in my bag for my calculator while the bus driver is prodding us to get a move on, the bus is honking, I’m holding things up…
When all is said and done, I do the calculation in my head and think I’ve just lost 20 bucks. That sucks.
We stop at a rest stop two hours later and when a menu is handed to me, I look at the prices. They’re given in both Real and dollar. And while they’re not totally matching up, they do clearly indicate that I have been ripped off. By about sixty bucks. That REALLY sucks.
Back on the bus for what is the WORST road in the world and I am steaming mad. The bus rocks wildly down a muddy, dirt road for several hours. It’s awful. Take the bumpiest road you’ve ever been on and add rain and zero shocks. I’m commiserating with another couple who have also figured out they were just literally and figuratively taken for a ride. By the way, I read in the guide book that an unnamed airline is paying the government of Cambodia an undisclosed amount of money to keep the road we were on (the main artery from Thailand into Cambodia) unpaved so as to drum up airline passengers. Jerks.
We arrived in Siem Reap late at night, just as the guide book said we would. It is a bus company scam to take you directly to a hotel they are in league with in the hopes that you’ll be too tired to go find your own hotel. I never stay in these hotels on principle. A British couple and I share a tuk-tuk to another hotel nearby. They only have one room for me and it appears to be a part of the staff’s quarters. No thank you. But it’s only 24 Real, they say. No thanks, I say, I was looking for something under 8 dollars. Yes, the woman says, this is 6 dollars. “Don’t you mean 18 Real then?” “No, 4 real to one dollar.”
Oh. My. God.
I grab my calculator and burst into tears. I just got taken for about 120 dollars by that wretched money changer.
You know, I don’t mind so much the little pin pricks here and there of people in these countries ripping me off. The whiny rickshaw driver who wants an extra dollar, etc. But when ONE guy (well, actually several, as the bus company from Bangkok was clearly in cahoots) gets probably more than a week or more salary off me? Disgusting. I was so angry with myself.
I wandered down the street and stopped at a cafe where some nice Irish girls pointed out their hotel to me. I was exhausted and miserable. I was shown to a nice big clean room with hot water and cable television. I wrote Mom and Dad about my failure as a traveler. All this time I thought I was beating the system. That I was a savvy adventurer that no one could mess with. And now I just lost the equivalent of 4 days of travel money. Mom and Dad assured me that it was “a drop in the bucket” -- and looking back, I know it was. I just tried to imagine it as a parking ticket… or an expensive night out. But when you spend about 6 dollars a day on a hotel, 10 on food and 15 or so on entertainment, transportation, souvenirs, etc… 120 dollars was unfeasible.
I went to bed early.[ed. note: I recently talked to my friend Patrick in Phnom Penh and I told him about the ripoff. He said that recently a British girl was riding on the back of a moped in P.P. and a mugger on another moped grabbed her purse as she went by. She was pulled off the moped and then run over by another vehicle and killed. So if losing 120 bucks in the course of a 4 month trip through mostly third world countries is the worst thing that happened to me? I consider myself a lucky person.]
Next morning, I slept in for a bit (or at least tried to as there were jackhammers outside my window. Nice.) and then went down for breakfast, to drop off laundry and to arrange my Angkor Wat tour. I was introduced to a very nice motorbike guide who offered to take me around for about 10-20 dollars a day. After breakfast, we headed out to purchase my 3 day pass and hit some far away lesser temples. Man, if only my parents could see me on the back of a motorbike, zipping through the countryside.

Clouds were threatening and my guide, Sam, seemed worried. We arrived at the first temple, which was fairly impressive. I was greeted by a small family who were there visiting their son, a novice monk living in the monastery nearby. Then Sam and I tore across to another temple which I poked around until the skies opened up. We hung out under the roof of a souvenir shop while the rain fell and I found out that Sam had just gotten married a week earlier. They had met because she worked one of the cafes near Angkor Wat and was also a tour guide. The rain petered out and we went to the third temple and then zipped down a back lane, mud spraying my legs. I really was enjoying Cambodia (once over the initial hate for being ripped off). After Thailand, I finally felt like I was a traveler again, instead of a tourist.

We stopped by his sister’s house for some water and he dropped me off at my hotel around 5. He was due to pick me up pretty early the next morning for the big temples like Angkor Wat.
I headed out on the town to do some interneting and find food. I ended up at a pizza place that was pretty delicious and then moved on to “Pub Street” for a drink at Temple Bar. I was sitting and watching soccer and thinking about what in the world I was going to do for work when I returned and wondering if I should I go back to MTV. Just then, “Video Killed the Radio Star” began to play, which was MTV’s first video that ever aired. Strange. A moment later, a young man came over to talk to me. Before he introduced himself, I remember quite vividly thinking for some reason that he looked like a Brian or a Ryan. Turns out he was a Ryan. We talked for a bit until I suddenly realized he was pretty irritating, a privileged college kid from Connecticut. I was about to head out when he invited me next door to Angkor What?, a pretty happening bar by the looks of it. Unfortunately, it was filled with all the wrong types of backpackers (or Fratpackers, as I like to call them) and I had glass of beer and snuck out. Ryan had basically abandoned me for another girl anyway, but who could blame him, I clearly had no interest.
Up early for breakfast and Sam was already waiting. We were on the road shortly, and I was getting the hang of this motorbike business. First stop was Angkor Wat, stunning.

Also the site of many wedding photos, it appeared. Bridal parties were everywhere.

Next was Angkor Thom, which I think was my favorite. It has incredible carved stone faces all over it and was featured in Tomb Raider.
I really just cannot begin to impress upon you the enormity of these structures… and how decrepit they’re becoming. They are just amazing.


There were several other temples around Angkor Thom that I wandered through while Sam napped/waited for me in his wife’s café. They all seem to have hammocks set up in the back just for this purpose. I joined him at last and ate lunch before we moved on to some further afield temples.

You can pretty much clamber all over the temples. Some are temples you walk through and some you climb up and over. One of the temples you climb had some seriously steep steps.

I made it up and then was mighty concerned about how I was going to get back down. I noticed I wasn’t the only one, when a young western man got help from several monks (!!!) to get down. They even carried his bag for him.

I was careful – moving slowly and meticulously. I didn’t much feel like being air-lifted out of there with a broken neck.
After quite a long day, Sam returned me to the hotel and I went to find a new book and relax a bit. I had the famous Cambodian dish of amok – a sort of coconut curry. Tastebuds gone to glory. Called it a night after that and headed back to the hotel. “Witness” was playing on cable so I got a little homesick.
Final day of Wat touring. Sam picked me up – today were were going waaaaay out in the country. I enjoyed picking my way around the temples while listening to sad and/or spooky music on my iPod. And I’m not ashamed to admit I totally listened to Indiana Jones music again.
Back at the hotel, I found that they were showing “The Killing Fields.” Odd. Usually they just showed Cambodian karaoke that the staff sat around and sang along to. I went to find dinner -- it was just pouring so I didn’t stay out. My bus to Phnom Penh was in the morning.
I was picked up around 10 for the bus ride to PP. Mostly uneventful bus ride, although was subjected to more Cambodian karaoke and an incredibly smelly seatmate. I really can’t tell you what she smelled like, just trust me it was BAD. She also had the loudest ringtone I’ve heard since India and she liked to let it ring for about 10 seconds before answering it. We stopped for lunch at a roadside market. I decided on chips and a soda as the plexiglass containers full of FRIED INSECTS didn't appeal to me.
We rolled into Phnom Penh around 8 p.m. during a massive thunderstorm. I had arranged to stay at a sister hotel to the one in Siem Reap, so I had a tuk-tuk waiting for me. I had dinner after checking in and ended up going to sleep pretty early.
Next morning, I had to take care of my Vietnam passport and decided to book a boat tour around the Mekong Delta (basically this would take care of my transportation into Vietnam, a hotel for two nights, plus some sightseeing for about 40 bucks). Unfortunately, this meant I had to stick around PP until Tuesday and I was anxious to move on to Vietnam. Today, I decided to go check out the Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum also known as S21 Prison, formerly a high school.
It’s obviously a grim tourist stop but I think necessary to see. There are three rooms full of mugshot-style photographs of the victims – very overwhelming. However, while I was moving through the rows of photos, there was a family consisting of an older woman, her daughter (?) and her daughter’s child having a grand old time, pointing and giggling over the photos despite the very clear NO TALKING signs posted absolutely everywhere. There was also a camera crew conducting interviews of visitors and they called over the family to talk to them and the giggling became even worse. Incredibly distracting and rude, I thought, and I’m not even Cambodian. I moved to get ahead of them but they kept appearing in the rooms I was in, giggling at the shackles, pointing and sniggering at unattractive mugshots. I left.
I decided to wander through PP after that gruesome afternoon. Ended up taking shelter during a sudden downpour in a multi-level mall. Bought a pair of Raybans and camo-pants as my wardrobe is in dire need of updating (when you have about 3 items of clothing and are wearing them to death for 2 months, it’s time for a change) and I figured the camo-pants wouldn’t look too dirty after a week of wearing them. Plus, I was feeling a little Lara Croft-ish (minus the thigh-strapped guns, of course) after visiting Angkor Wat.
I had some ice-cream and tramped over to the riverfront where various pubs and restaurants were located to find food.
First, I stopped at a rather chic bar purporting to have a nice wine happy hour. It felt very New York-ish. I was pretty grubby so I popped into the bathroom to change into my new clothes and put some lipstick on, as well as try to run a comb through my hair. I drank my wine by myself and then went up the street to a pub for dinner. I ordered a Philly Cheesesteak (!) which was surprisingly good (and not dog, people!) and fairly authentic while enjoying the texts I was receiving from Orly and David from Owen’s graduation. While I was sitting on a bar stool watching the FA Cup in Cambodia, my baby brother was walking across the stage and receiving his college diploma. Afterwards, a young man stopped me on the street to invite me to a club but I decided to head back to the hotel instead. As I was getting ready for bed, I put on the television to discover that they were airing the Yankees-Mets game! I stayed up quite late to watch it, feeling a bit homesick every time a camera from the blimp (?) overhead would pan over Manhattan on a gorgeous, clear spring day.
Next morning, I got up late, gave myself a much needed pedicure and read a book I’d gotten from the hotel’s book exchange. After lunch, I hired a motorbike to take me to the Killing Field -- Choeung Ek. There is still what appears to be bone and clothing protuding from the earth in some places. Signs indicate where they placed a loudspeaker in a tree to play music in order to drown out the screaming, crying and other nuisances so the soldiers could get on with beating babies against trees, that sort of thing. And yes, there was a sign indicating a particular tree used for that activity. It’s just hard to wrap my brain around the level of atrocity going on – only 30 years ago.
On the way back to the city, my driver, as usual, wanted to know if I was married and why I was traveling alone and then the inevitable “how old are you?” I told him to guess and he guessed about 10 years younger and when I told him my actual age, he was shocked. “Oh, you very old. I think you not get married. Too old.” Excellent. Cheers, mate.
Back at the hotel, lunch, a little reading and then I decided to go back to that nice wine bar after another afternoon of exploring Phnom Penh. I was trying to find a Camera store but was having zero luck but walking around was nice. PP is pretty darn big and the sheer amount of motorbikes is amazing. This is where I really started honing the technique of street-crossing. You wait for an opening nearest you and then you just walk. You never run. You stop when you have to. Some argue to make eye contact but I always look past the driver so there’s no confusion… they have to go around me. You get the hang of it but it is definitely unnerving.
Once at the wine bar, the manager I’d noticed the day before noticed me. “You’re back,” he said, in a clear American accent. I asked him where he was from. He said he was Cambodian but grew up in San Francisco and had moved back to PP a few years ago. We got to chatting and after I mentioned I had worked at MTV before leaving, Patrick told me that he had some American friends who owned a wine bar down the street and one of them had worked at MTV before leaving! Patrick invited me to join him and his friends the next day for dinner and I could meet the MTVer.
Some friends of his came by and we ended up moving down the street to an Italian joint – the food was delicious. I had pasta carbonara and for a couple of hours, felt like I could be back in New York in a tiny restaurant in the West Village. Eventually went back to the hotel (where they were airing “The Killing Fields” – again) and went to bed.
Next morning, I picked up my passport with my new Vietnam visa and after a leisurely breakfast, decided to go see the Royal Palace and Silver Pagoda. Unfortunately, it was a national holiday and everything was closed. Not good. I ended up just walking around PP for awhile before going back to the hotel and reading on my balcony. Before I knew it, I was late for meeting Patrick and company. I threw on my birthday sundress and raced across town.
Patrick introduced me to his friends and, as it turns out, Chad not only worked on the same floor as me but he is good friends and neighbors with one of my managers. He gave me advice on what NOT to do when I was in Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon) which was to NEVER take a bicycle rickshaw. “Please promise me,” he said. I asked why. Because, he explained, they are notorious for cheating you. You try to set a price or the driver says, “Whatever you want to pay me” and when it comes time to pay up, they extort you for obscene amounts of money – like 25 bucks for going five minutes. And they’ll throw a temper tantrum in the middle of the street until you pay them. (Later, I looked it up in my LP Vietnam book, and indeed it did mention bicycle rickshaw drivers as being quite the scam artists). I promised I would not take one. Taxis have meters and are easier to negotiate. We moved from the bar to another restaurant and from there, Patrick invited me on a tour of his hotel. Very modern stylings and an amazing rooftop bar with jacuzzi. Not too shabby. We chatted for a long time. He gave me a lift back to my hotel in his Jeep (why do all Jeep Cherokees smell the same? – and not in a bad way). That’s one of the rewarding and frustrating parts of travel – meeting new, amazing people… and having to leave them.

No comments: