Mr Tree comes to my hotel room to visit before I go to the airport for Cambodia. Here's another instance of him "being responsible for my safety" while I'm visiting his country.
I take the skytrain to the Phaya Thai station and get the citylink train out to Suvharnabhum airport. The flight to Phnom Penh is smooth and then I catch a taxi to the hotel. The taxi driver speaks pretty good English and we're stuck in school traffic, so we have a great conversation about things in Cambodia vs the USA, and the traffic, and the schoolkids hairstyles, and the economy.
When I get to the hotel I make some phone calls and pretty soon Tra and Duke have met me at the lobby of my hotel. After a while we go up to my room so that they can see the view of the river (and the bridge where the recent stampede disaster occurred) from my 5th floor room. We pull the chairs to the window of the room and chat for the next few hours until Duke has to go home. Then Tra and I have a nice dinner and we split as he heads for home and I walk back to my hotel.
My first full day in Cambodia is spent doing a lot of walking in Phnom Penh. I walk from the hotel to the riverside to the central market and then do more walking. At one point I get lost and don't have a clue to where I am. So I just start walking a bit more and point in the direction of the central market and say to someone "Central market". And they confirm that I am on the right track.
After noon Duke calls and guides me to a tuk-tuk driver to take me to a place near his home. We meet up at a mall and one of Duke's friends join us. We sit in the mall drinking drinks and talking. Occasionally Duke and his friend revert to Khmer, or maybe because they don't want me to hear something, but all of the conversation is in English. After Duke's friend leaves Duke gives me a ride on his motorbike too Wat Plum and we climb the hill to the top. After photos and stuff we head back to my hotel where Duke and I continue the conversation until he has to go home for dinner. Within 5 minutes of Duke leaving for dinner Tra calls and says he is in the lobby. So I go down to the lobby and hang out with Tra for 30 minutes before he heads for sleep and I head back to my room.
On Thursday I get out of the hotel door and start walking again. Today I am headed for Beong Kak lake. I've been warned that I should not go there because there are drug dealers and drug activity and other crimes going on. But I have to go check it out myself.
I've been walking one hour and I take a break. Pretty soon two university students from the management university across the street come over and want to practice their English. So we have a nice conversation and I help them with pronunciation and sentence structure. They have a good learning experience and thank me profusely when they have to return to class.
I continue walking and finally find the lake. It is off the beaten path and there are many questionable people hanging around. Nonetheless I ignore the people and walk to the lake and take pictures. Their is a mosque by the lake in a state of demolition but I hear prayers coming from it. So I walk on over and a guy from Malaysia (who speaks English) stops me and we have a little conversation about Islam, the area, the scheduled demolition of the mosque and rebuilding with a new mosque and Islamic study hostels, and Malaysia itself. He has to head off for prayers so I continue my walk. I head down a dark alley and find a number of very cheap guesthouses. And I'm approached many times by people who want to sell me "smokes" or other words that I don't recoginize (but referring to drugs of various sorts). Each question is not met with a "No, thank you" or a polite "No", it is met with a very strident and forcefull "NO" and an obvious headshake. They get the picture and do not persist as, for example, taxi drivers or tuk-tuk drivers would. Eventually I've finished my research and head back to my hotel for rest.
But I get quite a few pictures of "Bad Phnom Penh".
On Thursday night, Tra, Rady (who I met last year), Rady's friend (who wants to practice English), Rady's uncle, Duke, and I go to have dinner. We have a fun dinner and when Tra and Rady's uncle want to talk about online services in Khmer, I pull Rady's friend over and practice English with him. His English is good. Everyone's English is good - I'm a bit surprised.
I take Friday a bit easy. Yes, I do go out walking late in the morning and end up walking for three hours before I realize that I need to take a break. Thus I head back to the hotel and relax for a bit. Duke comes on over after 2 pm and we hang out watching music videos or news programs or talking. In case you cannot tell, Duke and I enjoy each other's company a lot. We both spontaneously laugh and giggle for no reason and then try to explain our laughter. After 5pm Duke has to head for home and he gives me a ride on the back of his Suzuki Smash 110 motorbike to a restaurant where I am supposed to meet two people. (The name of "Smash" for a motorbike was discussed in last year's blog and will not be re-iterated again here, but it was the same model of motorbike that Tree and I rode out to Wat Opot last year.)
I meet up with Ah Jing and his friend So-Cheri. I was supposed to meet Ah Jing last year, but it didn' quite work out. But we have a fun buffet dinner and talk about all sorts of things. Ah Jing and So-Cheri have known each other for three years from a previous employer and all of us enjoy laughing together and eating the good food. At the end of the evening Ah Jing offers me a ride to my hotel in his Suzuki car. So the three of us pile in and off we go. The Suzuki has a fair amont of room in the back seat and I don't feel cramped at all. At 9:30 pm I'm let off at my hotel and Ah Jing and So-Cheri and I agree to meet next time I visit Cambodia. (They have a wedding to attend over the weekend and will be unavailable for the remainder of my trip.
On Saturday I start off walking in a direction that I've never really been before. At the start of the walk I go past the bridge where more than 300 Cambodians were trampled to death at their water festival (in November). I take pictures and say prayers for the dead. I continue walking to the Diamond Island complex and, being adventurous, start walking down a narrow alleyway where there appears to be a lot of activity. It tuns out that foreigners never come here because everyone is turning their heads and looking at me or smiling at me as they go about their business of chopping meat or vegetables, preparing foods, or loading drinks on carts for the nearby restaurants. A number of people say "Hello" and smile and, of course, they get a "Hello", "sour sdey" (Khmer greeting), and a smile back.
Afterwards I turn towards a pagoda (or wat) that is on the map in the distance. I walk and walk and walk and walk and sit for a break and walk some more until I find the pagoda. It's a nice pagoda and probably my favorite one. So I'm glad that I persevered with the long walk. After a few pictures I duck my head into the main pagoda and a number of monks see me and say "Hello". So I take off my shoes and head in. It turns out that one of the monks speaks very good English and we have a long discussion as he translates our dialog to the other four monks gathered around "the silly foreigner". As I'm about to leave they ask for an email address and then I continue on taking pictures.
Now I'm really tired, so I grab a ride on the back of a motorbike rider for $2 back to my hotel. I do not realize how far I walked until I see how long the motorbike ride is back to my hotel. As I enter the hotel the doorman says they have no power again, so I sit in the lobby and rest. Tra calls and wants to bring my clean laundry over so he comes over and we sit some more in the lobby until the electricity is restored. When it is restored we go up to my room and we both end up falling asleep. An hour later Tra heads for home.
Later Tra calls me and we head for dinner. When he first sees me he thinks that I am sick. I tell him that I walked so much in the traffic and pollution that I feel tired and my noses/sinus hurts a bit. So we have a nice dinner and I get back to my hotel a little after 9 pm to head for sleep. At dinner the maitre-d is very cute, so I ask Tra how to say "You have a cute face" in Khmer. And I manage to pull it off as the maitre-d just gives me a huge smile back.
I don't sleep well on Saturday night and wake up early on Sunday morning. After breakfast and some online things I get out (slowly) walking and end up past the riverside area and near the central market again. Since it is Sunday there are many people out today and it is fun to people watch. After a while I get a phone call from Heng - the last of the new friends to meet during this trip. Heng picks me up on his motorbike at my hotel and we go and have coffee. During our conversation it comes out that Heng needs glasses or conact lenses but does not wear them. So I ask, "You mean you're riding around on a motorbike with 20/200 eyeysight?" And he, of course, confirms this to be the case. But Heng gets a phone call and has to leave so he drops me off back at my hotel (Yes, I had to show him that I had confidence in his bleary-eyed driving by riding on the back of his motorbike.) and I rest and relax for the rest of the afternoon.
I spend the rest of the day in the hotel since I am not feeling well and there is actually a little bit of on and off rain today. The illness is similar to what I had last year for my entire visit in Cambodia - painful sinuses. This time I think the extra long walk, the heat, and the traffic dirt/pollution during the walk have caused it. I go to sleep early and have trouble getting sound sleep. I wake up at 3 am (on Monday morning) and still feel pretty bad. And again at 4 am and still feel pretty bad.
When I wake up on Monday before 7 am I actually feel pretty good. Despite the horrible night of sleep and feeling lousy, I actually feel on the road to better health. I take a couple of aleve and some vitamins with breakfast and continue to feel better throughout the morning.
Near noon Tra and his friend from the United States, Donald, pick me up at my htel and we go have a nice lunch at a restaurant rigt on the river. During lunch we see the boats coming in from Vietnam and letting the passengers off before it continues on to the port. After lunch a catch a moto-taxi to the airport, fly to Bangkok, and then fly to Chiang Mai.
When I get to Chiang Mai there's a little problem with my hotel reservations but it sort of gets straightened out. I go price antibiotics and tell the pharmacist that I'll try another night of sleep and come back if I'm not better.
Near 11pm I meet up with Prayong and we hang out for a while. Since he's never eaten at McDonald's, wants to, and is hungry, I take him to McDonald's for a late night dinner. I'm not hungry because...well...I'm not hungry at all and certainly NOT hungry for McDonalds. But Prayong likes the McDonalds and packs some up fo the next day. Eventually I'm down for sleep near 1 am and have bouts of deep sleep as well as bouts of tossing and turning.
Tuesday and Wednesday are typical Chiang Mai days.
I go out walking in the mid-day sun and get all tired and sweaty and then relax in the afternoon. On Tuesday I break down and buy some antibiotics just to chase away the sinus problem (in case it is an infection). I'm thinking it's mainly the heat and pollution and car exhaust, but just to make sure I start in on the three day treatment of antibiotics.
On both evenings I meet up with Prayong and his friend and we go have dinner.
On Wednesday evening I make it back to the stand-up bars just to say goodbye to everyone. It's the last time that I'll be here for a quite a while. Some of the bars are closed and I only run into a couple acquaintances to say goodbye to. Prayong hangs out with me and he has friends there too, so he hangs out there after I leave for sleep.
I have great sleep on Wednesday night and my sinus/nose problem is gone. Was it extra deep sleep or the antibiotics? Regardless it is gone and today at breakfast I finish off the last dose of the antibiotics. Prayong comes to visit so we have breakfast together and then I gather stuff (including the laundry from down the street) in order to go back to Bangkok.
I get to the Chiang Mai airport early, as usual. (I'm a worry wort about missing flights so I end up spending time in airports in advance of my flights.) I have a craving for salt so I go to the Chiang Mai airport Burger King and get salty french fries and use their WiFi to check email. After a while the manager comes over and we start talking about work and flights and Chiang Mai and stuff. As I have to leave, I give him my email address and tell him to stay in touch even though I don't know when I will return to Chiang Mai.
The flight to Bangkok is delayed a bit but then I grab the citylink train and then the skytrain to my hotel. This is a different hotel again and I'm greeted at reception with a glass of red wine. Everyone is a bit shocked and stunned when I refuse the wine - maybe nobody has ever done that before. (And I know in most asian cultures one is not supposed to ever refuse food or drink being given to them. But....my sobriety is more important than a few hurt feelings.)