Saturday, February 15, 2014

Siem Reap (Cambodia): Day 1.

If you know me or follow my adventures at all, you know that I… don't have the best of luck. Murphy's Law tends to follow me around wherever I go and gives me a hard time. Most of the time, though, it's just a bunch of little annoyances that lump together. Fortunately, that seems to be the case thus far (knock on wood).


The day started at 5:15 AM. Surprisingly, my trip from Gunpo to Incheon Airport was rather uneventful (outside of one or two train delays). I arrived at the airport by about 8 AM. My flight started boarding at 10:25. Plenty of time. Uh huh.

Despite the fact I've traversed this airport  about a half a dozen times in the last year, it still manages to trip me up.  My flight left on China Southern Airlines (CSA). I read the marquee that tells me where the check-in counters are for CSA so I head for that area, and I still can't manage to find them. I see no overhead signs for the airline. So I stumble upon a currency exchange booth and get that over with while I'm there. I wander around some more. Sometime during this, I also remove my jacket and put it in my suitcase, figuring I wouldn't need it where I'm going. Long story short, the check-ins were pretty much right across from the currency kiosk, but tucked away in a back corner where nobody was getting checked in because they hadn't seemed to open the counters yet for some reason. Though there was a line that had formed waiting.

So I wait in line, get through, check in and all that. But then then guy pulls out this picture asking me if I have any of the following things. I see aerosol cans on there and immediately begin questioning the mosquito spray I had purchased (after later searching, airlines are bizarrely picky about what they will and will not allow in both aerosols and bug spray. For instance, if it was a bug spray you put on your body, OK. If it's a bug spray you spray bugs with, no. In other words, it could be the same kind of can and same kind of idea, but it's the difference between using it on yourself or elsewhere. Yeah… dunno. It was confusing). So anyway, he asks me to go to the side lounge area and find it to see if it was appropriate or not. I do so… to discover I can't find it in my suitcase. I had apparently forgotten it at home--or so I thought. From that point on, I was worried about whether I'd truly left it behind or if it had gotten tucked away between something else and I kept missing it. I was going to become some kind of international criminal thanks to a bug spray debacle.

So I check the bag, get my ticket and all that, and proceed to the longest security line I've ever seen. They started playing announcements overhead saying there's currently congestion at security/immigration (ya think?). So I wait in a line that goes halfway across the airport, parallel to another line in the same situation. As I'm standing there, a British businessman trots up and asks if he could please cut in and stand with me because his flight was in an hour or less and he might not make it otherwise. (He soon explained this was the fault of connecting flights or something and how he's been through a bit of a mess the last couple days with delayed flights and whatnot.) So of course I let him in. We chatted for the next five or ten minutes until we got separated into dividing lines.

So, despite the fact I was at the airport almost a full 3 hours prior to my flight's take-off, I end up reaching my gate with a mere 30 minutes to spare. The flight itself was fine. I was in an aisle seat and nobody sat between me and the window person, so there was plenty of room. They played a movie (The Escape Plan) for everyone, but I didn't watch. They also did something really bizarre after the movie ended--they played a cliffnotes version of Edgar Wright's The World's End. It said "Trailer" above the video, but it was literally a 10-15 minute summation of the entire movie, beginning to end. Just a mishmash of snippets of major scenes in chronological order.

We finally land in my layover in Guangzhou, China. And it's freezing. And they let us out of the plane on the tarmac and make us take a bus to the terminal. I figure, OK… fine. I'm wearing a sweater shirt. I can deal for a few minutes. Except we get into the terminal and… yeah, no heat. And my jacket is in my checked luggage. And there's about an hour until my flight. But I deal, and eventually my body gets (mostly) used to it. The next flight is nothing special.


When we do eventually land, I notice the airport isn't exactly what you would expect. It's more of a huge cabin thing than an airport. And the temperature is considerably warmer (but not uncomfortable). I go through immigration, get my luggage, and go through customs (which is even less of a hassle than in Seoul… somehow). I go outside and find my driver who will take me to where I'm staying. He's very friendly, though I do pick up on something I slowly began to realize as the evening went on… I have quite a bit of trouble understanding the Cambodian accent. I seem to pick up every other word or so, even though they speak fluent English.

Anyway, we hop in his Tuk Tuk (which was an experience in and of itself) and ride for the next 15 minutes or so toward the villa where I'm saying. 

And during the ride… wow. It's so far removed from the kind of culture I'm used to. It's crazy. If someone tells you "Cambodia" and you picture what you think Cambodia looks like, you're probably right. It's a scene right out of a movie, almost. We're going down paved roads, but everything around us is like open, flat land with the occasional shack selling stuff or some run-down houses. There's little kids all over the place, the boys not wearing shirts. Some are playing. Some are just walking or running around. Some are with their families, sitting around whatever business shacks they run. I saw dogs, chickens, a cow, some kind of tiny buzzard creatures. And I think the general rule is drive on the right side of the road, but it's more of a guideline. Driving here is basically "go wherever there's room." And while there are some cars, it seems the vast majority is bicycles, motorcycles, scooters, and Tuk Tuks.

And none of these descriptions are doing any of this justice. Like, at all. It's simultaneously fascinating and Instant Culture Shock just from how incredibly different it all is. But then you hit the actual city, and it basically goes from third world country to slightly more upscale third world country party town. Imagine driving into downtown Austin or maybe the River Walk in San Antonio… but placed in the middle of a third-world town.

We get to the Villa, and he brings my bag in while I go to the check-in area. They find my name and, before checking me in, take me to the restaurant area to give me my complimentary arrival drink, cold towel, and peanuts. Did I mention everybody here is insanely… I mean like absurdly nice? It's crazy! 

Anyway, I pay my stay fee and eventually go back to the lobby where they personally show me to my room. I'll just let the pictures do the talking here (I could probably fit 3 of these inside my apartment in Korea... which says something).

I then decided to hit up the famous Pub Street where the party life is. A Tuk Tuk gets me there for a dollar (Cambodians primarily use the US dollar, even though they do have an official currency). I get in, and the driver asks me something. I'm not sure I heard what I thought I heard at first because of the accent (Spoiler alert: I did… and I'll get to that in a minute). So he takes me to Pub Street. It's a pretty good, happenin' place. And I find the Red Piano immediately. The Red Piano is where Angelina Jolie actually spent a lot of her down time while she was here filming the first Tomb Raider. They even named a special drink after her. The food is kinda blah, but it has a nice atmosphere, and it's a big tourist spot because of the Jolie factor. I read some reviews stating the wait staff was rude and unhelpful and they had to wait ages to get any help… all of which I found to be completely untrue.

The "Tomb Raider." I dunno what's in it, but it's smooth.

Sweet and Sour Pork. Eh.

So I walk around Pub Street. I'm a solo dude in this place, which is like a huge magnet to these Tuk Tuk drivers. In the span of 5 minutes, I had maybe 3-4 different drivers trying to get me to go with them because… they knew a place to get me a girl. A nice girl. A prostitute. These guys were trying to get me a hooker. And that's when I realized that, yes, I did hear the initial driver correctly when he was taking me to Pub Street. He had asked me the same thing. So in this short span of time, I had at least 5 different guys ask me if I wanted them to take me to get a prostitute.

(I'm saving that for Thailand, when it's more of a surprise whether you get a girl or a guy.)


So I find a driver to take me back to the villa. He asks me while we're driving about getting a girl… I'm not sure if he was offering like the others or just asking if I really turned down all those other offers. Because after I said no for the thousandth time, he tells me I'm a good guy. He also accidentally took me to the wrong place (no, not a brothel). The Villa I'm staying at has a sister hotel owned by the same person, and he took me to that one first on accident. But no harm no foul. We just turned around and went back to the right one.

And that was my first day! Craziness is already ensuing! And let me tell ya… if you're ever on the prowl for a "nice girl," I know some guys who could hook you up.

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