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Kristina's Cambodia 2002 Journal
Siem Reap, Cambodia

Kristina's Journal:
July 15, 2002        2:10 AM

The journey: A Cautionary Tale.....

Never do the following; stay up for almost 48 hours, travel for more than 24 hours straight on 3 different planes with one 14 hour stretch in the middle seat, eat 6 consecutive airline/airport meals with the last one consisting of food so spicy that the top of your head feels like it's going to blow off, and then, wash down the following pills with rocket fuel strength iced coffee; multivitamins, doxycycline for anti-malaria, no-jet lag pills, and advil. The results are not pretty. Trust me.

    We arrived at LAX three hours before the scheduled departure time of 12:30 A.M. to discover an already long line at the still closed ticket counter. The 400 seat 747 turned out to be 100% full and we would have to spend the entire trip in a window and aisle seat with someone between us or someone would have to switch (guess who that someone turned out to be?). To top it off, the airline had re scheduled the departure to 1:40 AM so we still had 3 hours to wait after making it through the line.
    After a meal at Mc Donald's, the only thing open at that time of night, we went back downstairs to the ticket counter and moved our seats for the return flight to a small section in the rear of the plane that has 3 rows of 2 seats.
    The flight was relatively easy. David slept most of the way, our seat mate turned out to be a nice Australian scientist who took the window seat and also slept. I sat in the middle watching movies and reading. The only saving grace for Cathay Pacific was that the cramped seats had footrests (vital for anyone under 5'6")  and personal seat back video screens which allow you to watch what ever you want whenever you want. I slept maybe a total of 2-3 fitful hours. Not great considering that when we got on the plane I had already worked a full day and it was well past my bed time.

Hong Kong International Airport                          1US$=7.7 HK$

    We arrived in Hong Kong at the same time of the originally scheduled flight, 6:30 AM, and had 2.5 hours before our flight to Bangkok. We immediately sourced the nearest Starbucks so that David could have his latte fix, and set in search of some foodfor me since I found the "breakfast" on the plane to be inedible. Not much looked good, but we wound up in a snack bar having a really tasty bowl of noodles and pork/shrimp dumplings. A tastier and better value meal for 30 HK$ than the scary 80 HK$ breakfast we'd seen available.

    The next flight was also full, but this time I stayed in my window seat to watch our arrival into Thailand. Even from the air, the sprawling city of Bangkok and the suburbs surrounding the airport look different than Los Angeles. There are lots of modern housing communities, but they have a distinctly asian feel with red tile roofs and white washed walls. Dotted around them are fields and large temples with highly peaked roofs and gilded edges that glitter in the sunlight.

Bangkok International Airport                           1US$=40.5 Baht

    Our bags had been checked through only to Bangkok, so when we arrived, we weren't sure exactly what to do. Our next flight was on Bangkok Airways, the national domestic carrier. Fortunately, we went to their desk in the transfers area and a woman there radioed down to someone our baggage claim check numbers and they switched our bags to the correct plane. So, we now had 4 hours to kill without leaving the international departure terminal.

    Goal #1: find an ATM and get some Thai Baht. We figured this would be easy since we'd done it so many times upon arrival before. What we did not know was that the only ATMs are located outside in the main terminal, through immigration. My guess is that the various money changing booths won't allow the competition. So, we wound up changing a $50 Traveler's Check for a 23B fee. That's not really so bad, but remember that service charge applies to each check you cash, so the larger check, the better. The ATM would have offered a slightly better rate with no fee. For some reason, changing US cash had a slightly lower rate, but I don't remember if there was a service fee ot not.

    Goal #2: Get a massage. I don't know how we missed this before, but at the far end of Terminal 1 is a shop offering traditional Thai massage. It is a bright room overlooking the tarmac filled with black leather reclining chairs. Here, foot massages, or head and shoulder massages, start at 400 B for a half hour. We opted for the head and shoulder massage which turned out to be wonderful after the long time spent on the plane. The room was almost empty, and most of the young women employees sat around crocheting, or slept in the back row of chairs.

    Goal #3 find a pharmacy and buy some of our favorite "Jaico" brand mosquito repellent and some extra Advil for my chronic sleep-deprived headache. No such luck. There is nowhere inside the departure terminal to buy such items. Dejected, we opted for a few minutes at the Internet center checking email. We had to buy a smart card for 100B for 2 hours time. The card goes into a slot in the computer and minutes get deducted just like a phone card. We will be able to use the rest of the card at other centers in Bangkok.

    Goal # 4: Lunch, preferably Thai food. Strangely enough, finding Thai food in the airport is harder than it seems. Most people seem to opt for the KFC or one of the snack stands. Upstairs in terminal 1 however, is a large sit-down restaurant with both Thai and western food. We ordered our first green curry chicken and pork with fried basil leaves of the trip. Both were delicious; the chicken curry had tiny eggplant the size and color of large shelled peas and the pork had crispy fried basil leaves. Both had an abundance of chilies which led me to believe that this food had not been dumbed down for tourists. David had a beer, I had a yummy iced coffee and a bottle of water. The meal, including 17% service charge/tax was 575 B. Pricey by Thai standards but not for a decent airport meal. Our Mc Donald's at LAX cost almost the same.

       After we ate, it was time to take our daily Doxy. I also too two multivitamins, and two Advil to help with my headache and we went back down to the Bangkok Airways desk. It was at this time that things seemed to go awry and my stomach started to rebel.

    We were given passes to get into the Bangkok Airways private lounge to wait for our flight. Lost, we wound up downstairs at the gate unable to find the lounge. We had to trek back up 3 flights of stairs, back through security and into the terminal to find the nice quiet oasis of the lounge. Unfortunately, it did not have a private bathroom and I had to make my way out, across the terminal to the bathrooms near the KFC.
    Oddly enough, up to this point, all the bathrooms I'd been in had been immaculate. Here, in probably the busiest bathroom in Don Muang, cleanliness was not in the forefront and the smell alone almost made me lose my lunch. As I made my way back to the lounge through the terminal I felt so faint I had to will myself to keep walking. I was really afraid I was going to pass out and hit the floor with no ID; in my rush for the restroom, I had left everything behind with David including my purse.
    Back in the lounge, laying down on one of the couches did not help, in fact it made the nausea worse. I was so certain I was going to throw up that David went and got a plastic bag for me. I chewed a pepto bismol tab and it did nothing.

    Finally it was time to go to the plane; back through security, down stairs, to a waiting, stiflingly hot, shuttle bus to take us to the domestic terminal and our 70 seat turbo-prop plane. Out onto the sweltering tarmac and up into the tiny plane, sitting with the A/C turned off. The plane was only about 1/3 full and they had placed all the passengers in the center for balance. I spent most of the flight with my head down between my knees.

    About midway through the one hour flight, a meal was served. I told David I didn't want any and that if he did, he'd have to move because I couldn't handle the smell. As it was, the smell from the food behind me was enough to induce claustrophobia and I had to get up and move to the back of the plane which was thankfully empty and cooler.
    The flight attendants were lovely, sweet and concerned. They asked if I was ok and when I said no, not really, one of them immediately got out the first aid kit. I must have looked ghostly, because she wanted to put smelling salts under my nose. I told her no, I was just trying not to throw up. They gave me cool wet towels and water.
    I waited there in the back until the plane made its rough and bumpy landing at the Siem Reap airport. I'm very disappointed that I was not feeling better because the scenery looked fabulous. what little I saw.

Siem Reap, Cambodia, International Airport                1US$=$1 or 4000 Riel

    We waited for everyone else to get off the plane and then struggled outside with poor David carrying both our heavy carry-on bags.

    The heat and humidity heat me like someone had thrown a warm, wet blanket over my head and then asked me to run a marathon. I struggled to breathe. Inside the terminal was no better. There were no fewer than 6 uniformed officials to go through each visa application and passport and this was before the actual "immigration". We were at the end of the line. I felt so faint I had to sit on the floor when we were waiting.

    As we waited in the next line to have our passports stamped there was another woman already at the desk looking like she was suffering from much the same. In fact, she had to rush to the bathroom before the formalities were even finished leaving her boyfriend behind.

    The arrivals terminal is so small we could see our bags waiting for us on the other side of the counter. They are currently expanding the size of the terminal so I'm sure this will be different in the future.

    All in all, the visa process was remarkably smooth and easy. Fill out the paperwork, have a passport photo and a $20 bill ready, and wait in line for a few minutes. Had the plane been full it would have taken a bit longer. We now have a full page visa pasted in our passports and a stamp for Siem Reap entry to Cambodia.

    As we exited the parking lot, there was a large open gravel parking area which was empty. At the far end was a short chain link fence with about 20 guest house touts waiting, holding signs, shouting and waving at us to come over to them. Even if we'd not had anything booked, it would have been a relief to have the distance between us and them to make a decision. Much better than having people grab at you and your bags.

    There was someone official at the exit who asked us if we had a place to stay. When we said yes, he told us to look for the sign and make sure it was the correct name of the guesthouse along with our names below. We walked across the lot, peering at the signs in the distance looking for our names. Shortly, we saw a petite Khmer woman come around the fence and toward us holding a sign with our names. She told us to stop where we were (in the middle of the lot) and that the car would come to us because it was so hot and the bags were heavy. The car appeared and it was a brand new white Toyota Camry, the main car of choice here. Most taxis are older Camrys. In fact, most cars here are Camrys. This one was so new and clean, at first I thought it was a Mercedes. The A/C was going full blast and once inside I immediately began to feel better.

    Ponheary took us to her family's guesthouse called the Marina Villa and located on Wat Bo road near many of the restaurants popular with travelers. Since it is the low season, we are currently the only people staying here. Also, they are doing construction to add a second floor. The guesthouse is very plain, with not a lot of charm or character. Our room has 20 foot ceilings, 2 beds with foam mattresses, a small refrigerator and a TV with satellite. It also has the most important thing, air-conditioning! The bathroom is small, tiled, and has a shower coming out of the side wall that will spray all over everything making the entire room wet when used. This is typical, and similar to what I've seen in Thailand and many other countries. The hot water is only for the shower and is on a separate line that runs through an electric water heater on the wall. It costs $15 a night and will be fine, though I always prefer a room with a view.

    After we arrived, we went to sleep for a while and I woke up around 8 PM, still not hungry. David was still sleeping and I confirmed that he did not want to go out to eat. I went out to confirm with Ponheary our plans for the next morning. We discussed the various temples and then she dropped the bomb; she was not going to be able to guide us but she wanted her brother to do it instead. She explained that she had to be at her job as a secondary school English teacher as they were expecting an inspection/visit in the coming days from an education minister and she will get into trouble if she's not there. While I understand her dilemma, I did tell her that I was upset that she had not told me since we had reserved the days with her months ago. I felt it was a bit of "bait and switch". To be fair, her brother was also a licensed guide who had been doing this longer than she has. He speaks decent English and we will go with him at least for the first day. We agreed to leave at 7 AM the next morning for the temples.

    I went to sleep around 9 PM and woke up at 2 AM unable to get back to sleep, so here I am writing. David, of course, is still sleeping.

....Back to Pre-Trip       On to the Temples...

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last updated on October 10, 2002