Thursday, August 11, 2011

Final Days in SE Asia/Thailand

I woke up early the next morning in Battambang, (my final morning in Cambodia), to get ready for the impending 8-hour bus ride to Bangkok, Thailand. I still had yet to schedule my flight to Chiang Mai from Bangkok, but decided to deal with that once in Bangkok, not really sure of what I wanted to do, or how much longer to stay in Thailand.

Packed all of my stuff up, went down to the lobby where I said my final goodbyes to Molly and Lucila, got some breakfast and take-away food at the restaurant across the street, and was running to the mini-van that was picking me up to take me to the bus. The mini-van dropped a bunch of us travelers off at a bus-pick-up office, and we waited for a fair while, trying to stay out of the heat, and buying fruit from local street-vendors while waiting.

Finally, we got picked up by our first bus. The details are all blurry now, but we may have driven for an hour or two before reaching the border. We were dropped off with all of our stuff, with no directions given about where to go, so I just followed the crowd of bus passengers that somehow seemed to know where to go. We walked for about 5 minutes from the bus to the Cambodian border crossing office, where we got our passports stamped out. Then we walked 5-10 minutes in the blaring sun and humidity (with all of our stuff on our backs, me with my huge heavy backpack with large Buddha statue for parents, plus a medium backpack, with my left arm quite painfully scraped and inflamed from the previous day's motorbike crash, very difficult to put backpack on and take off with this poor arm, my dominant arm no less!) to the Thai border crossing, where we waited in line for about 20 minutes to get stamped into the country.

When I got to the front of the line, the Thai officer told me that my passport wasn't stamped out by the Cambodian office (what??) so I would have to go back and get it stamped. I tried to explain that I had just been there, and that it must have been stamped, but, alas, it was not. I didn't realize just how tired I had become on this trip- having fun with the girls the past few days was so much fun, but now that I was on my own, I could feel my own exhaustion, not to mention feeling rather trashed by the motorbike crash, and now, I was hot, tired, and carrying tons of heavy luggage, and was supposed to 'go back' to the Cambodian office where I had already waited in line and walked from? Through a voice choking back tears, I said to the officer only this "But, I have so much stuff!"

He took pity on me, and told me I could keep my luggage behind his post, and go back to the Cambodian office. I ran as fast as I could, as, at this point, I didn't even know what time the NEXT connecting bus was picking us up, or, WHERE it was picking us up . .I would find out when I finally made it out of the Thailand office .. .

So, I ran in the heat, sweating my butt off, to the Cambodian office, got my stamp, ran back to the Thai office, waited in line for another 10 or 15 minutes, and though it was air-conditioned, now I was sweating due to anxiety and fear of missing my bus to Bangkok. Finally, I got through, got my stuff (painfully), and walked outside. I looked all around for my bus, but no sign of the company that was supposed to pick me up. I started asking around, and got pointed in a number of directions (incorrect ones) and wandered around a large parking lot also in the blaring sun, carrying all of my stuff, until finally I asked yet another person where I could find my bus, and this guy used his cell phone to call the company and ask where they were. They were less than a block away, and this kind Thai guy walked me to the bus, which, turned out to be a minivan in the end.

When I got on board, packed in butt-to-butt with about 15 other passengers, luggage loaded on our laps and all, I thought this was just a minivan to yet another bus, but, as it turns out, it was the final ride to Bangkok, so the next 3 hours were spent packed in and incredibly uncomfortable in this little mini-van, with one angry woman in the front of the van yelling at the minivan driver because a piece of luggage kept falling on her and she didn't have a whole seat as a result. She kept yelling at him "YOU sit here! I should sit up front! YOU sit here!" as I sat in the way back, holding back my urge to tell her to stop being so disrespectful. It was a long ride. :)

Finally, we made it to Bangkok around 4:30pm, and got dropped off somewhere in the city, not too far from my favorite and standby guesthouse The Shanti Lodge. I bargained with a few tuk-tuk drivers before I was able to find what I knew to be a (relatively) fair price. Had to walk away from one guy for the ridiculous price he was offering. These guys kept trying to tell me how far I was from my guesthouse, but I knew better. I'd been here before! :)

I got to Shanti Lodge, and dropped my stuff off. Showered, ate some good food, booked a massage at the hotel- the ladies there are great. At this point, I was still planning on going to Chiang Mai, Northern Thailand, either for a few days, or as much as 10 more days to take a Thai Massage Course. I was stressing out about it, however. I knew I was tired. I knew I was done. I knew I probably didn't have 10 more days in me, and in fact, I didn't know if I had even 3 more! But, this had been my plan since the very beginning of my trip- to go to Chiang Mai! To take a Thai Massage Course! To see my friend Manuel who I had met in Bangkok 4 months earlier at the beginning of the trip! And I had a strong feeling that I was going to resonate with N. Thailand more than the South- the South being so very touristy and partying oriented and all. I had a one-way flight to Chiang Mai from Bangkok that I had postponed a few weeks earlier .. .so I called the airline, and made it for the next night. I felt like it was too much as I was doing it, but the ticket was about to expire, so I felt like I should re-book it as soon as possible, as well as go there as soon as possible so I could come home as soon as possible, and get myself ready for my new job, and rest and regain energy. Either way, I would see how I felt in the morning. :)

The next morning, I woke up, and made a few Skype phone calls to the U.S., and through some excellent support from a couple of people close to me, I determined that I should just waste the Chiang Mai ticket, and fly home. It was not what I thought I wanted, but it was what I needed. I truly depleted my energy/adrenal reserves over the past month or two in particular, and it was time to go home. Chiang Mai would have to happen some other time in the future.

So, I booked a flight for 4 days later, giving myself 3 whole days to just relax in Bangkok (something that few people would think possible), and to contemplate the fact that I was returning home after 4 months in SE Asia. Transition time. Integration time. Rest time. Catching up on Blog time. Time to sleep, eat good food, and get as many cheap and amazing Thai massages as possible before returning home!

And, that is what I did. Bangkok is a loud, busy place, but, the Shanti Lodge is an oasis of peace, chillness, and relaxation. Over the next 3 days, I wrote blogs, ate food from the Shanti restaurant which is SUPER tasty, got one massage per day from the ladies there (an hour and a half each time) and on my final day/night, I got TWO massages! Holy self-indulgence! But, for $8 each, how could I resist?

I didn't tell many people that I was coming back- just my friends who I was moving in with (many of you know Marco, Jamie, and Cassidy), and a few people from Boulder who I had been in touch with regularly while gone. It felt like a big deal to be leaving, and I needed some space and quiet around the experience for myself- I would tell everyone else I was back once I got back.

I arranged a taxi for 3 or 4 in the morning to go to the airport for my early flight. Shared the cab with a talkative American who was also returning home. After going through the whole airport and grabbing food and going through security together, we parted ways, and the next 21 hours consisted of 3 flights back to the states- from Bangkok to Tokyo to Salt Lake City, to Denver. I only slept on the first flight to Tokyo- the rest of the time I was awake and watching movies- I watched at least 5 movies. I recommend 'Win Win' and 'Jane Eyre', and 'Somewhere.' :)

I was quite delirious when I arrived in Denver, but surprisingly cognizant. My teacher and mentor Miriam graciously drove to pick me up at the airport to make my arrival home smooth and easy. We chatted a bit on the ride home, but mostly I was just taking in the reality of being back in the states. She dropped me off at my new house, I thanked her, and we hugged goodbye and parted ways at the door. To my joy and surprise, there was Cassidy, brilliant and beautiful 14 year old daughter of Marco and Jamie. We hugged and giggled and talked, and hung out in my room for an hour or so, going through my stuff and showing her things and catching up.

During that time, I was emailing with my friend Bill Giebler who had so kindly kept my car in his driveway for 4 months, and he told me to come over, and have dinner, so, I did! Bill was there with his 13-year old Simon, and the two of them had just spent many weeks in India, so we all just shared stories of being out east, and while we had been in entirely different countries, we had a lot of commonalities and could not stop talking and sharing! After dinner, we rode our bikes off to a nearby ice cream and gelato shop, and got our fix. It was a super fun return.

When I got home around 9 or 10pm, Jamie came home, and it was a happy reunion. We caught up for an hour in my room, when Marco came home! Then we all hung out in my room that consisted of a futon mattress on the ground, and my piano, and luggage. It was a very happy and exciting welcome, and we caught up for at least another hour. We all remarked at how awake and alert and present I was, for all of the travel and lack of sleep, and how crazy it was. I was surprised as well. That night, however, I slept for 13 hours! It was glorious! Welcome home, Rachel! And from there, began my first weeks back in the states after 4 months in Thailand, Vietnam, Laos, and Cambodia.

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Chicks on Motorbikes!

Our second morning in Battambang, we had a similarly relaxed morning, of breakfasting, emailing, doing little odds and ends, until we were all aligned around 9 or 9:30 in the morning, ready to rent motorbikes from our hotel. The funny thing about this is since the day before, all of our front-desk hotel and tuk-tuk guys had been trying to talk us out of the motorbike rental, (as well as the bicycle rentals the day before) and to instead take a tuk-tuk with them. This made some sense to us in terms of the bicycle rentals since they were so cheap (they'd try and talk us out of it by telling us we were going to get lost, even though there were only two simple turns on the entire ride that we took to the bamboo train) but with the motorbikes, we didn't understand- it was going to be $5 each ($15 total) which is at most what a tuk-tuk was going to cost.

Anyway, we had to tell them firmly about 5 times each day that we were doing the motorbike thing no matter what, because we wanted to, because we liked it, and because it was more fun. They would tell us that we'd also have to pay for gas, but we said we didn't care. Nonethless, every morning, "Tony" the tuk-tuk driver would come out from seemingly nowhere when I would descend the stairs from my 3rd floor room, and try and talk me into a tuk tuk ride, and just how many sights he would take me to for a 'very good price'. Our words were useless in stopping this constant attempt to sell, but we managed to just keep a sense of humour about it and just laugh and tell them if we needed a tuk-tuk we would definitely let them know.

So, we got three motorbikes, much to the dismay and resistance of the hotel staff, but once we were on the bikes, they seemed interested and impressed at the daring of this stubborn girl-posse. Our first destination was Banan Sompea- a temple at the top of a mountain, as well as many temples along the way up, and also another Khmer Rouge location, where there were 'Killing Caves', where Khmer Rouge Soldiers rounded up anyone who they considered the enemy (doctors, teachers, anyone educated) and just push them off the edge of a cave to let them fall to their demise. Quite terrible stuff. But important to visit, and to learn about this history.

We rode a solid 20-30km to get to this destination, and met an Australian couple on a motorbike when pulling in. We wound up teaming up, as well as with a Cambodian who offered to be our guide. He was a nice guy, and gave us good advice for how to drive up the steep hills ahead, as well as giving us much information on all of the temples and sights that we had to see. It was quite beautiful up there, with many golden buddhas. In the cave where poor victims had been pushed to their death, there was a large golden reclining buddha, and a glass case of skulls, that had been collected by an elderly man who sat in this cave, offering blessings in the form of incense and string bracelets. He sits in there all day I believe, receiving all of the people that come to visit. He had such a calm stillness, and a profound depth and kindness in his eyes. I was quite touched to receive a blessing from him, and can only imagine the loss that he probably experienced from the time of the Khmer Rouge takeover, to have collected all those skulls and to sit in there all day, creating love and blessings out of hate and murder.

We climbed to many other temples, where some monks were walking around. At one point we sat and listened to one monk telling a story, which was quite nice, while all sitting around on benches. At another point, I found an older woman laying on the floor of one of the temples, and when I came in she sat up. There is some sort of fortune telling that goes on in many temples in Cambodia that I have witnessed. A person or people approach the man or woman in the temple, and they have a stack of cards that are connected by a metal ring around a hole punched in the end of each card. The visitor takes the stack of cards, puts it on top of their head, and takes a toothpick like object and sticks it randomly into the stack. The fortune teller then reads the card to the recipient, and the fortune is told.

Each of the cards seems to contain a story from the Buddha, so, while it is an excerpt from an old writing, each story has significance. The story she told me (which got translated by my guide for me) meant that if I 'go to work', then there will be someone to help me. This is just perfect, as I am about to start a job where I will be teaching 5th grade, and will have a mentor teacher there the whole time. Regardless of the message, I was excited to have finally participated in this ritual that I had been observing for some time now.

At the bottom of the hill, we said goodbye to the Australians, as well as our guide, and did a little shopping on this road of locals selling scarves scarves scarves galore, and we went a little scarf-crazy! It was fun, though, and we all got a bunch of gifts for friends and family. The girls each got a papaya salad, and I took photos of two little girls swinging happily in their hammocks and giving me the peace-symbol with their fingers for my photo snapping.

Eventually, it was time to be on our way. Where should we go next? Another temple, or this lake that the Australians had told us about? Let's go to the lake. The other girls were 'templed out' and it was a hot day- we were hoping we could swim. So, we rode on our motorbikes another 20km or so, maybe more, and arrived at the lake. It was a huge expanse, but was quite low in its level, and it didn't look like much swimming was available, at least not to the public. We decided to ride further around the lake to see what more there was (where we arrived to there were many food booths of Cambodians selling food and drinks, all staring at us, but in a friendly way). We continued on down the road for about 3 minutes, which was dusty, gravely, and had many potholes. I pulled over and said to Molly who was just behind me 'What do you want to do? I think we should turn back- the road is just going to go on like this.' She agreed. We passed on our sentiments to Lucila, and she agreed.

So, we turned back, and pulled over at the food stand area. We sat down at a table and ordered coconuts to drink and eat. Then, I noticed a plate of food that a woman was eating, and she noticed me eyeing it hungrily. She offered me a bite, and I liked it! Some sort of vegetable-fried-egg-something or other but whatever it was I liked it! So there was some gesturing to indicate that she could make me some, (or so I thought) so I nodded my head 'yes,' and nexdt thing you know I am being handed a plate of papaya salad. Hmm. I tried explaining the confusion, pointing to the vegetables on the woman's plate, and so they threw a couple of green beans and carrots onto my plate. Then I began saying the word 'egg' and they took a hard-boiled egg and chopped it into quarters and put THAT on my plate. This was a nice gesture and all, but, I was trying to explain that what they served me was totally different from what they had just given me a bite of. Oh well. I do not love papaya salad like the rest of the traveling world, and it has too much sweetness for my sugar-sensitive self, so, I gave it back, and it was all good.

When we were done with our coconuts, we walked to the edge of the lake which was actually from a high up cement wall, with a long row of steps descending down to the water's edge. There were a bunch of Cambodian girls watching a bunch of Cambodian boys running and jumping into the water, swimming and splashing. Some other boys and girls were in the water wading around, collecting ducks and putting them in plastic bags for later eating (I assumed at least). It was a fascinating scene, and the three of us girls stayed and took photos for a good half an hour.

It was really great, because we were all three always on the same page. We were good at stating our needs and desires, and saying when we were done with where we were. We were all emotionally sensitive women, but also tough, adventurous, and straight-forward in our communication. It was a great combination, and we all had spicy personalities to go with our sensitive natures and enjoyment of meaningful conversation.

So, we were getting tired, but decided to take the long way back to town in order to see different roads. I was at the back of this 3-person lineup, and at one point, I got quite far behind due to a truck in front of me. So, I spent a good 5-10 minutes trying to catch up to the other 2 ladies, and when I finally did, I didn't want to fall behind again. So, when they took a left turn rather fast onto a major road, and I thought 'Wow, that seems a bit fast for me to follow, I don't know if the traffic will be the same by the time I take the turn', I hesitated but then braked, and wound up skidding on some sandy gravely road, and fell onto my left side with the bike onto the ground.

I immediately jumped up, and checked my body to make sure it was all still there, and the engine was still running on the bike when I looked down at it. And then it stopped. My left arm was badly scraped with some serious road rash, and my left knee hurt a little bit, but luckily I was wearing long and rather thick pants so my leg was fine. I picked up my bike as calmly and steadily as I could, as the other two girls came back to see if I was okay. We pulled over to the side of the road, and I took a few breaths and decided what my condition was. It was okay, but I decided we should cross the road and get a drink of water and sit for a few minutes to let my system calm down a bit, and to use the toilet as well.

An older Cambodian lady was there with her daughters, and they had seen the accident, and were offering me a seat, and also showed us to their toilet (another sheltered squatting hole, as per usual in these parts). She sold me a water, and kept offering to bandage my arm, but it had so much black and dirt and tiny gravel in it, that I just wanted to let it be for now, and give it a real good washing when we got back.

We thanked the lady, and got back on our bikes to head back to the hotel, when I realized that the left foot-rest was jammed out of place, and was now angled upwards making it difficult for me to shift. So, after riding about 3 feet, I told the girls we needed to fix this, and rode 2 houses down to the mechanic. The guys smiled when we approached, and the only one who could speak a tiny bit of English said they had seen my fall (apparently everyone within 300 feet had seen!) and basically he got a large metal tube, fitted it around the foot rest, and stepped hard onto it like a crank, and, voila! It was fixed. He wasn't expecting money, but I offered him some and he accepted it. Now, we were really on our way, but this time, I was extra careful, and took my time no matter what the girls were doing ahead of me.

We all took an hour out to shower, and I took care of my painful stinging left arm, which took some serious time and care. We had dinner across the street again at our now-favorite restaurant, and had another great 3-hour night of conversation of it. And again, our friends the Cambodian local guys joined us for a bit, chatting, and also taught us how to count in Khmer, amongst some other phrases.

None of us wanted to go to bed, because we were all 3 leaving early the next morning for 3 different places, but, we were tired once again, and hugged just in case we didn't see each other in the morning. I could have traveled with these ladies for a year, and we were all sad that our amazing time together was so quickly coming to an end. But we recognized just how lucky we were to have found each other, and looked forward to hearing about each other's future adventures. It was a great day, even with motorbike accident included, and a great 3 days we had spent together (including the day of the boat ride!)

I was off to Bangkok by bus the next morning at 7:30am, and had an 8-hour ride in store! The plan was to go to Chiang Mai after that before going back to the US sometime by/before the 25th-28th, for an unknown amount of time (a few days? two weeks? should I do a massage course afterall? or just go for a few days since I am feeling so tired?) I decided to just wait until I got to Bangkok to see how I felt, and decide then. In the meantime, it was time for sleep, and I slept awkwardly with my arm at a weird angle to protect it, but slept deep and well.

Babes, Bicycles, and Bamboo Trains

Our first morning in Battambang- relaxed, breakfast, taking our time. It really helps me to have companions while traveling, so I don't feel all the responsibility for myself to decide the what where and when and for how long, and in what order. So, Lucila (Argentinian) and Molly (Puerto-Rican-American) were GREAT, and we were all on the same page. We could be found in different locations that morning between 7-10am, sometimes doing our own thing, and sometimes at the same breakfast table.

When we were all done eating, we tried to rent 3 bicycles from our hotel. After test driving a few, we decided to get our bicycles elsewhere. Even for SE Asia standards, these bikes were crap! Only one brake on one, and the chain was fallen off, another had wonky steering, and the 3rd had a bell that didn't work (this is not something I would entirely reject a bicycle on, but, it was all adding up for us as a whole).

So we went nextdoor to TWO different bicycle rental places, and test drove almost every single bicycle in the crowd of ten or fifteen bikes. We found two bikes from one place, and one from the other, for $1 for the day, and we were set. We got directions to the 'Bamboo Train', the one tourist site I knew about and basically came here for, and we were off. It was only about 4 or 5 kilometers away, and we had fun navigating our way through the streets and roads of Battambang. When we weren't sure where we were, we'd just ask for 'Nori' the word for 'Bamboo Train' and we would get pointed in the right direction.

After about 20 or 30 minutes, we were there. We were greeted by some sort of security guard/overseer, and he told us the deal. $5 each for a ride on the train, half an hour out, and half an hour back, with a 10-15 minute stop at our arrival place. It was very official how he described it, but it was quite amusing because we were basically just downhill off the side of a dirt road, with one little shop-stand selling water and snacks, and the two railway tracks.

The train-compartments themselves were as simple as could be- literally just a single wooden platform built by hand, that was then placed on two barbell-like structures that would roll along the track. We were excited for our ride, but first we sat down and drank and ate the meat of one coconut each, and made small-talk with the locals selling it to us. The overseer was becoming impatient and asked us 'Okay, are you ready?' so we finished our coconuts and got on board.

They placed a large straw mat normally meant for picknicking on, I believe, on the wooden boards of the platform. We sat in a triangle facing forward with our legs crossed, and they told us to hold on to our stuff. Our young driver started the engine, and we were off! The train went quite fast, actually, much faster than we expected, and it was exhilerating! There we were in the blazing hot sun, with the high wailing sound of the train track beneath our wooden platform, and we could feel every bump whenever the wheels ran over an interruption in the train track. It was fast, hard, furious, bumpy, and GREAT! We were all laughing and smiling, hair blowing in the wind, big smiles plastered on our faces.

The most fun thing about this ride is that there are many bamboo platform trains running all day long, and only one train track, so, when a platform is coming from the other direction, basically both trains have to stop, and the train with the fewest people on it have to get off, while the two train drivers work together to dismantle the 'submissive' train platform, taking the platform off, and then the two heavy barbell-like wheel thingies. So, it was entertaining to watch, and then the two conductors would put the other train back together on the other side. This happened about 2 or 3 times on our ride one way, which is probably why it took a total of 30 minutes instead of say 20 or 25. . . anyway, it was thorougly entertaining, and so OLD SCHOOL!!!

Our destination was a couple of stands offering cold drinks and snacks. There was also a small brick factory! We turned down the offer for cold drinks, but then an 8-year old little girl offered us a tour of the brick factory. I was expecting some huge operation, but it turned out to be a relatively small operation underneath a house, sort-of underground. She took us underneath to this outdoor basement, and her 4-year old little friend (a boy) followed along. She explained in impressive English (for such a young girl!) how the brick factory worked, and showed us the completed bricks, the room where bricks were made, the machine where the material for bricks is churned up, and more. All the while, the 3 of us ladies were snapping photographs of these two kids left and right, and having such a fabulous time. The little boy was ominously silent but had eyes that spoke volumes, and he was walking around barefoot with nothing on but a tiny pair of yellow underpants- he was SO cute. At one point he took my hand, and that was how I was guided around. I felt so honored at his affection!

At one point, the wind started to blow, and all of the dust and dirt from the factory began blowing hard into our faces and eyes, and we all had to turn away. Needless to say, from all the heat of the day and our sweatyness as a result, we were gritty and covered in dirt for the rest of the day. It made us feel happy, though, like we had really 'gotten into it.'

When we returned to the shop area, we accepted the lady's offer for a cold drink, and wound up sitting down and chatting. Her name was 'Wow' appropriately enough, because, this lady was so great! We wound up talking quite a lot, and the 3 of us travelers wound up playing with all of her sons and daughters that kept showing up one by one, mostly naked and playing and being goofy. We all began trading bracelets, and I was giving the kids candy that I bought from the mom. I drew a picture of a kitty cat for that first little boy, and he loved it. I wound up talking to Wow for a while towards the end, and we were hugging many times when it was time to go. She was so warm and beautiful, and we all blew kisses to each other after hugging some more, and as the train pulled away (at this point we had been there for a good hour, much to the dismay of our train driver, who, would probably never have asked us to get a move on). Wow waved and waved and waved, and we all waved and smiled and laughed. As we made it the rest of the way on our full sensory experience of the train ride back, we were all silent with large smiles on our faces, and I could feel that each of us was alive with the wonderful connections that we had just made, and felt no need whatsoever to talk.

When we came back to the 'station', we said our goodbyes to everyone there, and wished each other well. Just super nice people, and one tuk-tuk driver who said he'd take us around the next day, with vouchers from all of his friends that were there. We thanked him, but told him we'd be on motorbikes the next day, but if we needed a tuk-tuk, he'd be the one we'd call. They said they liked us a lot, and that 'Americans are always so friendly'. I must say, this is the first time I have heard such positive feedback along the way on my travels! It was nice to hear something positive for once!

So, we rode back into town, and decided we needed some food. After grubbing it up, we decided to go to the local market, and wandered the endless aisles for a good hour. It was fun. From there, we found a good 'ol restaurant across the street from our hotel at the 'Coconut Cafe', as, we had quite a full and sun-absorbing day, and didn't feel much like walking around the town. It was great, because we just sat and talked for hours, and some of the local Cambodian guys hanging out there helping their friends who worked at the restaurant wound up joining us to chat and wanted to practice their english. Even after they left (and it was lots of fun talking with them) the 3 of us girls stayed and talked until we could no longer keep our eyes open. We were tired again! So, we said goodnight, and decided on another start time for the next day, when, we would explore by motorbike! Girl motorbike posse! Yeah!

We went nextdoor

The Boat Ride to Battambang

The next morning, I woke up at 4:40am, to get ready for my 5am pick-up by Mr. Mab. I was paying him $5 to take me to a hot air balloon that takes tourists for a 15 minute ride over Angkor Wat for sunrise, and to then take me back to my hotel in time for my 6:30am pickup from a minivan that was to take me to my boat ride to Battambang, the final province that I would be visiting in Cambodia.

At 4:55am, there was a call up to my room that Mr. Mab was waiting, and I made my tired way downstairs. We drove back towards Angkor Wat, got to the balloon place, and they said 'No Ballon Today.' Wahhhhhhhhhhhhhh!!!! This is what they had told me the evening before when I tried to come for afternoon/sunset, and they said 'come back tomorrow morning at 5:25am, we will definitely be going out.' Oh well. Apparently, there is no 'definitely' in these parts, and I decided I had to make SOMETHING out of my ridiculously early wake up time. So, Mr. Mab drove me back to my hotel area, and let me off at the morning market, where I proceeded to spend a half an hour taking some stellar shots of the daily morning market set-up time. It was cool to experience, and I was glad for this little visit to the market before leaving Siem Reap for good.

Went back to my hotel, got my stuff, and got picked up. Took a 20-30 minute mini-van ride to the dock, and about 30 or so people loaded on to a small boat. At first we were all crammed butt-to-butt along the two built-in benches along the two long sides of the boat, but before we even got moving, I suddenly realized that there was a rooftop (intended for luggage, but still, a rooftop) and this is where I spent the next eight hours of this long but beautiful boatride.

This boat ride, by the way, is predicted to range between 3-8 hours, which, is quite the range, don't you think?! So, I've learned along the way in my travels to expect the longest projected time, and just be happy when it is less. That said, it was a (mostly) very enjoyable boatride, despite its length being at the maximum high end of the range, (8 and a HALF hours!) and I highly recommend it to anyone traveling from Siem Reap to Battambang. In fact, I would go so far as to suggest to go to Battambang from Siem Reap JUST to experience the boat ride! Because, this boat ride spent the first two hours at the very least cruising through long floating villages, where people's homes and shops and EVERYTHING were floating, and almost no part of their lives existed on land. The homes and boats and shops were beautiful, and colorful, and all of us on the boat were waving and smiling and calling out 'Sos-a-dai!' (hello) in Khmer and taking tons and tons of photos. It was really cool. And the river was beautiful, the sky was beautiful- it was just great. I am also glad that not so many people know about it, and that our boat was a mixture of travelers as well as locals, which made it so much more interesting.

We made a pit stop at one point just for the boat to drop off some cargo, when one of the tourists noticed that there were coconuts for sale (to drink). She started a contagious exodus of coconut-buying, and what was meant to be a 30-second stop became a 5 minute stop where we all got coconuts. A bit later, we had a planned stop at a floating shop/restaurant, and some of us got the rice with some vegetables and a little bit of chicken and pineapple- tasty! When we got back on the boat, a bunch of us starting talking, and I wound up meeting two women who were to become my companions for that night and also the next two days in Battambang! Molly is Puerto-Rican-American, and Lucila is Argentinian. We were all quite different in our personalities (and quite strong at that!), but it was a great dynamic that turned into great fun, conversation, and laughter, quite quickly and easily.

For the duration of the boatride itself, sometimes we were chatting, and at one point Molly and I wound up sharing an umbrella that a Dutch guy lent us, just because we were getting FRIED by the sun on the boat rooftop, and no amount of sunscreen was going to protect us anymore, and we also didn't want to go down below. So, we had a really good and deep conversation together while huddled tightly together under one small umbrella.

At one point, the umbrella was left unused, and after a bit, I felt quite tired, so I curled up in the fetal position on the rooftop, and took a nap under the umbrella. As I have mentioned in other blogs, I have become quite skilled throughout my travels in sleeping in the oddest and most uncomfortable places. When I woke up 30-45 minutes later in a daze, I offered the umbrella back to Molly, and she took it gratefully. Now it had been a good 7 hours that we had been traveling, and finally, we were all beginning to tire.

We arrived around 4:30 or 5pm, and got picked up by a tuk-tuk driver from the hotel we wanted to go to. There was a mob of tuk-tuk drivers at the dock stairway, (as is always the scene whenever disembarking from a boat, bus, or train in SE Asia) so, I was happy that I already knew where I was going, not to mention the driver carried my bag (which inside of it the HUGE and HEAVY Buddha for my parents was!) Between the three of us very particular girls each wanting her own room with our own special requirements, we had an incredibly patient hotel-guy showing us room after room until we had each finally found what we wanted. We planned to meet for dinner in an hour and a half, to take a load off for a bit, take showers, and then get some food and check the town out.

We went to the 'White Rose' restaurant, and had some excellent Khmer Food, Fruit Shakes, and conversation. We talked for about 3 hours until finally we tired, and went back to our hotel, and made a plan to meet around 9 or 10 the next morning for the famed 'Bamboo Train' ride, and other explorations by bicycle. Hooray! So far, Battambang was GREAT!

Last Day in Siem Reap and Bantey Srei

When I went to bed the night before, and when I woke up in the morning on my fourth day in Siem Reap (July 5th), I was feeling quite tired once again. I decided I would do my best to apply the lessons I had been learning on this trip, and to TAKE IT EASY, and not MAKE myself sight-see. All I really felt like was maybe a massage, and then perhaps some light bike riding around, and some light souveneir shopping around town or something. But, one step at a time- I ordered breakfast to my room, did a little bit of stretching while waiting, and then walked down the alley to this great little massage place I had been going to.

After my massage, I was thinking of sticking with my original plan of renting a bicycle and wandering slowly and aimlessly around town, but then I got an email from my mother. She has been reading the same books as I have while on this trip, at my suggestion, all memoirs/autobiographies about Khmer Rouge stuff, as well as Vietnamese biographies as well. This particular book at this moment in time was 'Lucky Child', by Loung Ung, the sequel to 'First They Killed My Father', one we both read before this. Somewhere in this second book, Bantey Srei was mentioned- a Hindu temple dedicated to Shiva, with tons of carving in pinkish-stone of women and lotus flowers, and is apparently, quite unusual for the time that it was built and carved.

My mom wrote to me saying 'Have you gotten to the part in the book where they go to Bantey Srei? You MUST go!' And, for some reason, it hit me at the perfectly right time. I knew it was about 45 minutes away by tuk-tuk, and that I could just go to this one temple, and have an easy afternoon of it but see one more sight. And it is a temple that honors women, and I felt like since the recommendation came from the first woman in my life, I should connect all of the dots by visiting this temple, and honor women everywhere!

So, I called Mr. Mab, and said 'Let's go to Bantey Srei!' and began the bargaining duel as always. He named a high price but said he would take me to many more places, but I just wanted to go to this one. We found a happy medium, and off we went. It was relaxing to just sit back in the tuk-tuk for 45 minutes, watching the sights go by, with less pressure to see see see every temple. This was much more my speed, for how I have been feeling lately.

We got to Bantey Srei, and I went exploring it for a good half an hour or so. It was quite beautiful, and there are a number of photos already posted on facebook right now. It was indeed feminine and intricate and special, and also quite small, so not much climbing, only admiring. :) I walked around to the back of the temple, and found yet another war-victim amputee band, and they were half-playing. I asked them to play, and they offered me their cd. I asked them to play first, and, it was awesome! So I bought two cds, knowing I will love to have it myself, and that it will also make a great gift for some friends.

The guys kept playing, and smiling at me, and I would applaud after each short theme, and they would all applaud with me- it was quite cute, actually. :) I was really loving their music. Then, as I was filming them and snapping photos, one guy got up from his instrument and offered to take a photo of me with the band. I thought I would just stand next to them and smile, but no- they were telling me to PLAY his instrument! At first I tried to refuse, as I felt kind of like it was a tourist set-up where I would 'pretend' to play and get this 'great photo' out of it, but they insisted, and then I remembered that I am a musician, and just played a few notes, and listened to the tuning, and was able to play some little ditty of a melody over their playing- it was so fun, and I felt so happy! I was proud of myself, and I think they were all surprised and impressed as well!

I took a little nature walk around a nearby lake and farm fields, and returned to Mr Mab at the tuk-tuk. I asked him if we could stop at the Butterfly Garden/Pavilion that was halfway home, and he said sure thing. So we went. Before we got moving, though, I decided an attempt to make real a fantasy I had been having while exploring Bantey Srei- laying in the hammock in the tuk-tuk WHILE driving to the Butterfly garden. Mr. Mab was amused by my request, but indulged me and set it up. We both laughed at my idea, and I was happy as a clam.

For the first 20 minutes of the ride, I was swinging lazily, and decided that I had finally figured out how to chill out more than any being on the planet, and was so incredibly proud of myself for being probably the only tourist with this idea, and the nerve to actually make it happen. Cambodians along the road smiled at me, and I smiled back. Then the fantasy came to an end- we got pulled over by none other than the. . . TOURIST POLICE!!! Oh my goodness! I didn't know that there really WAS such a thing as Tourist Police! We pulled over into what just happened to be the Butterfly Pavilion parking lot, as the Tourist Police officer used a stern tone with Mr. Mab, and I made my way out of the hammock as quickly as I could, almost certain that this was the reason for our being pulled over. Mr. Mab used a pleading tone, gesturing to me, and then the officer turned to me and said in stilted English "I am sorry, Madame, but you can not lay in the hammock while he is driving." And I said "Okay, no problem! I'm sorry!" and off he went, and that was it. When the officer left, Mr. Mab and I exchanged a conspirational glance and smiled, like two kids that just got in trouble with their parents. He told me 'I told him that you were feeling very tired, not feeling well, and that was why you were laying down.' And, it all worked out. (But a warning to all- Beware of the Tourist Police!! :) ) So, we laughed a bit and shook our heads, and I headed into the Butterfly Garden.

I spent a good 30-45 minutes there. It was beautiful! A large fenced in garden with tons of butterflies flitting around, and a special room full of cocoons and eggs at different stages, and employees helping them along in their growth, and cultivating hundreds and hundreds of future butterflies. It was a really nice stop, and I enjoyed talking to my young guide not just about the butterflies, but about his life, as well. That is what I discovered about Cambodia, and all of SE Asia so far, as well- no matter what the purpose of your journey is along the way, the best part is just connecting with the people along the way, whether they are other travelers, the tuk-tuk driver, the guide, or people working at the guesthouse. Anyone! THAT has been the favorite part of my experience.

So, that night, I had dinner in my room again, did a litte bit of souvenir hunting in the town, and tried to get to bed decently early, because not only was I leaving on a boat early the next morning to Battambang, my final stop in Cambodia, but I had decided to ALSO give in an schedule a 4:30am wakeup time to try and take a hot air balloon over Angkor Wat for sunrise! I figured I'd be getting up obscenely early for the boat ride anyway, so, what's another hour/hour and a half for an unforgettable hot air balloon ride over Angkor Wat??

The Temples of Angkor

On my 3rd day in Siem Reap, (July 4th!) I finally ended the suspense and hired a tuk-tuk driver to go and see the well-famed and visited Angkor Wat, and the many temples of Angkor.

Many travelers get super motivated and wake up at 4 or 5 in the morning to begin their temple-viewing while watching the sunrise, but, this was not in the cards for me- getting a good night's sleep was the only way I was going to enjoy the massive day ahead! I decided on sunset instead of sunrise as my reward at the end of a long day of climbing and exploring. So, Mr. Mab arrived at 8am, and we got on the road in his tuk-tuk. About 10 or 15 minutes later, we arrived at the ticket booth area, where tuk-tuks and people were lined up to buy tickets. I believe it is like this for hours each morning, and this is just the slow season! It is $20 to get in for one day, or $40 if you decide to do 3 days (so, if you think you might do two days, you might as well buy the 3-day pass just in case). That said, I just bought the one day pass. :)

We rode alongside a long lake, and eventually, I could see a huge structure in the distance which was Angkor Wat. It was impressive and beautiful. That said, it is difficult to write about looking at temples, as you just have to go there and see them yourself, or, look at photos (which, I will post when I get home, I promise!) And since we went to so many places that day, I will just tell you what 'The Small Circuit' is, to summarize the activities of that day.

The 17km Small Circuit begins at Angkor Wat, and heads north to Phnom Bakheng, Baksei Chamkrong, and Angkor Thom, including the city wall and gates, the Bayon, the Baphuon, the Royal Enclosure, Phimeanakas, Preah Palilay, the Terrace of the Leper King, the Terrace of the Elephants, the Kleangs and Prast Suor Prat. It exits from Angkor Thom via the Victory Gate in the eastern wall, and continues to Chau Say Tevoda, Thommanon, Spean Thmor, and Ta Keo. It then heads northeast of the road to Ta Nei, turns south to Ta Prohn, continues east to Banteay Kdei and Sra Srang, and finally returns to Angkor Wat via Prasat Kravan.

Now, that is a lot of information there, right? Does it have any meaning to you to just read these words? Probably not, but, at least it can convey JUST HOW MUCH there is to see, and that is just the 'Small Circuit.' To be honest, I am not even sure if I SAW all of that stuff, because to me it is a big blur of Wats, Wats, Wats, and aside from Angkor Wat which was the first (and most famous) one that I saw, I can't remember which was which, and some of the names mentioned are WITHIN other mentioned names/areas.

What I CAN tell you is that there are just endless walls and walls and ceilings and statues of intricate and beautiful carvings. People could spend days, weeks, months exporing every inch of these buildings if they wanted to, and would just be scratching the surface. It is not necessarily the SIZE of these Wats that would lead to so much time spent, but instead just the DETAIL and the BEAUTY of the millions of hand-made carvings, as well as the construction of the Wats themselves. There are some that are more like 'ruins', with huge 'stone-blocks' fallen in piles, and some are perfectly in tact. There are many Buddha statues with missing heads, and I do believe that this is a result of the Khmer Rouge take over from 1975-1979, when they banned all religion, and destroyed endless religious statues, symbols, and temples. I am not absolutely certain about this, though.

Anyhow, there are people coming and going all day from sunrise until sunset every day. And at every temple to which we would arrive, there would be young Cambodian girls, boys, women, and men, all trying to sell trinkets or 'cold water, madam? cold drink?' and 'you buy something? you buy something from ME?' and it was a bombardment all day long until getting inside the temple gate walls. If I turned down the offer of water and said that I already have some, they would ask me my name and say 'okay, maybe after, I'll remember you.' And, low and behold, when I came out an hour or two later from exploring, I would hear someone calling my name 'Rachel! Rachel! Cold drink?' Amazing.

At one point, two teenage girls kept pleading and pleading me with sad eyes to buy their bracelets, or straw-woven crickets, and more, to which I responded 'no' everytime, but they kept offering still, as I sat in the tuk-tuk about to pull away. I looked them in the eyes, and suddenly I began smiling, and they began smiling, and then we all began laughing. My tuk-tuk driver started to pull away and we all smiled and waved, still laughing, and they thanked me ''Ah-kuhn" and gave me the Sampeah gesture, which some yoginis in America might refer to as 'Anjali-mudra' or the 'prayer position' of the hands. I like this little moment, because I feel like for just a second, we were able to break the buyer-seller-tourist cycle, and just be girls/people together.

By the time 2 o clock came around, I hit a wall (not literally). All of a sudden I felt really tired and even physically shaky. This is something I relate not to being out of shape, but to some mild hypoglycemia that is a regular fact of life for me, which, ordinarily only relates to the frequency and content of my food intake, (and also sleep) but it also can arrive if I do too much physical activity, regardless of how much food I have eaten. At a certain point, I just have to shut down, or I will meltdown! Due to this fact, in the past two years, I have been changing my exercise habits to higher frequency but shorter distances, and it has helped me to keep much better balanced energy. The Angkor Wat day was not an example of this short but sweet type of exercise, but when traveling, sometimes ya gotta do whatcha gotta do to see one of the eight wonders of the world!

So, I asked Mr. Mab if I could maybe go rest at the hotel for a bit and resume our exploring again, around 4 maybe? (I only asked this because days before, when he was trying to sell me his tuk-tuk services, and talked about a 5am wake-up, and my eyes widened with fear, he said 'no problem, you can come back to the hotel and rest in the afternoon, and come back- no problem!' But now, as I took him up on the offer, he said 'no, no, you will not have time, it is too far.' So, I don't know what the story is with that, (I think he didn't want to use the gas) but we found a compromise, because I was not enjoying myself anymore, and was over-tired after climbing and exploring for 5 hours straight, and now it was the peak heat of the day.

So, he set up his hammock for me in his tuk-tuk pulled over to the side of the road, and I lay down and took a nap- just like a real Cambodian tuk-tuk driver! :) It was quite nice, and about 45 minutes later, I woke up feeling a bit dazed, but much happier, and turned around to look for Mr. Mab, and saw him sleeping IN A TREE! I had taken his usual resting place, so he found another one. I can not believe the places and positions that I have seen moto and tuk-tuk drivers sleeping! Even with his eyes closed, he sensed me watching him and opened his eyes, and I started laughing at him, and he laughed as well. He came back to the tuk-tuk and said 'Ready?' And I said 'Yes, but let's go get some food, and THEN more temples!'

I got a bite to eat, and went to a few more temples. I was feeling much better now- the sleep and food were immensely helpful, and I was feeling cheerful again, not to mention it was getting on towards 5pm and it wasn't quite so hot anymore. At one of these temples, there was a musical band of war victims, many that were amputees, that are also musicians, and they play music to raise money for amputees and war victims all over Cambodia. Not only is this a great cause, but the traditional Khmer music that they play is AWESOME- I love it! I watched them for a while, and took some photos and some short videos that I will be posting soon enough. One guy was playing a malleted wooden xylophone-like instrument, one mallet with his left hand, and one mallet with a stump from his elbow! So inspiring and amazing.

Sunset was quickly approaching, and Mr. Mab was dead set on getting me 'there' on time. He kept me on a schedule "30 minutes then come back" and such, which was quite nice since I didn't know any better. At 5:30, we arrived at Phnom Bakheng, which is a hilltop temple, where there is a large exodus of tourists that all come at this same time, to take a long walk up a hill and to the top of the temple. This felt quite exciting and fun, being part of such a mass exodus up a path through a forested hill. At the top was the temple, with people climbing up massive and steep stairs, Monks climbing down, tourists climbing up, old Cambodian ladies with shaved heads climbing down- it was quite the scene!

I found a relatively quiet seat at the top, and, knowing there was at least half an hour to go until sunset, I made myself comfortable and wrote in my journal. A few minutes later, a gentle-looking older man sat near me, and I felt that he seemed approachable to ask if he knew WHERE exactly we were (like I said, this whole day was just a blur of temples and names that I couldn't remember). He didn't really know, but we were both pretty sure it was Phnom Bakheng (and it was). We got into talking- he was Italian, and his name was Fabrizio, and traveling alone as well- and we just chatted away until the sun started setting, when we joined the crowds to snap photo after photo of what we had all been waiting for, and climbing big hills for- the sunset.

On our way down, Fabrizio suggested that we have dinner together, 'Only if you want-ah, you know? I just think it-ah would-ah be-ah nice-ah! Whatever you want-ah!' he said in his strong Italian accent. I said absolutely I would love to, but that it needed to be something like 8pm, as it was already 6:30pm, and I had throughout the course of this day purchased some pricey items at various wats, (possibly pricier than they should have been, in fact!) and had a deal with the sellers that they would come to my hotel at 7:30pm to collect money from me, as I didn't bring very much with me to the temples, not realizing it would be the place that I would finally find a large Buddha statue for my parents which I had been promising them since my trip began, as well a some beautiful Temple-etchings for other friends and family.

So, I arrived back at my hotel for my rendezvous with the two sellers just in time, took a quick shower, and sent Fabrizio a text message from Skype to come meet me. He came to my hotel, and we went to dinner at the Angkor Palm where I had taken my cooking class the day before. It was just a very pleasant dinner, and it was Fabrizio's first time having Khmer food, so I insisted that we order the 'banquet for two' which included 7 different traditional Khmer dishes, a few of which were what I had learned to cook the day before. It was all just as good as what I had made! Hooray! It was good companionship too, being with Fabrizio, and pretty simple conversations, as his English was rather limited. He was just a good person to share space with, and enjoy some good food. I asked him about his favorite Italian foods, and that was fun to hear about. Like most Italians, he said he eats almost nothing BUT Italian food!

So, another great day in Siem Reap. What would the next day have in store? I wasn't sure, and decided to just figure out how I felt when I woke up. Either way, it was going to be my last day in Siem Reap.

Monday, July 11, 2011

Riding Horseback Around Siem Reap

From July 3rd, 2011, Siem Reap, Cambodia

After my excellent morning cooking class at the Angkor Palm Restaurant, I was getting ready to rent a bicycle to the 'Happy Ranch', a bit outside the city and in the countryside. As much as I was excited for a little bit of exercise and do-it-yourself exploring, I let my hotel reception-desk guy and the hotel tuk-tuk driver talk me into getting a ride there, just because it would be easy to get lost. So, I compromised- I agreed to a ride, but asked that we go by motorbike instead of tuk-tuk because it is cheaper, and also more fun to be riding on the back of a bike with the wind whipping through my hair, the sun on my face, and it just feels more real and fun.

So, "Mr. Mab" the tuk-tuk driver wound up unhitching his tuk-tuk trailer from his motorbike, and indicated that I should get on. Doh! What I didn't realize was that this meant that there was still the metal hitch attachment on the middle of the bike seat, so sitting regularly meant that my inner thighs were jammed against this hard metal frame, and every time we went over a bump (which was every 3 seconds on this bumpy hole-y rode, I got banged. I eventually had to angle my knees way out to the side which was definitely upsetting my ability to stay balanced and on the bike, but, about 10 or so minutes later, we made it there. Luckily, the owner of the Happy Ranch, "Sarry Pann" had told me on the phone that he would personally drive me back to my hotel after the ride, free of charge, so I was glad not to have this same ride to look forward to on my return back to town later on. :)

When I arrived at the ranch, many Cambodian ranch-workers smiled at me as I walked in, and I was introduced to Chey, my guide, and "Mexico", my horse! I have ridden a number of times in my life, but all randomly and sporadically and at times far apart from each other. So, I'm not a total beginner, but not really very experienced or confident. That said, I have enough familiarity to feel comfortable.

Riding horses is a good exercise for me, because, one must be very confident, firm, and clear for the horse to relax and take direction from its rider. At first, Mexico and I were having communication problems due to my lack of assertiveness, and would turn the wrong way, or just stop walking altogether, but within the first half an hour or so, we got on the same page, and I found my assertiveness that I reminded myself was already there, especially after almost 4 months of travel in SE Asia.

So, Chey and I rode our horses down country road paths, waving to farmers and locals, checking out the green and gorgeous scenery of fields and rice growing, with blue and cloudy skies. After about half an hour, it started to rain, so, Chey pulled us over to seek respite and cover under a local woman's front porch, and we waited the rain out for a good 45 minutes under her porch cover. The woman had a small daughter of about 5 or 6 years old with her who was very cute and a bit shy, but definitely interested in watching us and the horses. Mostly, we all just sat watching the rain together, and laughing when one of the horses would try and eat Chey's hat or nibble at us. After a little while, some neighborhood girls came over to be where 'the action' was, and just sat together with us, and I started taking pictures of everyone, much to their delight as well as embarassment (quite common in these parts). Eventually, when the rain slowed down to just a trickle, Chey and I agreed it was time to continue on.

We rode for another little while, and every now and then Chey would say 'Trot?' and I'd say 'Yeah!!!' and we'd start trotting our horses- it was SO much fun! I have done this before, but it has been a long time, and now it was just me and one other rider, out in huge open fields and road, so I really felt like we were free and unrestricted. These were some of my favorite moments on the ride.

One of the planned stops was at a temple/monastary area, and I wound up receiving a little tour from one of Chey's friends who lives there. He took me around and explained about the Khmer Rouge, the origins of the temple, and took me through where there was an actual Monk performing some sort of ritual, which I took a number of photos of. The shrine in this temple was particularly beautiful, almost more so than any other that I've seen so far- so very colorful! -and I was enchanted by the whole experience.

After about a half an hour, it was time to meet up with Chey again. Off we rode, as it was getting close to sunset time, and due to our wait in the rain, we had delayed the timing of our trip by almost an hour (so my entire experience took place over 4 hours instead of 3, which, is fine by me!) Because of the rain, the sky was white and grey, but this just made all of the colors of the fields even more bright and vivid and green- so beautiful! I told Chey that I was happy that it had rained. Also, twice during this final half an hour, a very heavy Cambodian man with thick black glasses rode by slowly on a motorbike and said 'Rachel?' to me, and I was like 'Um....yes?' not knowing how the heck this guy could know my name- but, it was Sarry Pan- the owner of the ranch, who I had not met yet, but had talked to on the phone. He was just checking on our timing, and asked me if I was enjoying myself. I enjoyed his multiple buzz-throughs and greetings, he was a quirky and cheerful guy, and definitely proud of his ranch and the wonderful service that they provide at Happy Ranch. I liked him right away when we spoke on the phone, and I liked meeting him in person even more. "Better get a move on- it's almost time for sunset!" he said, before buzzing away with a smile.

The sun started setting, and I was getting tired after so many hours on the horse, but I was enjoying myself so very much. Here and there we'd trot again, and our horses would slosh through deep puddles and some small streams, and weave our way on small paths under trees, and then onto wide main roads. We finally made it back to the ranch JUST as it was becoming dark, perfect timing. I said goodbye to Mexico, and Chey took me back to my hotel on the ranch motorbike. I thanked him very much, and went back to my hotel, tired and happy from a very full and wonderful day.

That evening I was devoted to relaxing and dining in my room, with the breeze blowing in from the balcony window, reading, and watching my favorite cartoon (since I've come to SE Asia) "The Marvelous Misadventures of Flapjack" on the Cartoon Network- check it out! Soooo weird and soooo good. :) The next day, I had full-on plans for "THE" Angkor Wat, and, the 'Short Tour Circuit'. Stay tuned. :)