New Years Eve in Bangkok, Holiday in Cambodia (Angkor Wat)
01.30.2015 - 02.06.2015 90 °F
We decided that Bangkok would be an excellent place to spend New Years Eve. We spent the day cruising around Bangkok’s extravagant shopping mall. It was quite a change from the island beaches of Thailand. The highlight of the day was going to the “knockoff” section of the mall where cheap shoes, T-shirts and ‘BS’ jeans could be purchased for cents on the dollar.
Since we’re adults now, we decided to celebrate NYE by dressing up for dinner and dancing while floating down the Chao Phraya river. The Chao Phraya river is a major water way in Thailand and splits Bangkok in two. The advantage of spending NYE on a boat is that the fireworks, launched from barges on the river, explode right above your head. It felt exciting and, in true Thailand style, a little dangerous. We actually saw a ritzy hotel on the bank catch fire due to an errant firework. A quick google search revealed that this is a fairly common occurrence in Bangkok.
After disembarking from our cruise, we made our way back to the hotel on Khao San Road. This particular road is known as a backpacker party hotspot and had proved itself so the night before. The previous nights festivities hadn’t prepared us for the aftermath of the NYE party. The entire block was a war zone. There were bodies strewn about the sidewalk, broken glass and garbage pilled high in the gutters, drunken revelers being dragged home on the shoulders of their friends. One girl was carried away by paramedics with blood spewing from her foot, no doubt caused by the abundance of broken glass on the street.
Coming from our elegant river cruise, the chaos was quite a shock. We took refuge in an outdoor club which charged a 50 Bhat cover. Its amazing how effectively a $1.50 entrance fee can filter out the riffraff. We danced and chatted until we’d had enough of the blaring techno music and made our way back, through the debauchery, to our hotel.
The next day was spent wondering Khao San, eating at the local restaurants and generally nursing hangovers. Chad, after much deliberation, invested in a “Selfie Stick”. A selfie stick is a long, hand held, telescopic stick which allows the user to mount their cellphone at one end and take pictures of themselves from a distance. Needless to say many a “selfie” were taken with this wondrous little gadget.
In the evening we met up with our good friend, Muffin, who had been living in Bangkok for some time. We bar hopped up and down the road all evening, eating street food and watching backpackers dare each other to eat an assortment of deep fried snakes and spiders sold on the street. Chad and Muffin went off to paint the town red later that evening while the rest of us headed off to sleep in preparation for a big day of site seeing.
Sadly this was to be our last day with Shane and Joanie. They were headed home early the following morning. We decided to spend it walking around the Grand Palace and the Reclining Buddha. The Grand Palace is the official residence of the King of Siam (and then Thailand) since 1782. It is over 200,000 square meters and every inch is layered in gold paint or tiled mosaic with spires shooting toward the sky. The gates are protected by 12 foot high stone guards. While it was breathtaking to see, the grounds were crawling with tourists and so we were relieved to get out when we did.
That night we took ourselves out to a nice dinner on Sukhumvit Road away from the party atmosphere of our neighborhood. We said our goodbyes to Shane and Joanie and loaded them up with souvenirs to take home for us.
The next day Shawna, Chad and I took a short flight to Siem Reap in Cambodia. Siem Reap is a small village that was put on the map due to its proximity to Angkor Wat. Angkor Wat is a Hindu and then later Buddhist temple built in the 12 century. The Wat itself sits on 500 acre grounds surrounded by a massive moat. The entire temple complex consists of thousands of temples stretching over 400 km^2.
We had reserved a two bedroom suite in a french colonial for only $60/night. We were pleasantly surprised to find that the accommodations were massive! It had its own kitchen and was probably over 1000 sqft (and oddly under furnished). After soaking up our lavish space, we headed down to Pub street to find some Amok fish, a local Cambodian specialty. The city of Siem Reap itself has become quite a tourist destination. The town is completely westernized; Mexican taquerias, cocktail bars and Sushi restaurants abound. The Amok fish, however, did not disappoint. After dinner we found a spot for a few nightcaps before heading off to bed.
We decided to skip the temples the next day and spend it exploring the town. We concluded we were all in desperate need of massages, after all it had been over a week since out last. We found a place that looked mostly legitimate near our hotel. While Chad seemed to enjoy his treatment, Shawna’s and my massages were a little questionable. I was scrubbed down with salt water and left to dry under a blast of arctic AC. This was followed by a massage where my masseuse kept one hand on me and the other on her cellphone the whole time. I suppose you get what you pay for.
Chad was feeling a bit under the weather and opted for a night of bed rest and room service. Due to a communication snafu, he ended up with four separate meals brought to our room. This wasn’t the first miscommunication of the trip. At one point Shawna ordered a bowl of rice and ended up with two bottles of Sprite. At that point, all you can do is thank the waiter and enjoy your unexpected beverage.
Shawna and I went out for a night on the town and, after much deliberation, found a restaurant we could both agree on. We sat there for a while, drinking unappetizing martinis and watching tourists eat bugs (it really is that entertaining).
We woke early the next morning for our bike ride tour of the wats. Along with our group, we climbed aboard mountain bikes and headed off into Siem Reap traffic toward Angkor Wat. The ride to the temple itself was quite hair raising. When we encountered a busy intersection, our guide would attempt to hold off the flow of on coming cars with one hand while shepherding us across the road with the other, shouting “MORE QUICKLY, MORE QUICKLY!”. To my knowledge, everyone in our group reached the destination.
Once we reached the site, we traveled from temple to temple on narrow dirt paths through the jungle. While I found the ride quite exhilarating, more than one of our tour-mates was ejected from their bike into the jungle. The temples themselves were amazing. Its hard to imagine that people could build such massive stone structures without the assistance of modern machinery. Every inch of the temples are covered in Bas-relief carvings. Angkor Wat itself is in considerably good condition. Its imposing structure rises formidably from the jungle. The Wat and grounds are surrounded by a wide, glassy mote, reflecting the temple towers and sky above.
Our next stop was Ta Prohm, which is the temple appearing in the original Tomb Raider movie. It really does feel like a Hollywood set and was my favorite temple. Ta Prohm is in an advanced state of decay, adding to its mystic appeal. Giant trees grow from inside the temple, strangling it with their massive roots. In places, the dense root systems threaten to swallow entire sections of the temple. Carved stone faces peer out from the dense mass of roots. On one corner of the temple, there appear to be carved stone dinosaurs. A fact unexplainable by archaeologists. One can easily imagine Indiana Jones recovering some lost relic buried deep inside the aging ruins. Altogether we rode over 30 kilometers that day and visited several other temples. By the time we got back to Siem Reap we were all exhausted.
Despite our need for rest, we scrubbed the dirt and sweat from our faces and headed into town for some BBQ, Cambodian style. At the restaurant we selected, the kitchen area was situated right next to the dinning area and was all out doors. Patrons could select a fish or cut of meat from the array on display, select a BBQ style and watch it be prepared from their seat. We ordered round after round of various local dishes while sipping on large Cambodian beers. It was fun but the mood was a little melancholy because Chad would be leaving us the next day and this would conclude the friends portion of our trip.
The next day we flew out to Bangkok and said goodbye to Chaddles. We boarded a plane, off to our next adventure and the second to last stop on our ‘round the world travels: the island of Koh Samui and our week long Yoga retreat.
Bad in Plaid
Angkor Wat and Surrounding Temples
Laura Croft Temple