They Started As Strangers
-- Part 13
They Started As Strangers -- Part 13
The more things change; the more they remain the same.
Squiggy was taking his morning dip in the Nana pool, Hoover was padding
around the room naked and trying to get herself ready to leave, while I
got ready to meet the guys at the Nana breakfast buffet.
Since we would be leaving Thailand later today, we all decided to check
email one last time at World Coffee. No one had to fight any fires
and the real world seemed to be spinning in greased grooves, so we settled
on a couple drinks at Morning/Night before it was time to check-out and
take the limo to the airport.
Lady was supposed to be working days at Morning/Night but she was
nowhere to be found. I joked with MikeM that he had been paying her
too much, and she hung up her kneepads.
The truth is that I have no idea what everyone is paying the
girls. Some of the more experienced guys gave the newbies advice on
what to pay and tip, but the advice was always ranges and never an
exact price. My guess is most of the guys followed the advice more
except Antman, who pays the girl whatever she asks.
Once we got off the surface streets, it was a relaxing ride to the
airport. We guessed that the Nana limo driver must have made the
trip hundreds of times before, so we didn't pay any attention to the signs
when we pulled up. For our trust (or lack of attention), we found
ourselves dropped off at the wrong terminal.
It took us a few moments to realize we were at the wrong terminal, and
then it was only a short walk to the correct one.
Check-in was a breeze, and we all met at KFC for our traditional
pre-flight snack. While enjoying our fast-food chicken meal, we
noticed an O2 Spa across the terminal. We were all interested to try
it out but time was short, so MikeM stuck a toe in for us. MikeM
came back with two thumbs up, so the O2 Spa is on the list to try next
Even though our flight was paged as boarding, we had a few moments in
the gate area to fill out our visa applications. In fact, boarding
was so late that even Antman and Wifey showed up before they started to
board the flight.
Antman and Wifey didn't have a seat together, so some of the guys
traded boarding passes so the two lovebirds could be next to each
other. Personally, I didn't care where they sat as long as they
weren't in my field of vision; an hour of those two sitting nose-to-nose
and making goo-goo eyes at each other is more than I can stomach.
On the boarding-bus to the airplane, a backpacker I called KoolKarl
started asking Reeb and I what to expect upon arrival. I'd been
through the drill at Siem Reap airport before, so I shared what I
knew. KoolKarl was a pleasant enough guy (for a backpacker), and not
the worse we've ever spent time with while traveling.
It was only a 55-minute flight from Don Muang to Siem Reap, but that
was enough time for the flight attendants to serve us a drink and a box
lunch. Reeb and I were pretty surprised how good the box lunch
was. Maybe the servings were a bit small, but I would have been
happy with that instead of the usual food I get on flights. And that
includes Business Class flights.
As we lined up in the visa queue at Siem Reap International Airport, we
had one last pow-wow to explain to the newbies what to expect.
A moment or two after Reeb handed his passport and photos to the visa
official, MikeM asked Reeb what happened to his passport.
"I gave it to one of the visa guys."
"Which guy? Do you still see him anywhere up there?"
"Oh man, never give anyone your passport even if they're wearing a
uniform. And if you have to give it to someone, never take your eyes
off it. You better go up and find out what's going on. They
could try to sell it on the black-market for a few dollars. They're
all pretty poor, you know"
Poor Reeb was panic-stricken. The last thing he wanted was to be
trapped in Cambodia without a passport and no way to get out. As the
adrenalin built up in his system and he turned to go up to the visa desk,
we stopped him just in time and told him it was all a joke.
It took Reeb a moment or two to appreciate the humor in it but even
when he did, he still vowed revenge… Reeb has played some pretty
good practical jokes in his day, so I'm expecting the worst… Or
the best, depending on how you look at it…
Reeb and I got through Passport Control quickly, so we grabbed our bags
and went to look for our ride to the hotel.
A lovely girl was standing outside the airport and holding a sign with
our names on it, so she must be the one. Reeb and I introduced
ourselves, and were immediately surrounded by touts trying to hijack
us. Reeb and I kept a hand on our bags and just ignored the
touts. The girl was all sugar and smiles until she barked a few
words at the touts, who all then left with their tails between their
legs. I wonder what she said…
I made a point of telling the hotel before we left that our group was
too big for just one taxi. It was nice to see they read my emails
and sent a bus to pick us up. Reeb and I tossed our bags in the
back, and went back inside the airport to round up the rest of the guys.
As we were making our final headcount, KoolKarl stopped by to thank us
for our advice and ask about hotels, as he didn't have one. I knew
we had and extra seat in the bus and figured there was a good chance there
would be a free room at our hotel (the Ta Prohm), so I invited him to join
When we were boarding the bus, we could tell the girl was a little
miffed to be giving someone a free ride into town. We told her that
KoolKarl was our friend and would be inquiring about a room at the hotel,
and that got her to accept it with a smile.
On the drive into town there was a little bit of a traffic jam we had
to get through. I should think those are rare in Siem Reap.
When we inched our way up to the source of the problem, we found that
there was an old man lying dead in the street. My guess is that he
was walking on the side of the road, and was hit by a passing truck.
Reeb stared at the scene open-mouthed as we passed, and Antman said,
"Hey Reeb, welcome to Cambodia."
My thoughts turned to the old man's family. How would they get
the news? He was an old man, but was a provider for the
family? If so, what would the family do now? I'll never know
the answers, but I still think of the questions whenever I think of the
ride into town.
A short while later, our bus pulled up to the Ta Prohm Hotel.
KoolKarl lost just a smidge of his cool; the Ta Prohm was a pretty nice
hotel, and he was more interested in one of the $5 per night places.
Up to him… Before we sent him off in the right direction so he
could look for more "economical" accommodations, we told him
that we were hiring a bus to tour Angkor Wat and he was welcome to join
us. But our plan was to be there for sunrise tomorrow, so he would
have to meet us at our hotel at 5AM sharp to catch the bus.
As we were checking-in I realized the lovely girl that met us at the
airport actually worked at the hotel. That's nice; she spoke English
well, and was a joy to talk with.
I had reserved a Deluxe room, but when I got to my room it appeared a
little less Deluxe than the room I had on my previous stay. I asked
the bellboy if this was a Deluxe room, and he assured me that it was
Deluxe room in that goofy way that let me know that he didn't have a clue
what I was talking about. After the bellboy left, I sat on the bed a
moment contemplating the room, and then called the Front Desk.
"I reserved a Deluxe room."
"Yes, sir. That is a Deluxe room."
"Well, I stayed here last year, and my Deluxe room last year was
"No problem, sir. We will change for you."
Cool. Not only did they put me in my old room, they also moved
MikeM and Reeb to the better rooms. We were all now staying in the
same wing, but Antman. I don't know what happened to him, and when
we called his room there was no answer. Mai pehn rai…
When MikeM, Reeb, and I met in the lobby to go out on a little walk,
the girl behind the counter told us that she had given us the other rooms
because she thought they would be quieter for us. I thanked her for
her concern and said we preferred the rooms that overlooked the
street. I think we were all pretty happy with the change, and that
earned her a little tip.
Photo courtesy of Reeb
View from the Ta Prohm Biergarten
Photo courtesy of Reeb
Photo courtesy of Reeb
Photo courtesy of Reeb
Antman, Wifey, and a cart full of moo
Photo courtesy of Antman
Reeb was interested in having a look at the market, so we stopped at a
local mini-mart, bought some Gatorade, made our way to the market, and
shopped the afternoon away. At the far end of the market, I found a
stall that had some nice paintings for sale. I asked about the
price, and was surprised the quoted price was pretty high. Of
course, they expected to be haggled down but prices seemed to be much
higher than last year.
We had agreed to meet in the lobby for dinner, and I had to drag Reeb
back because his argument was that Antman never shows up for
anything. Maybe so, but we said we would meet there, and that's what
we should do.
It was nice to see that Antman and Wifey were actually sitting in the
lobby waiting for us. I guess the promise of pumpkin soup was just
too much for him.
We had only been to Khmer Kitchen a couple times last year, so we
weren't really sure where it was. But the area where it was located
was small, and the restaurant was easy to find.
Everyone ordered two entrees, and just about everyone ordered the
pumpkin soup except for KoolKarl. He heard the amok was a local dish
and supposed to be quite good. We shared samples of our food, and
the amok was indeed good but amok is not pumpkin soup.
I figure long after I become bored with Angkor Wat (if that's at all
possible), I'll still return to Siem Reap for the pumpkin soup at Khmer
Kitchen. It's that good!
After dinner, a few of the guys wanted to go back to the room for an
early bedtime so they could honor their 4AM wake-up call, while others
preferred a nightcap or two.
MikeM, Reeb, and I wandered around looking for the perfect bar, or at
least one we didn't mind stopping at. By accident, we found the bar
we used to drink at last year, and our favorite girl was still working
It was so nice to see her again, even though she gave me a ration of
grief about not emailing her. I tried to explain it was all
TiggerBkk's fault because he took her email address, but I don't think she
was buying it. Be that as it may, it was a joy to be talking with
She was very nice company last year, so we invited her to join us for a
tour of Angkor Wat tomorrow. Our plan was that we would wake up
early to see the sun rise over Angkor Wat, and then go back to the hotel
for breakfast. The Ta Prohm Hotel's breakfast isn't anything to
write home about but it beats their breakfast box (just barely).
She prolly would have joined us for sunrise, but we wanted her to get
some sleep. Our experience last year was that she would work all
night at her bar, and then spend all day with us at the temples.
After a couple days of that, I think she started to poop out a little.
We'll see how it goes tomorrow…