Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Cambodia Ramblings

It’s bloody hot! HOT! Hot enough to melt an ice cube in under 5 seconds. OK I have to get that out of the way.

Choice of Siem Reap as my holiday destination came to being through the Process of Elimination. A process I’ve used to decide many things in life. A senior in my MBA College once said, with respect to placements (‘job’ for the uninformed or the un-MBAs); “If you don’t know what you want, at least know what you don’t want”. One of the best advices I have ever received and it’s held me in good stead ever since.

So first I set the criteria for my destination:

1) Needs to be a short getaway. No more than 5 days.

2) Most definitely cannot be a beach as I would feel terribly guilty of feeling Sanil behind. He is the only other person I know who loves the ocean as passionately as I do.

3) Cannot be a city destination e.g. Bangkok or Hong Kong as the travel expenses easily double when you account for the shopping (case in point Ho Chi Minh City- where my Ipanema bag cost me more than my air fare- but hey! the bag costs double in Singapore- so it was a steal!). Sorry for the digression. But you get the drift on why a city destination was ruled out.

4) Must meet my New Year Resolution (yes I had one more this year in addition to the usual cliché of “lose weight”)-“I resolve in 2010 that I shall get out of my comfort zone”. This criterion also applied to point no. 2- no beachy holiday.

All of the above did not leave me with very many options. I considered Borneo, but when cousin mentioned “rickety old town, mountain climbing, jungle trail” (actually he lost me at ‘rickety’), it was stuck off the list.

See the sheer beauty of the Process of Elimination? You will always arrive at a result and it’s all thought-through too. With the Singapore obsessions of abbreviations, (COE, ERP, KPE, PIE, CTE, HDB, CPF, NLB, ECP, WTF), I shall hereby christen the Process of Elimination- POE.

So Cambodia it was! To be true, Siem Reap had always been on my to-travel list- as I wanted to see the Angkor Wat temples. But now it was simply bumped up the list. Like a bewildered but thrilled Economy class passenger who unexpectedly gets bumped up to Business Class (How come it never happens to me?!)

So here I am in Siem Reap (arrived on Silk Air Economy Class with no in-flight entertainment. Seriously! At least budget airlines are honest with what they do and don’t provide. Silk Air needs to decide where it sits).

Now even though Siem Reap is outside my usual comfort zone, I can’t venture too far out. So when it comes to accommodation, it has to be “one of the best type of hotels” (as Sanil describes 4 and 5 start hotels- poor kid, when he is going to have to back pack on his own money, he will learn the hardships of lives). So here I am at the Le Meridien Angkor to be precise.

Day 1: Landed in the afternoon, checked in, checked out the hotel and headed off to “Pub street”. Name needs no explanation. A lovely quaint street with lines of bistros, cafes, pubs, bars, lounges, restaurants with wide selection of cuisines- local, Thai, Chinese, French (many of them- hangover from the colonized past), Spanish, Indian (called Tandoor*- what else?!), Mexican- you shall be spoilt for choice!

And at loss to decide. So I opted for “The Red Piano”. It was crowded with seemingly decently people (safety precaution), and served a mixture of different cuisines (indecisiveness precaution). The garlic prawns in chilly, tomato and cheese sauce served with bread is a must-try. Ok here I have to gripe- Singapore HAS to get their bread act together. Bread in Singapore is just awful! Cedele is kind of an exception but it can be a hit-and-miss there too. The bread here is simply divine! For breakfast I only eat croissants, baguettes, and other variety of breads. No eggs. No bacon. No noodles and fried rice (who eats that for breakfast in any case?). Yeah yeah yeah I know the carb count is hitting an all time high- but its bread...and fabulous bread that too.

So after a lovely dining experience, I headed back to the hotel for the night. Curled up with a book, watched half a movie and then dozed off into a dreamless slumber (I love hotel beds! They almost guarantee a splendid sleep!)

Day 2 (first half): Next morning bright and early I made my way to the see the world heritage site of Angkor Wat temples. It’s not easy to describe the feeling in words when you seen these beautiful temples.

- It’s not ‘happiness’ (like when I am by the ocean)

- It’s not ‘thrill’ (the Gold Coast theme part kind)

- It’s not ‘excitement’ (big city New York types)
 It’s an unreal humility. You feel small (really tiny, miniature actually) in midst these huge, stony, old structures. It brings you down- not in a bad way- in a wholesome way- which reminds you how inconsequential you are in the grand state of things.

You suddenly cease to be the centre of the universe, The Most Important Person In The World (TMIPITW? Nah! Too complicated even by Singapore standards).

You feel HUMBLED. And there is this eerie calmness. A quiet peace that reminds you what you have been missing even without knowing it. It urges you to what I call “living beyond yourself”.

And here in Angkor Wat, I found ‘my spot’. One of the highest but not oft visited points, which overlooks a beautiful courtyard. I sat on rock looking down at the courtyard and up at the bright blue and cloudless sky and felt a lovely breeze blowing. It was kind of magical (probably not much when you read it off your laptop- but it was something else!).

It was simply perfect! And I experienced what I call “bliss”- that moment when everything is in equilibrium- it seems like all over the world everything and everyone I know is calm and the world is in a state of balance. It’s an extremely rare moment and a rarer feeling. I’ve had this “bliss” feeling a few times in the past too and once it came to me when I was in Disney Land in USA. So it’s not a temple exclusive thing.

However you can’t create it or replicate it. It simply happens. Like a point of realization- where you feel blessed and grateful for everything God has gifted you. You don’t crave for anything more. You are at peace. Of course, it disappears quickly too. But I hope I find more opportunities to experience it again and again...

I then visited Ta Prohm- made immortal by Angeline Jolie and Tomb Raider. There was a special tree she swung by, though all the trees looked the same to me. And nowhere it said “this is the Jolie tree”.

By noon I had to retire to my hotel as I was (well I liked to say ‘tanned’, but Indian skin does not tan. It simply burns to crisp and becomes black). Hence I went back to my cool hotel room. Ate a whole pizza (can’t remember the last time I ate a whole one!), had some wine, completed my movie and ate dessert. Over indulgence is allowed on holiday. I will aim to skip lunch today though.

Day 1 (second half): I set off to visit the Bayan temples. Extremely impressive with the Buddha heads. But before that I had to make a stop for my afternoon coffee (no skinny hazel nut latte here). I opted for Iced Cambodia Coffee. Was sweet and had a nice kick to it.

And then finally I made my way to Pre Rup. Climbed up steep steps (aided to work off some of the calorie intake too) and made my way to the top, to watch the sunset. While I waited for the sun to start setting, my mind asked me “Aren’t you bored waiting in the heat?”; “Is it not annoying sitting here with all these other tourists waiting to click pictures of the sunset which in case you did not realize happens in Singapore too?”

 Yes, I was surprised at myself. Why was I not getting agitated? Why was I so calm? The answer lies once again in the “humility”. You feel small- sitting on top of the temple peak, admiring the gorgeous landscape, surrounded by all these people (I hate the term tourists!) from all over the globe** (Amsterdam, Morocco, France, Japan). You feel small but yet a part of this magnificent universe.

My favourite part of all this temple visiting was the Tuk-tuk ride. Every time my tuk-tuk driver stopped my heart went “Oh no! It can’t arrive so soon! I want to sit in the tuk-tuk some more!” There is something about a tuk-tuk that has a Princess and horse-carriage feel to it. Think it’s because:
 a) You get driven around. Very ‘Jane Austeny’ in its feel

b) Its mechanical so you don’t feel terribly guilty of some poor sod lugging your weight (like those inhumane pull trishaws)
c) It shelters you from the harsh sun
d) Yet it’s open so you can feel the breeze

I am contemplating hiring a tuk-tuk to just drive me around without any destination in mind. Am simply loving it!

 Day 3: I am by the pool writing this and thinking “how many more days can I stay off FB?”

On the cards today is:

1) Completing “Kiss kiss bang bang” (it’s a movie guys and not soft porn). Thanks for the tip Heenz. It’s a great film!

2) A spa appointment (thanks for the advice LH)

3) A cooking class (again, thanks LH. Wonderful idea!)

 I would like to thank all my friends (you know you are) who have me advise on the must-see, must-do, must-eat, must-visit places. Thanks a ton! It’s making my holiday even nicer!

Signing off...Robert Downey Jr. Awaits

* Every touristy place in the world has an Indian restaurant called either Tandoor or Delhi Darbar. It’s true. Based on my personal research.

** Here when I am asked where I come from, if I don’t want to engage in any conversation with the enquirer (as he is not the cute French guy I saw on the plane), I simply say ‘Singapore’. There are no further questions then. If I say “India”, then I have to reply to string of questions from Hindu mythology, Vishnu (who is big in Cambodia), Bollywood or worse still Shahrukh Khan!

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