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Cambodia February 2000

Cambodia     February 2000

January 29, 2000   Saturday Agoura Hills, CA


This journal begins with reflections of what has transpired to bring

me to this point - now, today "X minus two days.”


For many years, certainly more than ten, I've wanted to visit Cambodia, specifically Angkor Wat.  What has held me back was an ominous threat, a real and very likely one.  The Khymer Rouge was a very strong military force led by Pot Poi.  He was a xenophobic and ruthless leader.  Foreigners were frequently killed or injured with little provocation. My most recent hope to visit was about three years ago, when Marcy and I were in Bangkok, Thailand.  While there I could have headed off to Cambodia, except that the day before we flew to Bangkok I read a small article in the Los Angeles Times.  It mentioned that Pot Poi has offered the equivalent of twenty-five dollars for the head of any American . . .the head.


Travel Motto #7: There’s nothing civil about a civil insurrection.  Never visit a country during one.  Oppressive governments, as unjust as they are, keep order, and are therefore safe for the traveler.


Two years ago, Pot fell ill with cancer and the Khymer Rouge (according to Western newspapers) lost most of its support without his iron hand to guide it. Whether this was good is not a subject that I'll address because the political machinery of other countries is not an issue that I concern myself with when I don my travel garb.  I care little to whom I must pay my taxes. For me to comfortably survive, it must be without governmental pressures, or concerns about how fees and taxes I have paid may be used.  There are issues others must contend with.  It is for each country and each man to be able to decide their own path of self-determination.  So, philosophy aside, I have known for the past two years that I will set a foot in this mystical country.


My friend, Khalid Ibrahim, who I met several years ago on my way to Egypt, has been working for Northwest Airlines.  He arranged a "stand by" ticket for me to fly to Bangkok in Thailand for $235.00, round-trip.  Once I get there, I'll arrange for onward passage to Cambodia.  I am without a definitive flight schedule, so it would be difficult to follow a schedule for the final leg into Cambodia.

I have watched the Internet and read travel books and articles to find out where to go after Angkor Wat, but I have yet to decide.  I am reluctant to go at this time because Marcy, my loving and wonderful wife still has her foot in a cast and is wheelchair-bound. She insists that I go but I clearly hear her (inwardly) saying, "Don't leave me."  I'll miss her if I do go and, even at this moment I expect to leave (with 80% certainty) unless she has a problem with it.  She is my only consideration that poses any substantial obstacle to keep me from making this two-week journey - not even a long one – only fourteen days!  My present position: Marcy and I are still wonderfully in love - our honeymoon isn't over. She just got a substantial raise at her work (USI).  I've been doing well at Richards Insurance.  Mark will be able to handle The Agency well if he can focus as he has been.


Carol is going to have a baby shower shortly after my return here in Agoura Hills.  I've been making some good money on the side with stock market high tech investing.  The last couple of days have been very rocky, pulling a big chunk of profit out of my stock portfolio. My parents are in good health and have all their senses still.  Mom is going to be eighty in two months.  I hope I can do it too, that’s a good age to reach. 


Mark, Angie, and my wonderful grandson Trevor are doing very well.  I enjoy being with them.  They are deep in my heart.  Sarah is studying to be a nurse's aide and she's in good spirits and I really have been proud of her turnaround for the last two months.  Maybe because I kept telling her to "get a job" (to build her low self-esteem) she has struggled successfully to be the “contrarian” and do well in her classes.  Sue and Steve are going to San Antonio to see Jessica who's also pregnant.  They are very excited to become grandparents.



The Trip Begins

January 31, 2000 Monday     Los Angeles, California


I'm up at 3:00 a.m., excited, ready to start this adventure.  Marcy woke a few minutes later.  Her perspective is quite different, she'll miss me, just as I know I will, it just hasn’t hit me yet.  At 5:30a.m without breakfast, we leave the house in Agoura and head to the Van Nuys Airport.  As a condition of flying "stand-by" I've donned a tie and jacket, not my usual jungle gear. 


At the Van Nuys Airport I catch a bus $3.50 for one-way transportation to LAX on a city "flyaway" bus.  Marcy and I kiss goodbye and she goes to work at USI (formerly Triwest).  I tip the porter two dollars to carry my bag to the right bus. 


I packed my backpack in a duffle bag to prevent baggage handlers from poking through it. Light rain continued to fall as it had this weekend.  I got off the bus at LAX.  Forty minutes later I get off the bus at the Northwest International Terminal.  The ticket agent, a young Chinese woman named Jae, wore a bright red jacket, the uniform of a Northwest employee.  I was advised that the backpack exceeded carry-on size although I tried it and it fit (if I jammed it in).  She explained that while this leg of the journey looks good, the flight to Bangkok from the first stop in Tokyo is tight and I should anticipate being "bumped.”  If that would happen then I know I'd feel uncomfortable about "saving money.” I'm ready to board with a flight ticket at 8:00 a.m. although the flight doesn't leave till 11:00 a.m.


The terminal had a currency exchange office that was not open.  I saw the exchange rate posted for Thailand Baht .0292 to sell. So how does that translate when newspaper exchange rates published showed about thirty Baht to the dollar? Does this mean one U.S. dollar will get me 29.2 Baht?  I'll wait till I'm there to do the math.


One U.S. Dollar Equals

37 Thai Baht

3600 Cambodian Rials

104  Japanese Yen


I looked in a travel brochure that offered a journey following a similar plan to mine. It would cost $2,795 (base) plus $320 more because I only would have booked a single fare. Added to the basic price is $375 for the international flight to Cambodia from Bangkok.  The total is $3,490 and it doesn’t include Phnom Penh.  There have been several border clashes, which may be dangerous, and Ed Hasbrouck, a travel agent I prefer, said it is very dangerous, and suggests that I omit it from the plan.  I want to see both cities in Cambodia if possible.  I would like to surprise Marcy by coming home early.  I boarded the plane and it left right on time.  The seats were narrow and the plane was crowded.


The first leg of this flight was seven thousand miles and took more than full twelve hours. I had tried to not sleep before the flight, so I’d be really tired while I’m in the air and sleep while on the plane. I could watch a caricature of the plane projected on a map.  The screen indicated where the plane was, our altitude and our air speed, usually between six and eight hundred miles per hour.  Fried rice was the welcomed breakfast.  I could have had an omelet or soup instead.   Dinner was chicken and rice. Both meals were fairly good, but nothing I'd get at a restaurant. 



February 2, 2000      Sunday      Tokyo, Japan


Bad News: I was called to exit the airplane.   I was bumped from the flight to Bangkok.   I had to wait thirty minutes for my luggage to be removed from the flight.  It was time to make a new plan.  I hadn't been to Tokyo before so that's my new plan; get around the town and see part of this city.  It seems much bigger than L.A.


Travel motto #23: Never pack more than you can run with


The cleanliness and order that are the marks of Japan were evident throughout the airport.  I used a cart to move my one piece of luggage to the adjacent subway station.   Fortunately, when I packed my backpack, I remembered to pack light.


The Narita subway station was gigantic.  I wandered around, trying to follow the signs to get to the street level.  I went from one end to the other, three long blocks, all of which was underground.  Boutiques, restaurants, and small shops filled both sides of the sub terra street.


The only thing I didn’t see was anything that resembled a hotel.  I had read about “sleeping tubes” before landing in Tokyo, but I saw none.   


I had two experiences where people went out of their way to help me find a hotel in the city.  As I explored this subterranean village, I stopped at a police station on the second level.  The Japanese police officer brought out one young mystified uniformed policeman.  He faced me and interpreted my request for the sergeant.


I bought a ticket for twenty-seven hundred yen (about twenty-five dollars) to travel one-way to downtown Tokyo.  The Narita Express train only stopped at the other air terminal, and downtown, which is where I got off, about forty minutes later.  I was at the fourth level below the street.


Current Exchange Rate of Yen to Dollars

One hundred, four-yen = one U.S. dollar



I couldn't hold my eyes open any longer - no bath, no brushing my teeth or anything like that. I fell asleep in a minute.  I awoke at 3:00 a.m., showered, shaved and all that before sleep crept over me once again, but this time for a much shorter spell.  I rose at 5:30 a.m., got dressed and ran to the elevator to join a city tour.  I paid the three thousand, three hundred yen, about thirty dollars.  The official exchange rate shown was 107 to one dollar.  The tour was finished with a bus ride back to the hotel.  This was the worst tour ever.  Two times we were off the bus, once for a gift shop, and then again for the Emperor's palace and grounds.  The only place I had any desire to go back to was Ginza, which is a shopping and entertainment center near the Tokyo terminal, which is where I have to catch the Narita Express to return to the airport tomorrow.


Last night I didn't mention how helpful the police were at the subway station.  I asked if someone spoke English, then they started to come together to help me find a cheap hotel nearby.  They explained that there were no cheap ones in the neighborhood but there were several a short distance away.  A local hotel, I was told, would cost $200 for a single.  They pooled their knowledge of local places and called several for me.  Finally one had a vacancy, but it was thirty minutes away by street bus.  It was, they said, easy to find.  One officer walked me to the bus terminal where I boarded the bus. The policeman gave the bus driver specific instructions. 


The bitter cold of a Tokyo night was quickly pushing out the warm air of the afternoon. I put a jacket over the sports jacket I was still wearing, and was still chilled.  No snow, but it was cold enough.  I felt that these guys cared about what happens to a visitor to their city.


Having visited Kyoto a couple years back with Marcy I could easily recall their peculiarities, like how clean EVERYTHING was.  In the morning I'd see why that was so.  A crew of cleaners emerged from every building and every street corner to begin their daily tasks.  Ceaseless!


Text Box:  January 30 to Feb 2 Expenses:
$29  Ticket on Narita Express to Tokyo
$29  Ticket on Narita Express to Narita Airport
$12  Lunch at airport - rice bowl & tea
$ 2   Bus trip to hotel
$ 2   Bus trip from hotel to Tokyo station
$36  Bus tour of Tokyo
$ 2   Bus trip from Ginza to Tokyo station
$ 1   Newspaper
$ 4   Luggage storage
$78  Hotel room

 Nothing is cheap around here.  Even a short bus ride costs $2!  The subway is cheaper, $1.60 but it is so monstrous that I was uncertain about taking it.  They have done a spectacular job of making the system user friendly.  I noted that besides the oriental characters the names were written in English too.  Colored lines were used on overhead illuminated signs so someone could follow a color to their boarding point.  On my ticket they printed the seat and car I was to take.


I returned to the airport with extra time.  I have to meet the supervisor at 4:45, he said he'll try to get me on the flight to Bangkok, even though it is grossly oversold.  I'm not certain how I'll handle it if I can't get a flight today.  If the airplane to Bangkok is full then I'm going on to Singapore and Malaysia.  I really intend to leave or, if necessary, I'll stay here two days then book for L.A.  Chinese New Years celebration has gotten the flights clogged.  I feel uncomfortable about what is happening with Sarah getting out of school and Marcy still in the wheelchair.  If I can't get on, I'll just take that as enough reason to go home.


After impatiently waiting at the counter, waiting to be called, not only did I get called to board, but I was also given first class passage.  Even for a six-hour flight it really makes a difference.  The food, seafood curry, was very good and it was delivered with excellent service.  The seats were much wider, and there was plenty of leg room.  I’ve said for years that flying first class is just too costly, but I can see how flying business class can be justified - first class is just overdoing it. 


I slept during the flight for a couple hours.  Bangkok is two hours behind Tokyo.  Because I was not certain I'd remain aboard the flight, I was allowed to bring my huge backpack with me.  That way if I was delayed or taken off I'd be able to do it with ease.  Happily that didn't happen, even though the flight was full.


Feb 3, 2000    Monday     Bangkok, Thailand


One US dollar = 36.47 Baht


We landed in BAK. After passing through customs I started to think about a room.  I know Bangkok is much cheaper than Tokyo, but another eighty dollars for a room is going to make me rethink my budget.  I don't really have a budget.  I brought twelve hundred in cash.  Half of that was hidden in my belt, and a credit card.  I want to do this stuff and I'll pay what I must to live modestly.  I thought (because it's 2:00 a.m. in BAK) that a tourist office in the airport might have something cheap and nearby.  I talked to a man name Choi in the little kiosk to the immediate left of the international arrivals' gate.  A blue neon light had the words "Tourist Office" written on it. Mr. Choi showed me several hotels at different prices.  All hotels were much cheaper than those in Japan.  I booked a room at the Metro Palace 21/1 Soi Petchburi 13 in the Ratchatavee section of Bangkok.  It seemed nice in the pictures but I was ready for anything!  Next to me stood a fellow, Ray from Houston, who works for a small Texas oil company.  Although he appeared older because of the balding, he was only thirty-five years old.  I saw him arrange a different hotel at a cheaper price.  After we both had paid for our respective rooms, Ray asked me if I wanted to share a taxi to town.  I agreed, so we split the seven hundred Baht.  For a half-hour ride from the airport into a major metropolitan area, the cost was very reasonable. 


We had some pleasant conversation which quickly developed into a friendship.  Ray told me I should visit a place called "Soi Cowboy" where, he said "you can buy a girl for $30.00."  Not for me! (Marcy, if you should read this, just understand that I'm trying to record the scenes as they play before me, doing as little editing as possible.)


So I got to my hotel after he was dropped off at his.  He gave me the hotel phone number to call if I wanted to go drinking.  I took his card; he seemed nice enough but drinking and prostitutes were not my idea of a vacation - okay, I know I'm going against what most other guys would think makes this an ideal place to visit, just not me.  Call me a wimp, but I love Marcy and it's not anything I would ever do!


At the hotel, which was very nice except for its entrance, which like many other Bangkok hotels opened into an alley.  I was met by Sahn, as he called himself, who introduced himself to me, got my backpack and registered me.  My room on the fifth floor opened to an inner court, which was not completed yet.  Women brought dirty dishes to one of the city fountains, in view of my window, and washed the plates and pots.


Travel Tip #6: When I am traveling to a third world nation , I always bring a one hundred NEW one dollar bills. They are well accepted as tips and trying to reconvert small bits of odd foreign currency is very difficult back in the U.S. The bills are always handy, even at U.S. airports, etc.


Sahn had brought me to the room and showed me the regular stuff, like how the faucets work, how to adjust the air conditioner, etc.  As I am coaxing him out of the room with a Ten-baht tip he said "Would you like a Thai massage in your room?"  "No, thanks.”  He pulled out what looked like one of those grandmothers’ brag books and flashed twenty pictures of different girls.   "You pick," he said, "only $30.00 for all night."  Stunned, I admit I looked at the photos but only because I was so amazed by his procedure, I didn't even know what to say except to reiterate "No, thanks.”


It was about 3:00 a.m. and I was really tired as I shut the door behind him.  I fell asleep in minutes, but only after watching CNN and hearing Alan Greenspan say that prime interest rates would rise one quarter of 1 per cent to slow down the economy. This will affect my stock portfolio.



Travel Tip # 2: Never look angrily at others. Always smile, even when you know you are getting cheated.  Be firm, but never lose the smile.  You are in a country made from their rules of fairness, not yours.


After finishing, I saw "Saugn" behind the counter.  He was there last night now, and he’s also there for early morning.  I asked him to arrange a Tuk-tuk to drive around the city.  He passed me to another hotel employee who said "Yes, Tuk-tuk.  My friend will drive for you."  "What's your friend's name?” I queried.  Suddenly his knowledge of English had become exhausted and he had no response.  He continued walking toward the Tuk-tuk driver nearby, carefully guiding me there, fearful that I might lose focus and walk away. He sustained his toothy smile during this act, completed in silence.


I surrendered and boarded the fuming vehicle.  The driver spoke enough English so that I could issue simple commands.  I could only see out of the rear of the vehicle because the cloth ceiling was so low I could only look out the back to see where I was not where I'm going.  Our agreed price, low enough that I chose not to negotiate, was fifty Baht per hour. 


After the first attempt to get me to see stores so he could get "gas money" I told him that I intended to buy nothing, still he persisted.  I told him I would give him sixty baht per hour not fifty, but I won't be brought to any store.  He understood and he complied.


Although it is early morning, it is the day before Chinese New Year's Day.  The fumes of the street traffic are quickly rising as the mid morning sun heats the asphalt streets.  The driver says that he cannot finish the journey.  He cannot drive the Tuk-tuk on the highway to the airport.  I got my backpack and orange plastic bag out of the cab and spoke with a cab driver parked next to us.  "How much will you charge to drive me to the airport?" I said.  "Two hundred baht.” "Let's go," I replied as I put my stuff into the cab and paid the Tuk-tuk driver one hundred, twenty Baht.  It was a long drive there, thirty minutes.


At the airport I picked up my ticket and paid five hundred departure Baht.  I ran the usual airport gauntlet.  It surprises me that so many people go through this mess. Maybe that's why a lot of people choose not to travel.  I had a moment to just sit and reflect on the religious temples that were everywhere, although I can't recall the name of one at this moment.  The river is a significant feature of this city.  Long boats with seats for forty passengers sit idly. They might have been used in the early morning to bring passengers (Read: tourists) up the river to a popular and touristy river market.


My flight information: Bangkok Airlines #928

Bangkok to Siem Reap


I wandered around until I found, far off in the distance, gate 59.  I sat in front of a monitor, which was set on CNN in English. I had another hour to kill.  I kept close watch for stock news.  There was little except NASDAQ was up twenty-seven points, and tech stocks were doing well.  I neglected to mention a stop I made this morning with the Tuk-tuk.  I finally found an Internet access place.  I was able to send news, brief as it was, of my journey to this point. There was some difficulty getting aboard the Internet, but after three tries I got there.  Only one message from Marcy was waiting for me. That's a surprise. I hope she's doing well - but with all the people lining up to be with her while I was gone I doubt she'll have an abundance of quiet time.  At this moment the prop plane of Thai Airlines is about to finish its one-hour flight to Siem Reap, and the plane has begun its descent.   


The arrival at Siem Reap Airport reminded me of an arrival at the airport in Havana, Cuba with Marcy. The airfield was small and covered with low-cut, wispy blonde weeds. As we flew low on approach to land, I saw peasants farming at the edges of the airfield.  Oxen pulled a heavy wooden plow guided by a young boy and his sister. A long walk across the terminal led me to four very inquisitive, slightly hostile officials who took my twenty dollars for a permit of entrance. 


I was the first of this flight to confront the guards.  One soldier stepped forward to ask for a yellow form I had not finished completely.  This polite officer wore bronze star on each shoulder.  He didn't care that I had no photo in hand. I accidentally left all eight of them in my luggage.  A small horde of local cabbies jockeyed around me, trying to grab my backpack and get me into their cab.


A short, sinewy, young man who introduced himself to me as "Rune” or "Roon," seemed friendly and said he would drive me to the Green Tea Guesthouse which, my Lonely Planet Guide said was $20 per night.  It was full.  Roon said he knew a good hotel that was about the same price.  He drove through the town from the airport with care to avoid the many bicyclists and motorcycles, many laden with pigs or chickens for the coming holiday tomorrow of the Lunar New Year Day.


This important Chinese holiday marks the year of the Golden Dragon.  Supposedly it will be a year of powerful growth, or so it is predicted.  Roon says fireworks will be going all day.  He stopped at Angkor Saphir Hotel which was a small twenty-room hotel. This small, new hotel, like all the other similar places, had prices governed by the principles of supply and demand.  Because of the upcoming long holiday for New Year’s day celebration, all prices are increased fifty to 100 per cent.  I overheard a German traveler remark that he was having a difficult time finding a room.  That conversation was enough for me.  I didn’t want to spend valuable time trying to find a place to sleep.  I took the first room I saw. 

The sleeping quarters were not too fancy in any respect, but it had a bathroom with hot water. The room seemed clean, only later would I discover, in the very early hours of the morning, a stream of very tiny ants quietly marching in tight formation, into a flaw in the plastered wall where they disappeared.


Roon told me about his life, briefly.  His parents were both alive, and live in Cambodia as poor farmers.  He wanted to continue his education in languages, but his parents are too poor.  He came to Angkor Wat to take a temporary job as a taxi driver where he practices his language skills.  He earns $50 a month doing this job.  Then $20 pays for an apartment, and $10 pays for food.  He depends on tips to acquire enough to return to his studies. Hmm - this sounds strangely like stories I have heard before!  Hey! He's not saying this to "prime" ME is he?


I asked Roon to take me to a place where I can buy handicrafts made by locals.  Instead he brings me to a touristy center where substandard goods are priced at four times their worth but sold for much less if you are not identified as a tourist from a luxury hotel. Wary travelers could get fair prices if willing to do substantial bargaining.  The sun had set and the rustic setting took on an ominous feeling as Roon began the journey back to the hotel without his headlights on. That was worsened by the fact that most bicyclists had no lights on either, although most bikes had lights mounted on them.  I could sense the inevitability of a crash.  Instead, we only had three or four very narrow misses, and just one involved screaming.


We went to dinner at a restaurant called Banyon II, which was within walking distance from the hotel at which I was staying.  Tourists frequent the whitewashed, plain-looking eatery, but the menu was very reasonable.  Several businesses have prices posted in local currency and dollars. Although that would signify that they expected tourists, it was comforting to know that they were prepared to accommodate the idiosyncratic behavior of foreigners. My main dish of chicken with noodles cost two dollars.  A bottle of beer, Tiger beer, a local Cambodian brewed, was one dollar. I could get used to this. 


The entire meal, in a fancy outdoor setting was less than ten dollars!  This might cost six or seven times that back home.  Roon requested a dish made of dried shrimp as its main ingredient.  Surprisingly, while he hated the taste of the sunflower seeds I offered him earlier today, his dinner was very salty, crunchy and full of various textures.


He left me at the hotel.  I got the key and was ready to sleep in moments.  The air conditioning chilled the room in two minutes.  I watched CNN to observe events of the world that I was out of touch with. 



February  4, 2000    Tuesday Siem Reap, Cambodia


I woke at 4:00 a.m. and watched a movie documentary about Sierra Leone in Africa called "Cry Freedom Town,” a horrific portrayal of civil/military insurrection throughout the country.  The events it portrayed occurred in 1998, much too recently.  I was fully awake and dressed now. 


Text Box:  Feb 4 Expenses:

$ 22	Entrance fee to Angkor
3		Alms

20		Buddha statue

15		Bracelets

10		Tooth

2		Cloth

40		Room

12		   Tee shirts

20		Taxi to Roon
  5	Film

7		Dinner
4	2-liter bottles of Evian water
 I walked downstairs, into a long room just off the hotel lobby. I momentarily had a problem finding the light switch for the darkened café. It shouldn’t have been too difficult to find because a ghastly greenish fluorescent light faintly lighted the room, and a white flickering light reflected off the gray linoleum floor from a far off black and white television tuned to a Cambodian theatrical art station.


The white clay-tiled floor was marred by one thin, black line stretched from underneath the bed across to the edge of the bathroom door.  I stepped over it carefully.  When I looked closely, I became aware that this string was composed of tiny ants. The pinhead-sized creatures were indistinguishable from the next in the one long, slowly undulating line.  After brushing my teeth, I left the toothpaste tube uncapped. 


When I stepped out of the shower, the ants had quickly claimed the sweet dental paste as their own.  I wasn't prepared for incessant battle, so I left them their booty.  I dressed, and then went downstairs to a light breakfast of winter melon tea and a bottle of water.  Not too many calories in that.  I was to meet Roon at 8am to go out to Angkor today.  I took my pills, stored carefully by my wonderful wife in a small plastic box, sectioned for daily consumption.


I met Roon downstairs in the lobby.  I was writing when Roon showed up at 7:30 a.m., a little early.  The bright clear day cast its morning light on the busy street out in front of the hotel. The traffic stirred the brown pallor of street grime. Slowly, the dust was agitated, swirling high above the myriad bicycles, pick-up trucks, motorcycles, and hundreds of human feet as vendors pushed wheelbarrows or un-motorized carts.  There were few vehicles that traversed these roads without a full burden.  Sometimes an entire family of four would crowd on a lightweight motorbike.  In preparation for tomorrow, baskets of incense sticks, flowers, or a balanced load of wooden-crated pigs were carefully tied to the back of vehicles for the celebration. Chickens ready to be slaughtered would be left hanging upside down, suspended by a light twine strung around the feet.


There was staccato, ping-pong chatter from three small groups of women, standing at the edge of the street holding vegetables, chickens, and babies who were discussing tomorrow's holiday.   Men bargaining for tools or livestock in loud voices added the din.   Nowhere near here would I find a quiet moment.  Roon added to the cacophony as he started the aging Toyota and turned on the air conditioning, making the cab almost in an instant, too cold.  I flipped the waterproof orange bag on the sunbaked blue plastic backseat so I could sit on it.  Roon twisted to see as he slowly backed up into the busy street.  Carefully, he searched for a safe space in the horde of bicycles, speeding motorbikes, and wooden-stake trucks, which are often used to transport small groups of people. A huge, dry, yellow dust cloud was created by the rapidly spinning wheels as Roon’s vehicle tried to quickly accelerate on the hard packed dirt boulevard. Off we were, immediately absorbed into the motorized tapestry of commerce.


Text Box:  What I didn’t need:
The blue jacket   (one jacket is enough)
Gators   (less snake risk in dry season)
Malaria pills   (few mosquitoes without rain)
Yellow fever shot   (I didn’t do jungle walk)
Photos for visa    (no one asked for any)
Bandages   (I could have taken fewer)
Magic tricks   (difficult to get the attention of young children.  They are quite xenophobic)

 About eight miles outside Siem Reap, by a well-paved asphalt road we came to the stone arch entrance to the holy grounds of Angkor Wat.  All vehicles had to stop and pull aside.  Only exiting vehicles were waved through.  I had to pay one dollar to a camouflage-uniformed soldier for "parking," and twenty for the official fee to enter this monument. 


One thousand years is young by Egyptian standards, but these temples, erected for the predecessor of the Hindu religion, were so incredible, and so well restored that I thought this place is a worthwhile stop for every traveler.   I climbed several of the temples that had been restored, exploring them all with my eyes and camera.  I was careful not to disturb one stone or artifact.  The photos I bring home should be as amazing for my friends to see as  it was for me.


Text Box:  What I should have brought:
More underpants and more socks
A change of shoes (maybe sandals)
More $1 bills (I brought 100 $1's)
BALLPOINT PENS! (I forgot them!)

 Like other economically poor countries, I was followed by bands of small children trying to get money for fanning me, or pointing me toward a more interesting path.  I went back to town for an afternoon nap.  My laundry was returned to me.  The clothes were washed, very cleanly, in the river, and then the pants and shirts were ironed. Two shirts, one pair of pants, lots of white socks and cotton underpants cost two dollars.  I went to the hotel for a few minutes.  It was very hot and I took a cool shower.  At 1:00 p.m. we went back to Angkor (the ticket - good for one day allows multiple entries). I climbed a hill to see the sun set on the main Khymer tower of Angkor.  Fifty tourists stood atop this hill with me, for the 6:00 p.m. sight.  I wasn't impressed, but if I were to visit in the morning a sunrise might be wonderful.  Next, I went back to the hotel. I was ready for sleep very quickly, although my own body smell was acrid and uncomfortable. I overcame this issue when I quickly fell asleep till 4:00 a.m.


February 5, 2000    Wednesday    Siem Reap, Cambodia


Text Box:  Good ideas I followed:
Going to Angkor Wat (My favorite!)
Packing a duffel bag for the backpack
Bringing $200 in ones
Breaking in all-terrain shoes before leaving

 Roon came to the small restaurant within the hotel. I was drinking tea and eating a warm baguette with butter and jam.  He was ready to go whenever I was so, I finished up this light meal and put my stuff away in the room so everything was locked in the army duffel bag I had.  The bag was a way to prevent people from checking pockets of the backpack while it is not in my sight (and even then things happen).    The bag is so heavy that it would be difficult for a person who doesn’t weigh two hundred, twenty pounds (like me) to lift the bag and maneuver it around.


Roon brought me further into this small town to the "Freedom Hotel.”  They had better rooms for thirty dollars, so we went back to my hotel and they were willing to make it thirty dollars too.  Prices are only so high because this is Chinese New Years Day and everybody wants to travel to be with their family (if they are Chinese or Buddhist). Back to Angkor Wat, where I explored the ruins - they seem to run on endlessly.  Each depiction is different, although the basic style is the same. Battle or religious scenes usually were of historical significance, and pointed to a struggle of good versus evil. 


The signs of current and recent work by the Japanese government were in many parts of the temple grounds.  They have embarked on the difficult task of preserving, and where possible, restoring the structures.  Often the damage is little more than blocks of stone being replaced in the proper order. Several structures looked to be ready to fall.  Many buildings like that had been temporarily reinforced with a heavy wire wrapped around the structure.  We stopped to buy some Cambodian cigarettes.  Three packs for a dollar.  I bought a few carved stamps for friends, and several other small gift items. I watched a silversmith hammer out a small jewelry box.  I liked it and bought it for Marcy. Roon said he’d get the box when it is completed later today.


 It has been very hot and humid today.  I was doing a good share of climbing, where permitted.  The rest I had at 1:00 p.m. rejuvenated me.  I could shower and rest for an hour.  Roon picked me up on time and we went to the Internet café, which was not open now, probably because of Chinese New Year's Day, but whenever we drove by it I could see that it maintained irregular hours.


Angkor had endless spires, and vast panoramas telling long stories.  It was beautiful.  I could spend another week here easily.


About 5:00 p.m. we returned to the hotel room.  I wrote, showered and shaved (using one of the hotel's cheap disposable razors) and watched CNN for an hour before falling asleep.  I really miss Marcy and haven't had many good opportunities to access the Internet, so far only twice.


February 6, 2000     Thursday   Angkor Wat   Cambodia  


Roon met me at the small restaurant café.  I ordered a Tiger beer. Instead of being really cold, it was only mildly so.  The bottle was in a bucket of water, and the wet paper label on the bottle was wrinkled and askew.  Heat was already beating through the large windows of this edifice.  Ceiling fans did little to make it much more comfortable. I enjoyed two fresh four-inch long baguettes, served with a smear of butter and red colored jam whose fruit source I couldn't discern from the flavor.  I had a can of winter melon tea, which I brought with me.  It was very refreshing, even if it wasn't very cold. As I expected, it was less tasty than the winter melon tea I was served in the restaurant. The breakfast beer, the Cambodian brew Tiger was satisfying, despite the time of day.  I brought a plastic liter bottle of water, and enough film for my cameras. 


I might be coming down with a cold.  An Englishman told me that it is believed in his hometown, that you will get ill when you wear the same clothes for two days. I smelled the clothes.  They smelled and looked clean too. What’s more, the clothes were clean.  I had only worn them after I had showered yesterday evening.


We drove about four miles to the Angkor Wat, and it was time to cough up another twenty dollars.  Roon told me to buy the three-day ticket, but I decided that if I don't see it all today, I'll just do one more day.  I have gone there every day I have been here.  I think I could have spent three more days here. If I could have changed my tickets, I would have paid the $45 U.S. dollars for one-way boat passage to Phnom Pen. The boats leave the river docking area at 6:30 a.m. every day.  I would have gone there to see that place too.  We get to Angkor Thom, another one of the mystical places I've been to.  This one is wonderful - just really wonderful!


A few hours of this and I am exhausted.  The stone steps are three to four inches wide, and a large eleven inch foot like mine has difficulty getting secure footing, especially because the steps are silt laden and it would be dangerously easy to slip and sustain really bad injuries. Later, I was driven back to my room.


I was overheating, but the air conditioning was working well in the car and my room so I recovered quickly.  Roon brought me to a small eatery on the street, actually it was an ally I think.  "The Cambodian noodles are delicious," Roon said.  I let him order a colorful lukewarm soup for me, as he did for himself.  I noticed that there were a lot of flies here and I don't think they'd even get a "B" based on L.A.'s restaurant grading system.  They might, if it were possible, get a "K" because that's how far back they were.  I could see one elderly woman of fifty rise from a hammock in the rear of the restaurant and come forward to start cooking.  No washing of the hands, no hairnet.  One of the women cooks coughed and put her hand in front of her mouth, then resumed cooking as though that never happened.  It was only my good fortune that she wasn't preparing my soup.  I couldn't get a name of the type of soup it was.  Three times I asked, "What is this?"  The answer I consistently got was "soup" or Cambodian noodle soup.  I paid for Roon's Soup too.  It cost $1.00 for both bowls.  The soup was really good!  It was full of well-cooked vegetables floating with the noodles.  It was just a tiny bit too sweet, but had the soup been served hot, I would have asked for another bowl.


 Next the trip out to the countryside we passed several structures I visited.  At the river about fifteen miles from the hotel there was the Siem Reap River.  I paid half of the first asking price of $40.00 for a two-hour ride.  The pilot took me as his only passenger down the river. There were few places to actually see the riverbank.  The putrid green brown river stank of human excrement, a byproduct of the three hundred people living along this one-mile waterway.  Flies buzzed over the water noisily.  Birds could be heard, but only in the distance.  A closer sound was a wailing baby.  I frequently heard that sound over and over again.  The boat pilot tells me that there are few fish in the river, and the ones that are small, silver, and oily are dried for eating later. 


Text Box:  Feb 6 Expenses:
Hotel 30
Taxi 20
Entrance 20
Meal   6
Waterboat  5
Misc. 10

The pilot also says that the majority of people are Vietnamese.  They came here to avoid the war and stayed.  I wondered what was keeping these people here NOW?  Was it a sense of community, or what?  I was at a loss to figure out why they stayed when there is no fish, the water is contaminated and the air is sour.  Maybe these houseboats are unable to move and are not seaworthy.  The lake is a huge one.  I could not see the shore on the other side, nor could I see it to the north or south.  The floating village was not a happy place even though it seemed to be a tourist Mecca.  When the rains come, I guess that clears it all up twice a year.  The drive back to the hotel took over an hour.  The dirt roads were dusty.  We had to stop for animals crossing and several of Chinese New Years were happening.  I had no problem with that, in fact I wanted to stop for them!  I went to sleep quickly when I got home.


February 7, 2000.   Friday Siem Reap, Cambodia 


I had previously arranged with Roon that we'd meet at 5:00 a.m. so I could go to the mountain and watch the sunrise.  We climbed the mountain in darkness, save for our flashlights.  It was a glorious idea, but I doubt that the camera managed to capture all of its beauty on the film.  I'll see at home.  The climb was rigorous and the darkness compounded the danger of narrow precipices and four-inch wide steps.  I was the first there at 5:30am, but a few people came later.  Next stop was Angkor Wat, or as it is called here, Angkor Vat.  The name seems to all to apply, generally, to any ruins that seem from the same period (around 1000 AD), but Angkor Wat is one of many structures.  It is probably the largest well-preserved monument of this collection.  I explored it by myself, after telling Roon to come back in two hours.  I loved it.  The walls tell a story.  Actually it was easier to understand than uniform hieroglyphics.  I bought a bowl of fried rice with chicken and vegetables for $1.00 (It also included a cup of coffee or tea).  Roon was waiting for me as we had agreed. Then we were off to the hotel where I checked out, and then to the Internet café.  I wasn't having much luck reaching Marcy.  I had tried to call last night, but after paying $5 for one minute, the charges start accumulating when they reach anybody like another phone operator. They were not able to get through so I should come back later. "Price reduced - bad luck on phone, sixy lala preez."  He had asked for six dollars.  I argued about paying for a “no connect”, but he insisted and said I must.  Roon thought I should pay because the phones are always difficult and very expensive to the proprietor.


The plane to Bangkok leaves at 2:20 p.m.  I must be at the airport by 1:00 p.m. because it is an international flight.  Roon got me there an hour early.  He was anxious to sleep because he wanted to be on time to meet me this morning - he parked in front of the hotel at 3:00 a.m. and slept in the car until I stood outside the hotel to find him waiting.


Text Box: 3650  Cambodian Rial = 1 U.S. dollar
36.5   Thai Baht = 1 U.S. dollar
 At the tiny airport, I paid Roon twelve dollars and gave him the fan hat.  He could have had my pocket watch that cost me more, instead of the three-dollar hat, but he chose the hat.  I did offer the watch because I saw he had no way to confirm what time it was.  The hat was his choice “because,” as Roon said, “no one else in Cambodia has such a hat.”  We said our good-byes and I sat in the empty airport accompanied by three military airport officials.  Slowly, other people arrived and, in due time, I boarded the propeller-driven fifty-seat passenger airplane.  The one-hour flight was interrupted only once by a stewardess courteously offering me a thin bologna sandwich (which I declined). I did accept a cup of green tea and, later, a frozen dessert cup of ice milk served with a tiny white plastic spoon. 


I collected my backpack, and then tried to find the Northwest terminal.  Cambodia was wonderful but I have been away from Marcy too long.  I think I'll surprise her, as I will myself - I'll try to go home now.  The Northwest terminal was closed.  I got a hotel room at an inflated price of 2,200 Baht instead of five hundred.  The room included the transportation to and from the airport and breakfast.  I would have to be at the airport by 4:00 a.m., so I needed to go to sleep quickly.  The dinner, a good Thai meal, was the most important thing on my mind that I could do right now.


I asked for advice from the hotel concierge who advised me to walk to a favorite restaurant about a half-mile away from the hotel.  I would rather not to eat at the hotel’s very British restaurant.  I chose to walk because Bangkok is a very interesting and exotic place. I enjoyed the lights and sounds, but the pollution is thick and extremely agitating to my eyes and throat. I wandered along the road, following the roadmap outlined in pen on the back of the business card by the concierge.  It was an easy walk, except for the broken and irregular concrete sidewalk.   I wasn't able to see a sign with script that resembled the Thai name the concierge had written on the card.  I was now on a strange street watching the hot sun quickly set. 


Strange buildings, unfamiliar traffic signs and lights, bizarre odors, and the weird sounds of the Thai language all congealed into a murky concoction that sparked excitement and ominous danger all at once.  I walked a while longer.  I was no longer certain where I was headed.  I hailed a cab as an attempt to extricate myself from this situation. A cab stopped on the busy, narrow, one-way street.  Immediately after I got in and shut the door, he started to move the cab back into traffic.   I showed him the card, but in the dim light he couldn’t see it well. Then I tried to explain to the driver where I wanted to go by saying the name of the restaurant.  His crazy laugh hinted that he had knew where I wanted to go, but for some maniacal reason, chose not to understand.  As this situation evolved I could see he really didn't. He took the small red and white hotel business card and showed it to a policeman on a corner, who also didn't know. Then he shoved the card into the face of a bicyclist who was momentarily stopped at a light.  Nobody (he asked) seemed to have any idea where this place could be.  I told the driver to head back to the hotel.  Ah!  He knew where this place was because it had directions in Thai.  There's the crazy laugh again.  Thoughts, weird ones, passed through my head about how I would deal with this if the situation worsened.  FNew ideas came to me beyond how to kick open the door with my foot; tuck, and roll.  Now, for no apparent reason, he laughs for the third time.  That confirmed my premonition, but my feelings grew stronger when he twisted his body to look at me when we stopped at a corner light signal. Blue neon lights reflected off his teeth.  His narrowed glazed eyes, and high oriental cheekbones added to the eeriness of the moment.  I watched for the hotel.  It just couldn't be far away.  I only walked less than a mile.  Fragments of familiar sights by this hotel were now visible.  I felt relieved, but only momentarily for he laughed again even louder.  He pulled to the front of the hotel where I immediately got out, tossed a dollar at him, and walked into the hotel. 

I talked with the concierge, and told him that the restaurant was not to be found.  Slightly astonished, he walked out front to point out the way.  Instead he told the cabbie the directions.  The cabbie laughed again with the strange intonation very much subdued now in front of potential witnesses.  The concierge waved for me to "come this way.”  I responded to his beckoning.  He opened the cab door then coaxed me to sit.  Compliantly, I did.  Out of the courtyard he drove swinging wildly into oncoming traffic, like Mr. Toad's Wild Ride.  A motorcycle with its lights off (to save the battery no doubt) narrowly missed being hit head on by us as we pulled onto the unlit road.  It was impossible to see the cyclist who was saved by his quick reaction. This was not to be blamed on my driver, yet he laughed weirdly.  I laughed too, but I felt uncomfortable in my reaction, and did not understand why I did so.


He drove back to the exact spot where he picked me up.  Here we stopped.  He pointed across the street.  That was where I was standing! So, it turns out that the restaurant has no signs out front but you can look in the large front window and see that it is a popular restaurant. 


I walked into the restaurant.  I was seated right away at a small table.  It cost ninety Thai baht for a beer.  That’s very expensive, but I had a delicious chili spiced seafood soup with huge pieces of lobster, and the broth was absolutely wonderful.  The soup was two dollars.  The fried rice, also wonderful, was one dollar.  Three US dollars was the price for the beer.  I could have done without the beer.  This was the best meal of my entire trip.  I love Thai food!  The taxi to the hotel was one-dollar U.S., I got the room key and fell asleep at 7:00 p.m., after asking for a 3:00 a.m. wake-up call.



February 8, 2000     Saturday Bangkok, Thailand


I woke at 2:00 a.m., very thirsty.  My dinner had been very delicious, but extremely spicy.  I couldn't go back to sleep because I had to get up in an hour. Instead, I repacked everything and prepared to fly.  If I wasn't getting on a place back to L.A. then I would to go somewhere.  Chang Mai seems like a good opportunity for me.  I tried yesterday on arrival to get to Myanmar, but all flights for yesterday, today and tomorrow are filled.


I will read my guidebook by Lonely Planet and figure out a way to go somewhere if I can't board.  The only reason to hang around here is to eat.  Bangkok is too commercialized for someone to find much pleasure in all the beautiful waddies they have here and around the palace. The endless annoyance of Tuk-tuk drivers pimping me to one or another shops to accumulate gas money is too much. 


The phone in the hotel room rings at 3:00 a.m.  I had already stepped out of the shower and was dressing when the wake-up call came. I was dressed and out of the room by 3:40 a.m., leaving me twenty minutes for a breakfast buffet.  I ate pineapple, mango, and watermelon, leaving the dry cereals, cocktail wieners, and loosely scrambled eggs, but I also enjoyed the rice, fried with green onions, onions, and colorful dime-sized pieces of peppers thrown together with broccoli and spinach.  The mélange was deeply satisfying to me, a person who has little desire for the usual breakfast faire.


I ate quickly because the taxi was waiting.  I climbed aboard and the driver took the duffel into the trunk. Fifteen minutes later I arrived, amazed to see so many people up so very early for this long journey.  I realized that my chances were extremely slim, probably closer to none.  I had to give a good shot at it.  The check-in clerk said, "You did not list for this flight."  I explained that I had my hotel call, luckily that was good enough for her. 


I was signed on and assigned a boarding pass, but there were two hours to kill before it would be secure - when the airplane pulls away from the terminal gate.  Only then did I sit, quietly, making myself as invisible as possible. The suspense was taking a heavy toll on my psyche.  An emotional flood was released when the door shut.  I was surprised to find that I was seated in first class!  What good luck!  The flight lasted about six hours, maybe a little less.  I was able to rest for all that time.  The wide seats were great!  In time we landed at Narita Airport in Tokyo. 





The airport seemed to have less security than other airports because it seemed a simple, uncomplicated task to bypass the metal detector at the gate.  Maybe the Japanese have handled this in another way, or other checks are done.  I feel safer when more security is in place.  I chose to go with the crowd and pass through the detector but I joined the long slow moving line in the middle rather than at its end.  I just followed a small group of Chinese who forged a special place for me in the line.  It saved me a half-hour of wait time. 


Everyone mills around the end of the terminal, which seems to house all of the foreign flights for Northwest.  I got my boarding pass, and then I boarded when it called.  It was not complicated, just lucky.  Having gotten aboard for the final leg I will certainly surprise Marcy. I would have advised by e-mail, but if I didn't make the flight she'd worry.  This should really surprise her, I know.  I'll call from the L.A. airport to her work, and probably just be able to leave a message for her, which says “I'll call a little later,” and hopefully by that time I'll have reached the Van Nuys Airport.  The flight is supposed to land in a little less than nine hours; by L.A. time I think it should be around 8am.  What a wonderful, but short, trip this has been.



Feb 10, Monday Los Angeles, California


I arrived at LAX at 9:00 a.m. and walked through Customs after having my backpack searched thoroughly.  They checked every pocket.  There was nothing for them to find.  The guard said that very often people who have visited either Bangkok or Cambodia have brought back some contraband.  That was why they selected me to search.  I took the bus to the Van Nuys Airport.   I took a cab from the airport to Marcy’s workplace.  Along the way I stopped and bought some roses for her.  Since she didn’t expect me to return for five more days, this will certainly be a nice surprise for her. 


Reflecting Back on Cambodia


This was a terrific adventure.  The only thing I could have done to improve it would have been to have Marcy enjoy it with me.  Well, I guess it would have been good to have gone to Myanmar and fly into Mandalay so I could catch a train or bus to Bagan, an important site highly recommended. Angkor Wat was spectacular.  Visiting Bangkok and Tokyo was good, but Angkor is at a different level.  I’m pretty sure I was able to do this trip from LAX to Seam Reap in Cambodia for less than a thousand dollars.  LAX - Bangkok was only $235, and three-fourths of it I flew in first class. The flight (RT) to Siem Reap from Bangkok was $320.  Other than that my expenses were always less than a hundred fifty dollars a day, sometimes much less, maybe averaging $100 since I started on the 31st of January, but made the first stop in Tokyo on the second day of February.  So, until I made the return journey, I had lost a day.  That means only eleven days of travel and four days were travel days.  I only need to count expenses for seven days.  Maybe I could have spent about fifteen hundred dollars as a grand total. 


What a wonderful memory I will have of this exotic land.  I always feel some trepidation about setting foot in a strange, foreboding country where I was advised by well-meaning, knowledgeable travelers to avoid, and of the dangers present.  Each and every time that I visit such a place as this where little information is available in an unbiased format, either in bookstores or on the Internet. I learn how silly and unwise it is for me to lose sight of the fact that I am traveling as one man, not as a group from one nation or another.  One man traveling alone, especially in an Asian country, is respected for his self-confidence, will and courage; seldom will he be maligned except when he shows outward signs of vulnerability and fear.  It is very rare for such solo travel among Asians. Further, the solo traveler is seldom feared, most often looked upon as an equal but with the time and ability to do what many have wished to do, which is travel and explore, unfettered by the dictates of “what the group has planned to do.”. The Japanese, a wealthy country by most comparisons, see its citizens usually traveling in a group.  I think that people see me that way and, to date, I have never felt unwelcome, except for the one incident in Sudan.  


I hope that Marcy is doing well and that we will, when she's able, go to Turkey or Iran - who knows, the idea of Bagan may appeal to her if the proper trip is assembled, like adding Singapore where it is a shopper’s paradise or Bangkok, again just for the wonderful food.