06.12.2009 - 13.12.2009 30 °C
Iits' so easy to get blase on an extended trip like this. Another beach; another temple; another gleaming UNESCO protected old town; another sunset; another sunrise; another bone crunching 4 your journey down a dirt track bumpy enough to masquerade as the surface of the moon.
As far as boat trips are concerned, if you add them all together I feel that I have circumnavigated half way around the world. I have witnessed the fascinating hustle and bustle of Mekong life on its waterways. I have weaved around the limestone islands in the stunning Holong bay. I have also been up the beautiful Nam Ou river form Luang Prabang to Nong Khiaw in Lao.
Towards the end of my trip I found myself still being wowed by a boat trip. On 6th December I decided to make the trip to Angkor Watt in style by taking a 7 hour boat journey from Battambang to Siem Reap on the Tonle Sap river. The water levels were low as the boat crashed trough the marshes. Semi submerged tree branches seemed to reach out and grab passengers, perhaps asking for a tip. On this journey we passed through fishing boats, floating villages, schools, riverside communities and tremendous bird life.
The boat trip was a hard act to follow although Angkor did not disappoint. Some of these clusters of (mainly Hindu) temples date back to the 9th century. All are accessible from Siem Reap although transport is required. I bought a 3 day pass. In order to vary the experience I decided to tour around on a auto rickshaw for the first day, bicycle for the second day and motorbike taxi for the first day. Had I bought a 7 day pass then day 4 would have been elephant back, day 5 pogo stick, 6 space hopper and on day 7 I would have used astral projection to take me to the most remote of temples.
Angkor Wat is undoubtedly the 'A list' highlight. Even with the masses of tourists, witnessing sunset at Ankor Wat was magical. The other temples however still have their own unique characteristics, like faces on the Bayan temples and the intricate carvings on some of the smaller temples. As if to add to their mystical nature, many of the temples are so old that they have been strangled by tree routes (eg Ta Promh). To add to the atmosphere often land mine victim buskers play sweet traditional music whilst you wander around. Another highlight of the area is Kbal Spean where carvings are submerged in the River of a Thousand Lingas.
Siem Reap itself is a great place to stay (I patronised the charms of the distinctly non Hilton 'Wats Up' guest house). It is brimming with restaurants bars and fish massages. A fish massage is not a giant Haddock cracking your bones. It is when you practically stick your feet in a fish tank and let the fish eat away your dead flesh. I gave it a go and instantly the fish were gasping for breath.
On my last day at Siem Reap I got pally with my moto driver and was invited to dinner at his house. I met his pregnant wife and 3 year old son and saw where the other half live. Their hospitality was overwhelming even though their so call house was the size of a garden shed.
Teap is pronounced quite usefully as 'Tip' and he was my aformentioned moto driver. He took me to the airport the next day. When I jumped on the flight to Kuala Lumpur part of me was left. I had developed a huge fondness for Cambodia, its people and Indochina as a whole.
Kuala Lumpur, my final stop was a huge contrast to what had come before. It was a giant melting pot that played like a link between East and West or Asia's greatest hits. How about a bit of How about a bit of Chinatown, little India, colonial district with all the grandiose buildings and cricket field in the centre of town? I was staying in an Arabic district. I was never far away from the waft of the wonderful food from restaurants, cafes and ethnic food.
Arriving at 21st century Asia was however like having emerged from a 9 week coma. I initially cowered from the bright lights like a rabbit startled by a car headlights. Initially I mourned the laid back small town feel of almost everywhere in Indochina. I quickly started to like Kuala Lumpur on its own merits though.
In the numerous huge western style shopping Malls I was rudely reminded that Christmas was around the corner. And very christmassy it was for a country where Christianity is a minority religion. The decorations were extravagant and in one mall a female Malaysian singer was belting out cliched Christmas songs about snow and reindeers. She was oblivious to the 30 degree humidity outside.
Of course the Petronas tour dominates the skyline. Gleaming modern stupas worshiping the god of consumerism.
All in all a great place, One thing I like about it is that it is a city with lungs. There are wonderful parks that provide opportunities to glimpse the towers from different. One park is effectively a city jungle complete with monkeys swinging around. Another park was shared with the biggest walk in aviary in the world.
It was on the penultimate day of my trip that I sat on one of the endless steps leading up to the impressive Batu caves. These huge caves are perpetually busy with Hindu worshipers visiting the cave temple. I sat admiring the Kuala Lumpur skyline and was flicking through the pictures on my camera. Suspecting that a cold grey Manchester was only 2 days away I tried to will myself to the time that some of the older pictures were taken. I tried to transport myself to the mountains of Sapa or the streets of Georgetown, Penang. It didn't work even though I had been sipping a can of Kickapoo Joy Juice. This was a popular Malaysian fizzy drink, and I hoped, a space time vortex lubricant. As a last resort I searched in vain for a discarded Tardis and eventually came to the conclusion that I could not play with time.
Alas the end of my trip, a journey of a lifetime. At least I still have the photos, the memories and the dodgy souvenirs and also the ability to dream of my next trip.