FINAL DAYS IN SAIGON…CAMBODIA HERE I COME

I decided to try a different  area of my neighborhood last night.   I parked myself  in  a little
sidewalk cafe at a major intersection on the fringe of my neighborhood.  I had three beers
while watching the world go by.  Three episodes occurred.  First was a flame eating street
performer.  I had never seen this in Vietnam.  A young boy of around 12  or 14 years of age,
wearing red silk pajamas approached a large group  at the Cafe across the street and pulled
out his bottle of gasoline and his torches and proceeded to do some baton twirls with the
torches and then blow fire from his mouth into the air above the crowd. After a minute or
two commanding his audience , he extinguished to torches in his mouth.  His sidekick joined
him while they collected money from the crowd and disappeared.  
Then an American pulled up on a rent a bike and sat on the other side of my patio Cafe and
ordered a beer.  A street vendor approached him selling fruit and he bought a green papaya.
 She sat down on the ground next to him, peeled and cut it into a plastic bag, then measured
out a small amount of salt and cayenne mix and presented him with the goods while
collecting his money.  Another street vendor approached him right after but she had nothing
he wanted except her company.  He offered to buy her a Coke.  A Coke for a Vietnamese
making $50 a week is a big treat so she sat with him and was there when I left.  So for the
price of a Coke , he had company to sit and chat with and was meeting the “other”.  
I was getting ready to pay my bill when a Motor Bike arrived with two big black guys .  The
driver was casually dressed while his passenger was in a suit and tie.  The driver appeared
to be this other guy’s bodyguard and guide.  Funny considering they are riding around on a
Small Motor Bike.  The waitress offered them a seat but the “bodyguard” protested the seats
were not to their liking and they wanted something more fitting for the King of Swaziland.  
So while the king was waiting inside, the waitresses promptly removed the chairs and
replaced them with nicer chairs with arms and padding.  Then the bodyguard wanted the
table replace with a larger table more fitting for the King of Swaziland…which they did.
 They the King came out and surveyed the situation while the waitresses stood by waiting
his approval.  He asked them to take away the chair next to me because someone might sit
there and he didn’t want anyone to sit that close to the King. Never did either one smile or
act friendly in the least bit. 
    I departed for the Bread and Butter and some conversation with Dan.  When I arrived,
there was a Fox News correspondent from Central America chatting him up so I joined in.
 He was from Flagstaff , on holiday and returning tomorrow to Belize to begin a month long
adventure of riding a Motorbike throughout  South America , like Che Guevara in Motorcycle Diaries. He was a big fan of the Salt Cellar seafood restaurant and had never heard of Taylor’s!  Can you imagine.  He just returned from Siem Reap and had some great stories.   A few hours later, Dan was throwing us out. 
The Fox correspondent was staying in the hotel across the street from mine.  I bid him good night and walked into the lobby to find a half naked resident guest from Toronto that lived in Valencia Spain for 9 years behind the counter passing me my room key while the night watchman was out fetching more beer for him and another couple from New Castle England.  Have a beer mate?…oh sure why not.
I woke up that morning.  That was an accomplishment considering I went to bed that morning.
The last day I did nothing.  I wasn’t able to get on Google or check my mail.  Facebook was totally blocked in Vietnam and Google could have been. 
I had my last breakfast in Vietnam. This morning I took the VIP bus to Phnom Penh.  It took
all day on a full bus. The roads were good in places and dirt in others.  We had to take a river
ferry to cross where there was no bridge.  The ride took us to the  border where we had to get
out and go through Vietnamese border control then get on the bus, drive 20 yards then get
our Visas at the Cambodian border control.
 I met an Irishman from Donegal who was traveling for about 8-10 weeks with nowhere in
particular except SE Asia. We were staying at the same hotel, “Me Mates”.  
The Cambodian countryside was an enjoyable experience.  We passed carts full of just raw
fresh cut lemon grass that they bundle up to take to another who will in turn strip it and cut
it down then pass it on to others to sell or cook with.  Stalls along the road near a marsh that
sold fresh lotus blossoms.  The older people buy them to put in their Spirit Houses or to offer
the Buddha at the Temple or at their altar in their homes. Hay stacks to feed the cattle were
obviously cut my hand , put on a water buffalo drawn hay wagon and brought to a area and
stacked up in a big pile.  All houses are built on stilts.  Some higher than others.  The walls
are made of board or woven palm fronds that are pounded , then laid out in the sun to dry
before weaving them into a mat or a wall or a doorway or a floor.  
There was a Tuk Tuk waiting to drive us to the hotel and after a short trip through the city
we checked in.  Nice room and place.  I booked a trip to the Killing Fields at 9:30 am with my
Tuk Tuk driver. I’m going to freshen up and explore the area before nightfall. 
I was warned that Cambodia is the wild west and I believe it.  I walked along the river area
at sunset.  Everyone was out playing, exercising, and wooing.  I visited a craft carnival then
walked around the downtown river area.  It is very dark.  You look for lights where business
may be booming but there are none.  They are there but dark.  I finally decided to get some
money from an ATM.  I got ripped off at the border, using black market money changers and
wanted to have money for dinner and the next day.  I saw a machine in the lobby of a hotel
and inserted my card, punched in $100…no “reals” as they are called available.  DOLLARS.
I got my card back, a receipt but when I went to take the cash, the machine took it back.  I
called the Desk Clerk and he claimed no responsibility for the ATM machine but said to call
the help number on the machine.  Conveniently there happened to be a phone on top of the
ATM machine.  He called for me and explained that I had to get credit from my bank in the
US.  I used their computer and contacted them to find the money was removed from my
account and they can’t refund it unless the owners of the ATM and their bank send them a
credit.  This same thing happened to a friend of mine in Panama City and he never got his
money back either. C’est la vie.  Not a good start for the first night. 
I took a Tuk-Tuk back and he overcharged me. The beers at the Me Mates where I was
staying were overpriced so I went to the local 7/11, used the ATM and got $100.  I bought
some Cambodian Vodka to take back to the room.
I took off at 9:30, after a nice fruit salad ,  for the Killing Fields where Pol Pot and the Khmer
Rouge took people to kill them. Auschwitz just celebrated the 65 Anniversary of the liberation.
 I’ve been to both now.  I saw the Killing Fields movie years ago and never forgot Sam
Waterman and Quentin Tarantino’s part in the movie that was nominated for 4 Academy
awards and I think won best Picture of the year? I also read a book, a few months before I
left that  my friend Anita lent me, about the children that survived the killing fields.  They
were scattered all over the world but their story of terror and losing their parents was
incredible.   Pol Pot trucked them in and bludgeoned, stabbed, and in a lot of cases buried
them alive.  Babies were taken by the legs and smashed against the “Killing Tree”to crush
their skull or thrown into the air and impaled on the way down then thrown into the pit with
the rest…alive or dead to be covered in Lye and DDT and buried.  Speakers were hung from
the trees and loud music played to drowned out the screams so the local villagers couldn’t hear
the terror.  One burial pit was for special offenders, like cadre of Pol Pot that he suspected
were plotting against him.   They were beheaded but buried headless with their heads taken
elsewhere.  The Buddhist believed you had to be buried intact for your spirit to return to the
heaven and be reincarnated .  If it wasn’t, your spirit would wander alone forever.  
 Hitler brought them by train and burned them. It is something hard to imagine until you
see the skulls piled high and see the photos.  I took a few photos then we stopped at the
prison where the enemies of Pol Pot were kept until he decided to truck them to the Killing
Fields.
I didn’t plan this excursion very well.  I got my ticket to Siem Reap tomorrow so won’t get to
see much of Phnom Penh.  Thought I’d just go to the center and eat Lak Lok, a Cambodian
Beef dish that is supposed to be good then maybe checkout the local bar scene.  The bar here
is great but expensive.
    I returned to 7/11 up the street to get some more money then hired a motorbike to take me
to Lakeside and a beer on the wharf where all the guest houses were.  There are two lakes…
one in the South of the City that everything gets dumped in.  This one is dying also but from
lack of water.  People used to rent row boats and smoke dope while rowing around.  I did buy
some after getting robbed by the ATM machine last night but knew the police hang out in
these foreign areas looking for the smell.  If they find it and catch you, you can be heavily
fined and possibly jailed and deported if you have no money to pay the fines or bribes…
around $500-600.  Who knows what the TSA might do if they find out.
There were two things missing that evening: Someone to share the sunset and a sunset.  
My driver fished in the lake and knew the area and the people well.  He would drop his
line beneath the floorboards of the guest house as the fish lived under the piers.  Then went
he would catch a fish , they would have to launch a boat , grab the fish and club it then take
it back for scaling and cleaning.  He said they add lemon and vegetables and cook in on the
BBQ.
 I bought him a soda and I had him drive me downtown to eat.  He was not familiar with the
places I wanted so he dropped me in the area while I explored.  I never found Rory’s or the
Cantina but had my Lak Lok at Lemongrass , a Thai Restaurant that was empty when I arrived
and FULL when I paid my $20 tab.  I had some Thai, some Khmer, and some wine. 
While walking the streets in the downtown area I noted a beggar.  She had her son in her
arms who was maybe 8 years old and he had a huge head that was over-sized and swollen. His
eyes were bugged out and he appeared retarded.  They were sitting on the ground and she
had a plastic bucket held out for help.  Where is the Cambodia People’s Party?  Why isn’t this
person in a hospital or hospice whichever the case may be.  I donated but wondered where
they sleep?
   Lak Lok at Lemongrass , a Thai Restaurant that was empty when I arrived and FULL
when I paid my $20 tab.  I had some Thai, some Khmer, and some wine. and ventured back
to 7/11 to buy some real Vodka.  I had to throw out the 104% white lighting or wood alcohol.
  That would have surely done me in with one drink.  I put a half a shot in a glass with 8oz of
water and 6 oz of Tonic and got high sniffing it.  Like glue. Not that I know, I just suspect.
   While I was cashing out I noticed a big display of EDS enhancers…Cialis,  Latevira,  Viagra,
Lubes, Rubbers, ….etc…so just non nonchalantly asked the price since I pay almost $12 a pill
in Az….$1.25 for the same and that was the top shelf brand.  I bought 4 for $5.  Always looking
for a bargain!  It was a full moon tonight.  I wonder?
 Off to Siem Reap tomorrow early…7am.
    This morning,  when I was checking out, the front desk wouldn’t accept  my twenty dollar
bill.  I wouldn’t either.  It is a fake.  Counterfeits of American money is prevalent in this part
of the world and especially in the wild West of Cambodia where ATM machines issue only
dollars and black market changers are openly trading on the street for dollars.  I paid $10 at
the tour office to which the hotel manager said they charge $8.  I told him they charged me
more for the convenience of pick up and delivery to the bus depot.  The pick up was to be at
8 am for the 8:30 departure but it was 8:20 and three phone requests later.  The tour agent
kept saying a pick up was on it’s way but not wanting to miss my bus and wait another hour
or two, I took a taxi and paid another $2.  Complaining doesn’t not get you anywhere and
getting angry and yelling at someone could cause them to lose face and you to die or at the
least to get punched out.
 I rode the VIP bus for midgets 5 and 1/2 hours to get here in Siem Reap. The trip would have
been nice except that my legs were cramping and my feet falling asleep.  My Mate, David
from Kilkenny Ireland was sound asleep…half the time in my lap. The countryside was idyllic
with wooden farm houses on stilts and made from woven palm fronds with thatched or
corrugated metal roofs.  Most of the farmers did rice but there were haystacks everywhere.  
Animals seemed to just go where they wanted.  Many times the bus had to slow or stop to let
a Brahman Cattle pass.  Goats, chickens, hens, cattle, Water Buffalo, and ducks were just
walking around…even in the towns we would pass.   This place is packed with people from
all over the world to see one of the most famous world heritage sites…Angkor Wat. The bus
was totally uncomfortable but I’m here and settled in to a very nice hotel called the Happy
Little Guesthouse. It was $3 a night but all rooms are doubles so since I don’t have anyone
to share it with me, I have to pay $6…well then I found out I booked it with a fan so if I want
A/C it goes to $11.  Not bad for my own room with all the amenities and two windows…one
that looks out on the roof so I can be naked with the drapes open.  Love it. 
 I rode with an Irishman from Kilkenny. He just arrived in Cambodia via Bangkok stopover
coming from Seoul Korea where he is in his third year of teaching English.  He came to the
hotel with me and booked a room as he didn’t have one planned.  We agreed to do a tour
tomorrow and hired out Tuk Tuk driver and got the hotel to hire us a personal tour guide.
 $15 and $20 divided by 2…$20…maybe I’ll get rid of my twenty?  I really think it should be
in some rip off night club in the dark late at night on my way home.
 Well I’m to Pub Street near the Temple Bar and on my way to the Funky Monkey before
having a Hemp Pizza at the Herbal Pizza joint to take away. I need to bed down early and
leave early for the day.  I have to get some more photos in before dark. I never did go to the
Herbal Pizza as Picasso, a Tapas and Wine bar got my attention.  A Carafe of Rioja and the
Picasso Tapas Platter was more than satisfying. 
    My first impressions of Cambodia were not so positive and neither was my experiences. 
Today made up for all of that.  I could almost live here.  Siem Reap is very up to par with some
of the finest places in the world yet cheap.  People are friendly and don’t rip you off and smile
when you hand them a dollar for your taxi ride.
The names of the places speak for themselves.  Dead Fish…dead since 1999, my Happy Little
Guest House next door to Home Sweet Home.  Red Piano , Funky Monkey, Happy Pizza,
Happy Herb Pizza, Ecstatic Pizza, Green Elephant, Home Sweet Home, Mom’s Place, Missing
in Action, Seeing Hands, Friendship, La Grand Cafe, Body Tunes, Common Grounds Cafe,
Seeing Hands, Swensen’s…how did that get there?  Well you get the point.
I am having a Fresh Pineapple Crepe for breakfast followed by some soup.  Our driver and
guide showed up and David and  David took off to see one of the Seven Wonders of the world.
 Our guide spoke fluent German, English and Cambodian.  We did two smaller Temples in
the morning, broke for lunch , then did Angkor Wat
in the afternoon.


It was a long hot , humid, and tiring day.  We got back around 3 pm so I took a nap and
freshened up then I met up with David and we went to Pub St for Herbal Pizza.  We bought
one small and split it.  Then we went to the Wine “Bar I was at the night before and split a
carafe of wine.  When we finished the wine , it was hard to tell if the Pizza had any effect but
an hour later, and another pizza later, you could feel it.  Herb has a different effect when
ingested instead of smoked…but you knew that.  The bars and restaurants were all packed
and the town was very lively.  We got back around Midnight and I went right to sleep . 
The next morning we joined up again and after breakfast we took off with just our driver for
two more Temples.  The Temples were small and way out in the country but very well
preserved and very interesting.  We had our driver drop us in town and we had Pizza.  I had
the “Special” and  Irish David had a regular one this time.  I returned to my room for Siesta
and Irish David went to a travel agency to see about side trips. I haven’t seen him since.  We
talked about going to the floating village the next day. I dropped my laundry off and booked
my room for one more night. I made arrangements to take the 8pm bus the day I checkout
that takes me overnight to Sihanoukville.
I am just finishing breakfast and my driver is here.  I haven’t seen my partner but will wait a
little longer before taking off.  It is a lot cheaper when we split the costs too! I went back to
David’s room but no sound so I figured he was sleeping and there must be a reason for it so
I left on my own.  Aran, my driver took me to the Lake then I paid $30 for a ticket and had
my own boat and driver.  He took me to the floating village then stopped in the middle of the
lake and wanted to know how much I pay him?  This lake is big and you can’t see the horizon
and I’m being extorted for money.  I wasn’t happy that I didn’t have anyone to split this with
so I told him I’m not here to pay anymore money.  I want to see the village, take pictures and
return.  He suggested the fish farm where you buy what you want then take to the restaurant
and pay to have them cook it.  I reminded him I didn’t not want to pay anything more.  He
then suggested that I might want a tour of the floating elementary school.  Then I could
donate some money for books and pens. The photo on the right is a floating
basketball/volleyball court.  I stopped talking to him and requested he start the engine and
finish the tour.  He did and I returned to Siem Reap Market place and walked around the city
before stopping at Common Ground Cafe for a Latte, Pumpkin Soup and a salad.  It is
interesting that I see Pumpkin Soup advertised in Thailand, Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia
but never see a pumpkin at the market.
  That night I went to my Tapas Bar


and had some Spanish Meatballs with some Red Wine…then switched to Beef Rioja and
Sangria.  Two of these made to order Sangria’s was enough to send me home and bed.
David was having breakfast when I came down the next morning and we agreed to visit a
nearby Wat and walk around town that morning. We did all of that and even had a Monk
give us a small tour.
 It was getting oppressive so we ducked into Common Ground Cafe for lunch then I went
home and took a siesta.
Tonight I took a Tuk to Temple Bar and ran into David with a new friend Jay from
Singapore. Jay just came from Snooky so filled us in a bit.  After a few $.50 drafts, David
returned to catch his bus Snooky ,with a promise to email me tomorrow after check in as
I haven’t found a place to stay yet.  
Jay and I split a Herb Pizza and went to the Tapas bar for some Chili Con Carne and
Sangria.  I returned home and Jay was off to get some sleep then visit the Temples
tomorrow.  I agreed to meet him as he was returning to Singapore that eve that I was
leaving on the bus and he had some smoke he couldn’t take back but was willing to share
on his roof top guesthouse bar.   
I came back and stopped to get some papers to assist me if I could manage to roll one.  I
bought some Stoli and tonic and returned to my room to find it unlocked.   Nothing stolen
just a fresh towel to replace the old.  I rolled one and went over to OUR neighborhood
Rooftop restaurant thinking it might be possible to smoke up there.  Lots of young and old
couples and groups but only cigarettes and sitting around a wading pool soaking their feet
or having a beer while checking their email.  I ordered a Gin and Tonic and while he was
looking up the price I quoted him $2.50…her replied…$1.50 because I said it was happy
hour.  It was after 9 pm …of course I tipped him and he invited me back tomorrow.  You
can use the hammock, internet, eat and drink or sleep.  Perfect with 8 hours to kill after
checkout to have a bed to hang in while sitting out the heat.  On leaving I noticed Mom’s
Place across the street.  It said:  Come a King, leave a friend, return as family.
    That is the attitude in Siem Reap.  I’ll see what it is in Snooky tomorrow. 
I slept late then finished packing and had my coffee while checking my email.  I took a
shower before checking out at 1 pm then stored my bag in a safe room until the bus left at
8 pm.  I took my computer to Common Grounds and edited photos most of the afternoon.
 David emailed me.  His bus ride was bad.  He took some sleeping pills and sat in the back.
 Half-way the A/C on the roof was leaking condensation on him and it woke him up.  David
arrived and took a Tuk Tuk to find a room.  Three dumps later he was so exhausted he took
a room for that night.  I little later and after a nap he found a better place and booked it.  I
had just booked one myself when I got his message.  It turns out we are neighbors…pretty
close to each other.   

I told Jay I would meet him that evening around 5 pm to have a beer and finish what smoke
he had as he was leaving country.  He was late after touring all 3 of the big temples that day
so we decided to share a Special Herb Pizza.  I bought some sleeping pills…10 for $1 and met
him at the Pizza joint. He was born and lived in Singapore all his life.  He worked for
Marriott selling time shares and traveled when he could.  He had been all over Asia.  We
exchanged e-mail addresses and I returned to the Happy Guest house to collect my bags
and board the VIP Bus for Midgets and a 10 hour ride to Snooky.   Thank God for Sleep
pills.  I was cramped in and very uncomfortable.  We made a quick stop at a roadside
restaurant for snacks.  I took two pills boarded the bus and slept the entire trip.


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