River Steamer to Battambang

March 31, 2012

Leaving Siem Reap, we had two transportation choices available to get us to the northwestern Cambodia city of Battambang: one of the harrowing minivans, whose drivers routinely engaged in passing maneuvers that brought new meaning to the term “near miss”; or the slow, scenic boat trip on a river steamer, about which the Lonely Planet book says “…the river scenery is truly memorable” and “breakdowns are very common” (their italics). By the end of the trip we would agree wholeheartedly on both counts.

The “river steamer”, which looked for all the world like “The African Queen”,  turned out to be a diesel-powered craft; by the sound of it, it could have been Rudolf Diesel’s original prototype. It assaulted both the ears and the nose from some distance off (and the remaining senses as we got closer), and left a plume of oily black smoke in its wake as it made its way down the river and out onto Tonle Sap Lake. There were seats
inside, but it was quite a hot day, so we opted to travel on the roof of the boat. Twelve or fifteen of us staked out seating space on the fibreglass floor, only to discover that the boat was listing alarmingly to the starboard side; the captain’s aide came topside and quickly hustled a number of folks across the boat, thus adjusting the horizon back to its preferred horizontal orientation.

The scenery was as advertised by Lonely Planet: lush jungle, with brightly colored birds and chattering monkeys, punctuated by floating villages, long-tail fishing boats, and countless kids smiling and waving as we went by. I had one of those life-imitates-art-imitates-life moments when I made the observation that it was
rather like the jungle boat ride at Disneyland, the big differences being that the Disney ride lets you off at the designated time, the engine doesn’t catch fire en route and halt the ride for several hours, and it never (but never!) gets stuck on a sandbar, requiring assistance from myriad nearby fishermen. Despite all that, or perhaps because of it, the boat trip was one of the finest travel experiences I have ever had, one with National Geographic photo opportunities at every bend of the river, and I heartily recommend it if you should ever find yourself at loose ends in northwestern Cambodia.

We finally got into Battambang after a dozen hours or so; rumor has it that the boat trip typically takes eight hours, and you can do the parallel route by car in about three hours, tops, and in air-conditioned comfort as well. But where’s the fun in that? Our hotel had promised us a driver, and indeed one awaited us at the top of the stairs from the dock. He wore a slightly perplexed expression as he surveyed the scraggly bunch of travelers ascending the steps. In his hand was a hastily scrawled sign that read “Mr. Blues”. “That’s me,” I said, pointing at the card. I hefted our luggage into the tuk-tuk and off we went. He spoke virtually no English, so I felt entirely comfortable in saying (in a dreadful approximation of an upper-crust English accent) “Home, James, and don’t spare the whip!”

Move'm out!

 

Floating monks

 

The friendliest kids on the planet, more to come!

 

The penthouse suite of our intrepid craft...

 

A brief stop at a floating market...

 

Friendliest kids redux

 

Monks redux

 

The kitchenwares market...

 

2br, 1ba, boat parking for two

 

Sunday afternoon family drive...

 

Yet more charming kids...

 

Saki's best picture of the trip...

 

Battambang at long last!

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Manglish Revisited, Strange Asian Products, Plus Some Great T-shirts

March 20, 2012

No idea what they were going for here...

Using only 100% Stinky Coconut Oil for Your Massage

 

Apparently the proofreaders were blind as well...

 

I quite like this one...

 

"Y'all don't be wearin' none of those 'very shorts'..."

 

Peach-Flavored Fruit Basket Toilet Tissue

 

...Also available in White Grape flavor!

 

Can there possibly be a better name for toilet paper?

 

Get Mikey to try it...

 

What do you suppose this device does?

 

In some cases, words are superfluous...

 

Cooked, but still "pecking"...

And finally, some t-shirts:


Angkor Wat and Siem Reap

March 18, 2012

We have just come off a week in Siem Reap, Cambodia, where we alternated days visiting the massive temple complex of Angkor Wat, and relaxing in and about the town; there is so much to take in, and we didn’t want to get “templed out”. I am truly thankful to be part of the digital age, as if I still used a film camera, my processing bills would have easily equalled all the other trip costs combined. I actually managed to fill a 16-gig memory card!

Monks and monkeys at Angkor Wat

 

A better shot, sans monkeys

 

Moto-taxi driver coppin' Zs in Siem Reap

 

Tourist gets fish "predicure"

 

No piranha, honest...

 

Suggested Movie Title: "A Tree Runs Through It"

 

And again...

 

Perhaps you'd like to see what's behind Door Number Tree

 

Temple Elephants (on the left side, I mean...)

 

Kudzu? I laugh at your silly kudzu!

 

Temple Sunset

 

Jeep in Siem Reap

 

Carved stone at every turn...

 

I mean EVERY turn!

 

Who says Japanese ham is hard to find?

Or Canadian ham, for that matter?

 

In case you didn't know, it's a LEXUS!

 

Not just the one Lexus, but EVERY Lexus!

 

Siem Reap outdoor market

 

"Still Life With Brooms and Motorcycle"

 

Siem Reap Carnaval Night


Channeling My Inner Andy Rooney

March 5, 2012

I don’t think I deliberately set out to be curmudgeonly, but I find myself acquiescing to that side of my character rather more often lately than I remember having done in the past. It is not exactly crankiness (there is, after all, some humor to be found in it), but there is definitely an element of judgmental-ness that contradicts my self-image to a sometimes alarming degree. Several examples have shown up over the course of this trip, but this one is freshest in my mind.

Tattoos: in my observation, there are few (okay, exactly zero) bodies improved upon by the addition of a tattoo. Chanteuse Bette Midler once commented that she had considered having an image of the Mona Lisa tattooed on one of her breasts; quite possibly, given the dimensions of the canvas in question, it could have been rendered life-size. She opted not to do it, however, citing the possibility that as she got older, gravity and its resultant tissue sag might render the portrait strongly reminiscent of Edvard Munch’s “The Scream”. I think that was a very well-considered decision on her part; would that many of the scantily-clad tourists in Thailand, Myanmar and Cambodia had exercised similar restraint. Tweety Bird and Snoopy are both charming in their original milieus, to be sure, but quantifiably less so on the hairy leg or pendulous breast of a tank-topped sunburnt holiday-maker. The same goes for Iron Man, Sailor Moon, and Hello Kitty, perhaps even more so. Let’s not forget the ubiquitous variations on the flying-wing theme, usually found in what is generally known as “the small of the back”, the area directly above “the large of the butt” (thanks, Laura, for pointing out that distinction!). My friend Eric tells me that in his homeland of Holland, this design is colloquially known as “arcshgeweih”, which translates in English to “ass antlers”; now, of course, I can never see this sort of tattoo without thinking of Bullwinkle.

Also, much in the way that Asians love to use English for its aesthetics rather than for its connotation, Westerners seem to love having Japanese kanji characters indelibly imprinted upon their skin, irrespective of what said character(s) might mean. Perhaps the tattoo that read “I am who” was simply a case of the artist running out of ink, or possibly the tattoo-ee hit his pain threshold before the thought could be completed, although I am frankly at something of a loss as to what the finishing phrase to “I am who…” might be.

It is probably fitting that I am writing this missive in the coastal Thailand town of Krabi (seriously), pronounced just as one might expect. I will be here for the next several days, so who knows what other things I may find to Krab about in the meantime?