Tuesday, March 2, 2010

The big giant heads

Anyone get the 3rd Rock from the Sun reference there? Excellent. I thought I’d go for a humorous heading as I’m in a good mood at the moment. That’s in contrast to a few days ago, when I was planning to write a blog entitled “A wretched hive of scum and villainy” (quoting from Star Wars, fact fans).

I censored myself because I didn’t think that ranting about Siem Reap’s faults would be very constructive. Besides, with a little Googling I discovered that another blogger had managed it, more wittily than I could, a couple of years ago.

Here’s Kevin Murphy of texturbation on the Cambodian national character:
Would it be racist to say that Cambodian people are very friendly?

I mean, it’s a blanket statement about a nation’s entire people, based on four days of the flimsiest anecdotal evidence.

So yeah, probably racist. I’m racist, sue me.

Cambodian people are very friendly.

Days later he decides that Siem Reap’s tuk-tuk drivers are the most aggressive he’s ever met. Their behaviour, he says, is borderline psychotic.
Only one of the following true stories is a made-up lie:
1. I’ve been literally chased, running, for a block, by an hysterically laughing tuk-tuk guy who wouldn’t take no for an answer.

2. I’ve been offered a tuk-tuk by men who have just seen me climbing out of a tuk-tuk.

3. I’ve been offered a tuk-tuk whilst already in a tuk-tuk.

4. I’ve been offered a tuk-tuk by a tuk-tuk guy who already had passengers in his tuk-tuk.

5. Three tuk-tuk guys parked a few feet away from each other. They all see me coming a block away. The first guy offers me a tuk-tuk, which I decline. The second guy, who one second earlier has seen me decline his friend’s tuk-tuk, asks me if I want a tuk-tuk, as if I may have changed my mind in the meantime. The third guy, having seen me decline two offers of tuk-tuks in as many seconds, asks me if I want a tuk-tuk.

What Murphy writes, I might add, is no exaggeration.

What is more, I was going to have to deal with these people in order to see Angkor, commonly regarded as the most spectacular sight in southeast Asia.

It wasn’t supposed to be like this. I’d had it all planned out, ever since chatting to the French Canadian motorcyclist in Stung Treng. All I had to do was hire a motorbike, buy a seven-day entry ticket, set out with a map very early each day to beat the crowds and return to the guest house around midday, just as it was getting uncomfortably hot.

No-one told me foreigners are banned from hiring motorbikes in Siem Reap (a sensible move, considering how crazy the traffic is), so late one afternoon I rented a pushbike and attempted to cycle to Angkor. It practically killed me. Even if I’d had the energy, in the scorching daytime heat I would have needed to have pulled a trailer of bottled water behind me or bought it on the move from stallholders, which would have been more expensive than hiring a tuk-tuk in the first place.

I couldn’t see any way around it. So I sulked in my room for four whole days, keeping busy with laborious jobs like uploading my photos of Laos on to Facebook.

On Saturday night I ventured out to watch a parade of Cambodian kids and giant puppets that appeared to have been organised by charitable Westerners.

Afterwards I took a walk along Pub Street - the clue’s in the name - which is pretty much a tourist ghetto, with tuk-tuk drivers banned from entering. If you’re a lone male like me, a tuk-tuk guy will surreptitiously offer you “boom boom” within seconds of you emerging.

“That’s sex with a prostitute,” I told my sister on Skype the next day.

“Yes,” she said. “I gathered that.”

By now it should be obvious that I have a raging prejudice against tuk-tuk guys. In my experience they’ll rip you off as soon as look at you. In Siem Reap they come loaded with extra seediness. I don’t relish having to depend on scum like that. And the fares being bandied about for three days of ferrying a tourist around sounded extortionate to me.

To cut a long story short, yesterday I engaged the services of a tuk-tuk guy called Kia and so far he’s been smashing: a really nice, helpful young bloke. There's a moral in there somewhere.

Angkor’s fabulous too. It’s



and even, when I was at Angkor Wat yesterday,

Having whetted your appetite, I’m off to get ready for an early start tomorrow. It’s the third and final day of my Angkor odyssey and I’m really looking forward to it… so much so that I might force myself to sit through Tomb Raider again when I get the chance, just to watch the scenes that were filmed in these parts.

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