Winter Break: New Year’s in Cambodia and heading home

Previous: The rest of the Angkor Temples

It was difficult to wake up for New Year’s Eve in Siem Reap Centre. The end of our vacation was nearing, leaving us drained but optimistic about home sweet Korea in the near future. And spending from early morning to late afternoon previously that day tackling the temples of Angkor in the hot and muggy sun on 3-4 hours of sleep the night before wiped us out pretty good. But come on, it’s New Year’s Eve and we’re in Cambodia. I never thought I’d being saying that, but since I was, it was time to motivate and experience this for most likely the only time in my life.

From all appearances, Siem Reap was gearing up for a rowdy night. Roadways were blocked off and the people were starting to gather. Bar Street was slammed early in the evening. We took a leisurely stroll through the heart of the action to soak in the atmosphere and pick a place to eat an early dinner. After weighing the many options, we settled on grabbing a burger at Funky Munky, a British pub decorated in old film posters, known for solid food. The main reason we selected this place was the available tables on the second floor outdoor seating area overlooking the craziness below. And it was a bonus that the food was good as well. We ordered a burger with pineapple, bacon and avocado with wedge style fries and people watched. Families were walking about. Foreigners were stumbling around. The group of lady boys congregated directly below where we were sitting were prancing around, acting dramatic.

After dinner we continued to meander around the area. Not feeling like joining any of the craziness, we skipped the parties and booming bars and enjoyed the company of each other amidst the hectic New Year’s back drop. At one point we witnessed a scuffle. Not sure what all the fuss was about, but a large crowd had gathered around a few Cambodian men that were going at it. Police had approached the scene already but weren’t doing much. Their non-reaction to keeping the peace reminded me of the brawl I saw some time ago in Korea, where the police stood back and watched as young Korean men kicked each other repeatedly in the head.

We sat on a park bench along the Siem Reap River to ring in the New Year. As the city prepared to welcome 2010, more and more people made their way in to the center of the madness happening across the street. Fireworks started popping off just before midnight. They carried on for a good 10-15 minutes past the magic hour as we kicked it on concrete seats, talking about the highlights and lowlights of this crazy trip. What we should have been doing was paying attention to the mosquitoes that were feasting on our legs, because the next day my girl counted something crazy like 30-40 bites.

The plan the next day was to sleep in as late as possible before walking around Siem Reap one last time, grabbing late breakfast or lunch prior to our tuk tuk to the airport. Unfortunately, the construction going on next to the hostel woke us up pretty early. Regardless of the rude awakening, the sleep that night was nice and well deserved.

Because we were up, we made our way downstairs to try the free hostel breakfast. Unlike the Hanoi Backpacker’s Hostel, the complimentary breakfast at the Siem Reap Hostel was no good. I think most of it had already been pillaged, and all that remained was some lousy bread, bad butter, weird jams and some fruits I had never tried before.

Not at all satisfied and in dire need of sustenance, we showered up, packed our bags and walked into the heart of town. The hostel stored our belongings for us so we could check out and not have to pack them around all day. After purchasing our last Cambodian goods and souvenirs, including some curry I can’t wait to cook up and a t-shirt for my dad, we settled on a nice cafe for some real food. We sat outside and took our time eating, relaxing and people watching.

Again the food was excellent. The burger was the best I had eaten in a long time. My girl’s french toast was cooked to perfection, with cinnamon and powdered sugar, and covered in bananas. We lazily enjoyed our last morning/late afternoon in Cambodia at a slow pace. As more patrons walked in, completed their meals and walked out, we remained in our seats outside.

A very skinny Cambodian man pulling a cart and sporting a mean mullet, stopped in front of the cafe and cranked some music. He then set up a ring about 5 feet up and placed a mat down on the street. As he walked to the other side of the ring we began to wonder, will he be taking a running jump and death defying leap through that ring? What’s next, lighting it on fire?

And here he goes. Indeed, he did jump twice through the ring for the group of people eating outside at the cafe. Oh no he didn’t! Next, he actually lit the ring on fire for his grand finale. This was all followed by a quick jaunt down the sidewalk holding out a hat in hopes of collecting money for his act of bravery and showmanship. Who could leave the cafe with all of this action going on? Not us, so we ordered a couple of coffees and a ice cream sundae with chocolate, almonds and bananas.

Finally it came time for us to say goodbye to Siem Reap and Cambodia. We picked up our luggage at the hostel and loaded up the tuk tuk for the last time. Mr. Viet gave us one more ride, this time to the airport. Our airport experience arriving in Cambodia was less than awesome. Would we have better luck with our departure?

We got there with plenty of time to spare, and didn’t see our flight listed for check in yet. Not knowing what else to do, and really not wanting to hang around the entrance of the airport, we got in line for an earlier Vietnam Airlines flight, assuming they could help us out. At home, you can just get in any line, and the airline representative will handle your check in. We found out this was not the case at Siem Reap International.

The airline attendant customer service lady took our passports and online reservations, clearly stating our names and flight numbers, and we asked if it was OK? She accepted everything and started creating the boarding passes. Mine was completed first, and as she started to work on my girlfriend’s, we noticed that she actually put me on the earlier flight. But before we could say anything, she handed my girl her boarding pass which showed her on our original flight. So now we were on separate flights? What was going on?

Having to travel on different flights, when our reservations clearly stated otherwise, was ridiculous. However the lady wasn’t about to fix her mistake, insisting instead that we travel apart. Meanwhile, my girl’s checked luggage slowly made it’s way down the conveyor. We had to throw a mini fit to get the airline lady to stop the luggage from impending doom, and fix the situation by reversing the mess she had created. And she did, eventually pointing down to the Vietnam Airlines station that had opened up in the meantime, with a line forming for the passengers of our original flight. Nervous that whatever this stubborn lady had created in their computer system would screw us once we tried to check in at the right place, we got in line. Thankfully, everything went smoothly. What a relief to check the bag, grab our new boarding passes and move on. You got us again Siem Reap International.

There was still quite a bit of time to kill after the check in debacle, so we looked for a quick snack before proceeding through the security checkpoint. What is this that I see? My favorite flavor Honey Dijon Kettle Chips, straight outta Salem, Oregon… in Siem Reap, Cambodia? I couldn’t believe my eyes. They were the most delicious potato chips I’ve eaten since leaving Portland for Asia.

And finally, in true Siem Reap International form, as if I expected anything less, we encountered one last unaccounted for expense on our way out of the country. There was a giant line just to the left of the security area. We tried to bypass it but got shut down and redirected to the end of that line. Turns out you must pay an airport tax before being allowed to leave the country. This kind of fee might be common practice in this part of the world, but I haven’t done enough traveling around here to know any better. You think someone along the way would have informed us of this airport tax, like maybe our travel agent, but unfortunately that was not the case. Because we didn’t have the cash to front this, I ended up laying down the plastic. I think this is only place in the whole city that accepted a credit card. You got us yet us again Siem Reap International, but thankfully for the last time. Finally it was time to pass through security and board our flight to Ho Chi Minh, Vietnam. There, we had a 4 hour layover before the flight home to Korea.

A long layover like that is brutal at the end of a tiring vacation. All you want to do is get on the final plane, fall asleep and wake up at home. Instead, we were greeted with more fun headaches in Vietnam. Without getting in to too much detail, my girl’s Korean E-2 visa had expired a few weeks before our vacation. She had just agreed to a new contract for another year of employment. However her employer irresponsibly failed to handle the visa situation before she went home to North America for a few weeks following wrapping up her first year of teaching in Korea. A day after she arrived back in Korea from this trip home, we left on our vacation through Vietnam and Cambodia. The result was a few in and outs to and from Korea within in a very short time frame, and no new E-2 visa. So after they made us sweat it out for a good half hour, going up the ladder to gain approval from higher up customs personnel, we were given clearance to once again enter Korea.

You couldn’t get me out of this holding area sooner. A woman was laid up on her back, on top of a whole row of seats, moaning in pain. She had a mask on her face, and the people that were treating her all put masks on themselves as they put the thermometer in her mouth. I did NOT want to come home with some weird Asian flu. This incident, as well as the little kid repeatedly losing the contents of his stomach at the restaurant in Hanoi a week ago, had me a little freaked out. So I was very thankful to move on to the not so secure, joke of a security checkpoint at Hanoi International. Once again, we were allowed to pass with hardly a check at all.

Left with a ton of time to kill, we made one last meal stop, choosing what was advertised as authentic Singapore food. Like most airport food, it wasn’t very good. In particular, I had a bite of a spicy noodle dish, with beef and seafood, that left a funky taste in my mouth. I don’t quite know what it was, but it felt and tasted like an undercooked scallop. Immediately I wished that I wouldn’t have swallowed that bite, and really hoped that I wouldn’t be paying the price for it later. We spent the remaining hours in Vietnam sitting in an area of heavy traffic, silently making fun of passers by to each other, rehydrating, complaining about the stupid prices of water and snacks in the airport and dreaming of our own bed back home.

When it came time to board our plane, it was very apparent that Korea was the destination. During the week I spent in two other Asian countries I quickly forgot about the hands on tendency of the Korean people to push and shove their way to get to where they are going. It was kind of nice to not feel molested. But as we got in line for the shuttle bus that would transport us to our plane, the pushing and shoving began. I’m writing this over a month later, and the pushing and shoving hasn’t stopped. It’s just a way of life over here.

The flight itself was nothing to write home about. My favorite part was the 3 screaming babies that kept me up all night, not letting me get any of the precious sleep my body so badly needed.

Our plane landed in Korea just after 6:00 am and not wanting to be there any longer than he we had to, we hit the ground running. We must have made it through customs and baggage claim in record time. And as we made our way outside, what greeted us? SNOW! Good thing I changed out of my shorts and into some jeans before walking outside. Home sweet Korea.

After slip sliding our way to my girl’s pad, we crashed out for a few hours. That night, we treated ourselves to a very Korean meal and had spicy dak galbi at our favorite place. I don’t know if it was the water in Cambodia, the questionable bite of seafood noodles in the Hanoi airport, or the dak galbi, but I was down for the count with the worst case of the runs I’ve ever had for the next 3 days. I’m gonna go with the questionable food in Hanoi.

Runs aside, this was one of the best, if not the best, vacation I’ve ever had. Here are the links to everything else I wrote. Do yourself a favor and visit Vietnam and Cambodia.

The rest of the Angkor Temples
Angkor Wat
Hello Cambodia
Goodbye Vietnam
Back to Hanoi
Castaway Island
Day and night on Halong Bay
First full day in Hanoi
Christmas in Hanoi

Learn Korean with KoreanClass101.com

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~ by ripcitytoseoul on February 22, 2010.

2 Responses to “Winter Break: New Year’s in Cambodia and heading home”

  1. […] Christmas in Hanoi First full day in Hanoi Day and night on Halong Bay Castaway Island Back to Hanoi Goodbye Vietnam Hello Cambodia Angkor Wat The rest of the Angkor Temples New Year’s in Cambodia and heading home […]

  2. […] Winter Break: The rest of the Angkor temples Previous: Angkor Wat Next: New Year’s in Cambodia and heading home […]

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