Was treated on Sunday to a kind of fascinating little scene. Walking down the street, and was approached by a young girl with a broad, beaming smile, asking, “Where are your shoes?”
Just as I was getting ready to explain that footwear is the work of the demons, she realised that she’d lapsed out of character, and immediately transformed herself into a wan, pathetic, pitiful child of misfortune; no longer able to speak any English; and holding up an empty baby bottle.
It’s kind of a little cottage industry. I understand the parents even keep their kids home from school to go out and work the tourists instead. But that was my first time seeing behind the scenes.
Later, hanging out down by the river in a patch of shade, juggling and reading and eating and stuff, the cultural taboo against shirtlessness finally got the better of me. It’s strongest in Thailand, but also prevalent in Laos and Cambodia. So, after three months in the region, I’ve got the all-time Farmers’ Tan.
But it’s just so damned hot now, getting hotter every day, so it would seem. Removed my shirt, and there was a bit of a breeze blowing; it was like as the whole World had gone upheaval! How great to be alive in this patch of shade, with this little breeze blowing!
And do you know? Couple hours later, I chanced to look down at the torso; and there I was sunburnt! Right through the shade. Was not aware that this was possible. Apparently, it is. Learned me well the importance of a base-tan.
Wasn’t so bad, though. Mainly just itched a little bit. I figured it’d be good and tanned up by morning. But when it wasn’t, I decided not to head up to Banteay Srei ‘til the following day, so as not to aggravate the burn. Probably an unnecessary precaution, in hindsight.
So instead, had a nice conversation with a young man somewhat thick of accent who’d elected to walk along with me. Finally able to glean out his introduction, I asked…
Me: What are you saying? “Skunk”? What is that, dope, you’re selling?
Me: Ah, no thanks.
He: No! No! Skunk. You know, Skunk?
Me: No, I guess I don’t know.
He: You know Weed?
Me: Yeah. No, thanks.
Me: No, thanks.
Me: No, thanks.
Me: No, thanks.
Me [Agitated]: Do I look like a fucking drug addict?
He: Okay, no problem!
And he disappeared down an alley. I suppose it was my having shouted out the word “drugs” on a busy street, and not my exasperation, which stopped him in his tracks. It was kind of mean of me, though. I mean to say, oughtn’t to’ve been so disparaging of drug addicts, who are after all only victims.
So, yesterday, Tuesday, was all for it. Banteay Srei or bust! Turned out my decision to wait an extra day proved most beneficial indeed, as it was completely overcast. Indeed, it even rained a piece or two while I was en route. Kind of a hassle having to deal with the taking off of and the putting on of the poncho; not to mention the securing of its loose flaps while riding.
But it made for wonderfully cool conditions. Took me about one-half of one hour longer to attain the temple than I’d projected it would. At about the two-thirds mark, a motorcyclist came up and rode beside me, giving me the same same old It’s-too-far-you’ll-never-make-it! song-and-dance.
I brushed him aside, and got to business enjoying the stretch between the northern boundary of the Park and the location of the temple. Bunch of little villages lining the road in here; and the village folk are not only very friendly (which is typical), but also insanely jovial.
In every village, there were two or three or more people were just laughing their fuckin’ asses off! It was great fun. I do believe that on some occasions their laughter’d been triggered by my bare feet. But mostly, I think, they were just entertaining themselves to death.
If Preah Khan is the Magic Kingdom of the Angkor temples, Banteay Srei is the Pixie Kingdom. Teeny-tiny, yet so stunning beautiful, one may be forgiven for thinking that it must be a movie set.
And when I say, “Teeny-tiny,” it ain’t no joke, neither. Here I am standing next to a doorway.
Teeny-tiny though it may be; in a remote location though it may be; it doesn’t stop the Japanese busloads from arriving in their multitudinous droves. The grounds are, really, too small to hold them all.
Something of a bummer. But, what’s one gonna do? Anyway, once they get up to their usual hijinks, one can’t help but be sucked in.
So just what is it? What’s the Srei’s whammy? Well, apart from the structures’ cute-as-a-button miniaturised scale, it’s the awesome red/brown colour of the stones, and the best carving work in the entire Park.
Besides which: monkeys guarding the Central Prasat! (The entire central courtyard, though, is roped off from the public, to prevent damage to the structures.)
During the visit, it struck up raining a few more times; before finally letting loose with a good soaker. During which, ever’body had to seek shelter under some trees outside the gate near where the Temple Band was playing, or just bug out altogether.
It was kind of nice, ‘cause after the rain ceased, there were hardly any people at all back inside the grounds; so for ten or fifteen minutes’ time, it was a much nicer temple-going experience, with the elbow-room and the un-obstructed sightlines and all.
Definitely one of the Park’s absolute must-see attractions. In fact, I’d say that if one had time to visit only three temples, this should oughta be one of them. Certainly lives up to, and even exceeds its hype; and definitely worth the time expended in getting up there and back down again. Though, if I had it to do over again, I might get a tuk-tuk for one day, and get to both Banteay Srei and the Roluos group on that same day; thus giving one extra day for cycling inside the Park proper.
There’s also a pretty nice Interpretive Centre, the Park’s only, put up just a few years ago. Including some great old photos of the temple before and during restoration.
After finishing up, I was sitting on a bench outside the Interpretive Centre, having a gander at the map, and was offered to purchase a guidebook for $1. Pretty common occurrence; and usually I just offer a, “Yeah, right,” or a, “Whatever,” in response. But as I was already sitting down, I figured might try to peel the onion a little bit.
“Why is it only $1. Is it stolen, or something?”
The purveyor continued to rattle on explaining how nice the book is, and pointing out to me its $27.95 list price.
“Yeah, I understand, it’s a nice book. So, how can you sell it for only $1?”
“You have Thai Baht? 1,000 Baht, if you want to pay in Thai money.” That’s about $33.
“What? So it’s 1,000 Baht or $1?”
“One? No, eleven dollars.”
“You said $1.”
“No, I said $11.”
Back and forth we went, him denying, me un-denying (but more importantly, trying to persuade him to fess up why he’d lied about it). At last, he got sick of arguing the point; but as he was walking away, turned and offered to sell it to me for 500 Baht.
As I say, this is a common scam in the park – but I’ve never seen it executed to completion, so am still puzzled to learn its nature. I thunk it out a little, and here’s my best guess. The tourist hands over $1, and the argument then begins whether the offer had been for $1 or $11. Meanwhile, the scammer has already pocketed the $1; and so the tourist has to either raise a big scene to get his dollar back, resign to having lost the dollar, or fork over a ten-dollar bill to get the book.
Not that $11 is such a terrible price, of course – the books are admittedly perfectly nice. But, clearly, business isn’t booming enough even at that price to deal honestly with the peeps; so more “incentive” is injected into the system.
After cycling back to the Park, I plopped down at Srah Srang – it looking quite lovely indeed on this day…
… – and et the Jakfruit I’d purchased back near Banteay Srei. During the feeding, there was, like, Cambodian circus music coming from yonder village. Neat. But, neater still, every five minutes or so, a dude — sounding much like an auctioneer would do – would chime in with an impassioned monologue. Funnier/cooler than fuck-all.
I had to find out what that shit was all about! Following the sound back into the village, I never did arrive to the temple from whence I presumed the sound to have been originating. But I was pretty close to the loudspeakers when he struck up the chorus again, and here took a bit of footage.
Following on, I was able to discover that an evening shindig was in the works. Presumably, a wedding. And so, though I never did catch sight of him, I guess the orator to’ve been a monk letting fly with pre-ceremonial blessings (or what). Not sure…but am sure that he’s a maestro sent from Heaven.
So then there were still a few hours of daylight remaining; but having now with Banteay Srei visited all of the temples (save a few very small, out-of-the-way holes-in-the-wall), I was unsure how to spend them. Looking on the map, I noticed that Ta Prohm was very close by, and couldn’t resist a return visit.
I wanted to circumnavigate the walls – which I’d done at Preah Khan, but had not done during my first visit to Ta Prohm. A very wise and great decision, as it turned out!
Tree = god, I tells ya! Here I am, paying some well-earnt respects.
Wherever I went, I kept noticing from different angles this one really cool wishbone-shaped tree. Gotta be a sign: god wishes me to taking more pictures!
Back out to the bicycle, the sun had finally emerged. It was okay, though: by this time in the afternoon, it’d let slip from its grasp (at least for this day) its power to kill/maim/destroy. So, I never had to put on a hat.
Cycling back around toward Angkor and the exit, I caught this ultra-cool view of Ta Keo.
Figured I might pop in to Angkor for a time, but ended up yet again getting sidetracked by the damned monkeys. First, one off all by his lonesome, mango-fied to beat the band.
Next, down the road a piece, the bulk of the troupe, being dined by the congregated tourists.
And lastly, atop the south wall, monkey-business did yet ensue.
But why am I so fascinated? Don’t know.
Wednesday evening, now. So freaggin’ hot to-day! Looked as if a evening cloudburst would be forthcoming; turned out to’ve been a false alarm.