We left the trials and tribulations of Thailand behind and made a brief three day stop in Siam Reap, Cambodia to see the famous temples of Angkor Wat. We’d heard great things about the rest of the country, so if ever we return we’ll explore more, but we knew we had to see these temples while we could.
There weren’t many Airbnbs to choose from for our dates, and it was a short stay, so we didn’t delve too deep before choosing one. Luckily, it turned out to be a great choice, and a happy surprise! Our “apartment” turned out to be a suite in a brand new hotel called The Koulen Summit. The property was going through it’s “soft opening” - that meant they were filling just a few rooms at a time to get any kinks worked out before opening to the public. Our room was spacious, and there was a simple kitchen. The big table we saw in the listing photo wasn't there so the staff kindly hauled one along with four chairs from another room across the hall.
We were happy to be practiced on, and since there were so few guests we were fawned over by the perpetually cheerful staff. When we entered the lobby during the day there were solicitous greetings and the handing out of ice water and refreshing cold towels to wipe away the day's grime. And at breakfast time (included in the price) our drinks were never empty and we were encouraged to sample everything on the menu. I finally tried a version of Phad Thai (a fine idea), and Michael enjoyed his daily batch of fluffy, American style pancakes with real maple syrup. The elegant pool was the perfect retreat from the heat and we often had it to ourselves. And all this for the amazing price of just $66 a night. Obviously, no troubles at this point!
Our host helped us arrange an all-day tour of Angkor Wat with an English speaking guide. Early on our first morning, our spry little guide Long D. arrived with a driver and we headed to the temples. To be honest, we weren’t really sure what to expect - so we were up for anything. Long D. gave us some insights into Cambodian culture on the way along with an ambitious itinerary.
We were fortunate to be traveling in the low (rainy) season so there weren’t huge crowds - in fact, our guide said he’d rarely seen it so quiet. It was hot and super humid however, so we took our time as we visited the main temple where we ascended long staircases and traversed the grounds.
It was all so fascinating. We were mesmerized by the sheer size of the buildings and how they could have possibly been constructed nearly 1,000 years ago by mere mortals, no matter how many elephants they deployed (apparently 6,000!)
It’s not the first time we’ve been awestruck by massive endeavors from the ancient past. We’ve been to Petra in Jordan, Ephesus in Turkey, Pompeii near Naples; pondered Greek and Roman ruins many places and contemplated Aztec wonders in Mexico. And as I often do, I wonder just what was going on in the universe that so many civilizations were building these gargantuan, tributes to their Gods without knowledge of the other cultures creating something similar. More than my simple brain can comprehend, that’s for certain.
We wandered through many temples and heard the stories behind the complex carvings before lunch. We drove on and stopped at a simple restaurant tucked into the jungle for fish curry. Our next stop was Ta Prom, A recently discovered clutch of temples that had melded with the overgrowth where they were found. Afterwards, there would be three more stops on the tour. But just as we reached the entrance to Ta Prom we felt a few drops of rain. We picked up the pace and got to see most of the intricate buildings still in the clutches of gigantic tree roots - it was a very eerie place. It became even more ominous when dark clouds rolled in and thunder pummeled the sky just above us. Within minutes it began to pour!
We ducked into a small passageway where we might be able to wait it out. But were soon joined by an entire Chinese tour group with most members covered in crinkling plastic ponchos. It was getting to be a bit steamy so we decided to make a run for the van. By the time we got there, we were soaked! L.D. was used to the rain and sincerely hoped that we’d finish the tour, but the storm never let up so we had to be content with peering out the windows at the rest of the temples. I was sorry to miss the Elephant Terrace and the Banyon ruins.
On the drive home we realized just how intense the rain storm was because the streets of Siam Reap were flooded. The water came half way up our tires as we cautiously made our way back to the hotel. I guess this is what the “Rainy Season” is all about.
We considered revisiting the remaining temples the next day but we'd have to pay for an expensive guide and entry tickets again (already a budget buster on day one) so we decided to stay in town and explore Siam Reap. The weather cleared as we walked along the swollen river to the old market. It was a lively, cramped warren of stalls where vendors were shouting over each other and doing their best to pull us into shops crammed of shoes and clothes and souvenirs. We became a bit overwhelmed by the smell of fish and the tight quarters so we bolted for a nearby Buddhist monastery. There, in the calm shade of the courtyard, we learned about traditional funerals and pagodas from a volunteer. He also walked us through murals illustrating Buddha’s life story that had been painted by the resident monks.
It’s a good thing we were in town, because around noon Michael received a text announcing our flight on Lanmei Air to Saigon the next day was canceled. No reason was given. That had never happened to us before, so we weren't sure what to do. Michael wasn’t having any luck getting through to the Airline on the phone, so the front desk staff suggested he go to the airport to sort things out in person. He hopped in a tuk-tuk and took off.
Of course, there was no one at the ticket counter for Lanmei, so after wasting an entire afternoon of frustrating conversations with other, equally dodgy airlines, our Chief Travel Planner finally booked us on a Cambodia Angkor Air flight. But for some reason, the luggage allowance had to be bought separately online. He would deal with that when he got back to our place.
In the evening we walked to a beautiful open-air restaurant where we joined the line for a buffet dinner followed by a performance of traditional Thai dance. The food was good and the dancing was a nice distraction from the airline issues. But Michael was fidgety because he’d tried several times to pay whatever fees there would be for our bags on the airline website, but it kept sending him in on an endless loop or giving him error messages.
We did find a small box of text that told us we’d save money if we paid for our baggage online 24 hours before the flight. But that deadline was now long gone. He kept trying and even took screen captures to show at the check-in counter the next day that we tried in good faith to book before the deadline hoping we would get the stated rate.
The airline website never worked, and you couldn’t contact any human so we were looking at no luggage allowance at all with potentially a $5 per kilo charge to be paid at check-in. At 25 kilos each, we could be looking at $250 on top of having paid top dollar for our last minute airfare. This is the sort of thing that turns Michael funny colors. He began to mutter "attitude is everything." and finally, in the end, declare "it's not what happens to you, it's how you react that makes the difference!" I love traveling with this man.
He was not going to be taken advantage of so we steeled ourselves for a confrontation at the airport the next morning. And that’s just what we got. The counter staff just shrugged and said that they get so many complaints about that website, but it is a third party vendor and there is nothing they can do. Except negotiate your luggage fees at check in. Which of course would be $250. Before long they offered us a 10% discount. Michael was standing his ground based on fees we’d seen on the airline's website of a maximum of $3 per kilo - but they showed no interest in our "evidence" and ignored our screen captures from their website.
We had a flight to catch, and by now our bags were in their possession behind the counter. We couldn’t just walk away and say “fine, keep our bags!” Michael insisted on talking to a supervisor, which got a withering look from the agent at the desk, but soon a matronly woman came to explain slowly and carefully that their hands were tied. She felt very sorry for us, but the best she could do was lower the fee to $175 (in cash, of course) and amazingly, there was an ATM about 20 feet away.
We asked for a receipt, more to keep a shred of dignity than any possibility we could dispute the charge. She made an elaborate show of writing the details on a triplicate form with a final flourish of stamping it firmly with an official-looking seal. I wonder if the other two copies were sent to headquarters or went directly in the trash once we’d left the counter.
Then came the good news! There was a Dairy Queen at the departure gate. We haven’t seen a Dairy Queen outside of Seattle in five years - it was a gift from the Gods because there is nothing like an Oreo Blizzard to make things all better.
On to Vietnam where things go missing. See you there for Troubles Come in Threes Part III.
Thanks for following along,
Debbie and Michael
The Senior Nomads