Lucia writes: We're in our hotel in Bangkok now. Flying West to Bahrain than again back over UAE to finally reach Thailand. Anything for those cheap tickets. The redeye. Kindly, hotel let us in at 10 am, so I have slept until now. Jim too excited, up reading, but at last asleep. Bahrain was an interesting airport. The locals wear the usual man dress, and a stiff embroidered pillbox peaked in the front. The Omanis wear a similar stiff pillbox but more of a simple dome, no architectural arch at the front. I think Bahrain's Gulf Air (our carrier) is striving for market share. A lot of flights to Africa and India. People looked like figures from expat writings of the last 50 years or they looked liked models in "Anthropologie" (you know that woman's clothing catalog?) with their lovers. Jim thought maybe a lot of Europeans transiting to India and Africa.
Time on flight was mixed. Some absolute jerks sat behind us. It was obvious why they were going to Bangkok. Somebody had said to me you look at all the single men in Bangkok and shiver with disgust. These guys were horrible to the stewardess who got her manager involved. Then, they began to kick both Jim and my seats. Unbelievable. Stewardess suggested we move elsewhere which we quickly did, but didn't really sleep the entire flight. Excellent dinner served with free alcohol.
In preparation for Cambodia, before we left UAE we got tetanus booster, yellow fever vaccination, typoid vaccination and Hep B (no Hep A available). Also, taking anti-malarial. Feel a little weird today, but no fever or real soreness from yellow fever shot. We should be good for a number of countries for quite some time now.
Lucia writes: After some harrowing experiences, we had a good,
exhaustive day of touring Bangkok. Luckily - and by pure chance, since I did
virtually no reading about Bangkok before landing - our guest house is right by
the top sights of the city.
These are 2 temple complexes. The
temples were exquisite. European, Chinese, Nepalese influences (the stupa
domes) were worked into delicate spires, and the interiors held beautiful
mother-of-pearl panels. There is an interior painted mural that surrounds
one entire temple complex, telling the epic of a queen captured by demons,
"Harry Potter and Helen of Troy" is what the guide said, and rescued
by flying monkey figures. The work on the wooden-paneled mural is about
some of the best history and art I've ever seen. Really among my top
observations, along with the Hermitage.
The exterior colors, stonework
and the interior pictorial depictions are some of the most highly-detailed,
breathtaking work I've ever witnessed. We also went to a temple where
there is the famous, mammoth recumbent Buddha, resplendent in his gilding.
We took many pictures; Jim wanted some to show the dimensions of the
Buddha; I wanted to show some of the details of the painted epic. It's
rather wonderful to have your breath taken away by beauty when you had no
inkling and really no expectations (again, read nothing before landing).
I am sending this
from phone so a bit constricted. Tomorrow we head to the Cambodian border where
we must avoid many scam artists before retiring to a nice hotel on Siem Reap
and exploring Ankhor Wat. Once the world's largest city.
...Now in Siem Riep, Cambodia, staying at a resort co-owned by a Canadian
midget named Mitch who worked on the Obama campaign in North Carolina and met
Barack in Charlotte in 2008! As we were sipping beer and eating dinner next to
the pool, with the music of Rolling Stones and The Who ("Tommy")
blaring from the sound system, it was easy to think that the Americans had won
the Vietnamese/Cambodian war.
Outside the resort, however, the dirt roads and
shacks of the peasants remind one of the abject poverty of the country. While
we were touring Ankhor Wat, a child hid in one of the Buddhist shrines, popped
out and asked me for a donation. I gave him a dollar, which may be more than
his parents make in a day.
dichotomy: nice Western resort hotels next to abject poverty of the locals,
babies not wearing diapers, some beggars on the street, a number of locals
wearing masks to presumably protect themselves from viruses. We're very
relieved we got so many vaccinations before we left.
It's kind of like
living in a movie. Tourism has definitely raised the living standard of Cambodia, but it's got a
long way to go. This is the most foreign place I think I've ever been, close to
the poverty I imagine I'd see in India.
Lucia writes: Yes, it's poor, but the people live like
hundreds of years ago, Angkor Wat was tops with me, I loved being driven
through the jungles with the breeze blowing through the tuk-tuk.
Son Matthew replies: "The masks are a sign of respect, as they are not breathing bad
germs onto people. It doesn’t mean they are sick, or that they are
worried about germs. It is quite common in
many countries in Asia. Also some of them wear it as they don’t like to
inhale the fumes from the motorcycles while riding."
One of the reasons my wife Lucia wanted so much to visit Cambodia was that she remembered the idyllic tales her uncle and aunt told of life there in the 1950s. From 1955 to 1957, her uncle, Metcalfe Walling, served as director of the United States Economic Aid Mission to Cambodia, and
worked closely with Prince Norodom Sihanouk. The Wallings tutored the royal family in English.
I remembered Sihanouk from Indochina War history, but needed a refresher, which Wikipedia provided.
Wow. Sihanouk was quite a wily fellow, allying
himself at one time or another with the French, the Americans, then become a
neutral (viewed as hostile by US). To Johnson's irritation, he hosted Jackie
Kennedy in 1967 to tour Ankhor Wat just as Bobby was criticizing LBJ's
Southeast Asia policy. Nixon had a hand in overthrowing him and replacing him
with Lon Nol. Sihanouk then allied himself with the Khmer Rouge, a fleldging
group. After "the Killing Fields" he became king again in 1993 and
retired in 2004. He's still alive!
Lucia writes: Angkor Wat was
sublime. One day you take the Petit Ciruit with your tuk-tuk (motorized
surrey with a fringe on top) driver waiting as you explore each spot.
They were wonderful workers of sandstone and laterite, carving epic
murals with heavily influenced Indian gods and heavenly goddesses, elephants,
monkey soldiers, demons, and so on. The ruins ranged from the 10th through
the 13th century. The next day we took the Grand Circuit. You drive
through lovely, uncluttered jungle road until you come to certain sites where
there are plenty of tuk-tuks and motor bikes. You're supposed to spend 16
hours on the two circuits, but I think we took about 12 hours. A few of
the temples have been left to the jungle, so you get those fantastic pictures
of gnarly trees ensnaring ancient temple columns and foundations. I am so
glad I got to see this wonder in my life time.
I am reading a grim book called Cambodia's Curse: The Modern History of a Troubled Land, by Joel Brinkley, a former New York Times correspondent and fellow student at the University of North Carolina in the 1970s. If I had read this book before visiting Cambodia, I probably wouldn't have gone. He depicts a lawless society in which international non-governmental organizations enable corruption and shore up the retro communist government of Hun Sen, who has been leader of the country since 1985.The annual per capita income of Cambodia is less than $600. A large part of the population suffers from PTSD, passing it on to their
children. There are only three or four licensed
psychiatrists in the country of 14 million people. A recent writer said he
saw a schizophrenic being "treated" by being roped to a tree.