Saturday, June 21, 2008

Temples, snakes and motorbikes...

Prints, images and memories all tell stories, and as I work away at the inner pages of my website, poring over photos and writing about the countries I've been to, I find myself travelling once again.

Today it is Cambodia I am re-visiting...

The most tropical of places I have seen, where the heat and humidity wraps itself around you the moment you step off the plane.

Where, if you go there during the rainy season, the humidity builds throughout the morning and early afternoon and the skies open up with heavy rain at the same time every day, like clockwork.

Where myself and the friend I was travelling with wore yellow rainjackets as we walked through a downpour in search of an internet cafe, looking like a pair of misplaced rubber ducks.

I remembered reading about small, poisonous green snakes that liked to come out of hiding during the monsoons, and kept a wary eye; I never saw one, though I did see the discarded outer skin of a small scorpion one day on the wall of a stone temple.

Angkor, the ancient city and complex of sprawling temples, was a truly awe-inspiring sight. I spent three days exploring the buildings - some intact and others crumbled to blocks of stone and rubble - and still, I only barely scratched the surface of what there was to see.

With some of the more structurally sound buildings, it was possible even to go to the upper levels, scary though that was - a rope strung from the second to the ground floor that you would hold on to for support as you climbed the steep outer stone stairs that were worn rounded and smooth from centuries of use and exposure to the elements. This was one place you didn't want to fall.

Walking through second-floor rooms and seeing bas-reliefs and carvings that almost seemed like new, being kept from wind and rain; climbing back down was the hard part, where you had to look down and see how high up you really were.

Going from building to building, and sometimes coming across a section that hadn't yet been restored, with huge trees growing right up out of the temples, the jungle reclaiming its property like some sort of prize.

Here and there, Buddhist monks would pick their way through the complex, their bright orange robes standing out against the grey sandstone of the temples.

A long boat ride across the wide expanse of the Mekong River as we leave the town of Siem Riep and the temples at Angkor behind. First a narrow channel, people and boats clustered along the water's edge, a slow, measured pace, then the riverbank getting further away until it disappears from view completely as we clear the channel and then pick up our speed on the long journey towards Phnom Penh.

We hear about a good restaurant in the city and decide to go there for lunch. Motorbikes are the mode of transport here. We don't need to go out in search of a ride; people will stop on the side of the road as we walk along, and will ask if we need a lift somewhere. The going rate at the time is $1 U.S. for a short ride anywhere within the city.

It is my first time on a motorbike. I sit behind the owner of the bike, putting my hands on his shoulders and trusting in his ability to dart through all the other traffic.

At an intersection, there are some police officers who wave us over. I wonder if there's some law against grabbing a ride on someone's motorbike. The owner of the bike pulls over to the side of the road and tells me to wait there. He pulls something from a compartment on his motorbike and walks back towards the officers. The owner of the other bike (the one that my friend is riding on) also pulls over to the side.

They spend a few minutes speaking with the officers, then return. We can keep going, the owner of the bike says, gesturing for me to get back on the bike. As we pull away, he turns back to look at me. It's ok, he says with a grin. The police in Cambodia, they need only money...

We continue on to the restaurant.

We only spend a few days in Phnom Penh before moving on, heading overland into Vietnam...

But that's a story for another day.

Happy travels,

Sarah :)

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