Friday, 19 November 2010

Victoria Terminus

Headed out after breakfast to take photos of the Chhatrapati Shivaji Terminus, formerly known as Victoria Terminus Station. After about an hour I'm back in the hotel lobby, dripping wet and exhausted.

Bought a coconut juice along the way. Twenty rupees, and yesterday I sat in the Intercontinental Hotel on Marine Parade and had one cup of tea and it cost 200 rupees. I had to be frisked to get into the hotel building, previously targeted by bombing terrorists. The views over the bay and some cool and quiet were well worth the price. It would be nice to be that sort of tourist once in a while I have to admit. Later in the day I went to a shopping mall and again we all had to have bags searched at the entrance, like in the UK in the 70s.

So, the train station. Picked up two little boys along the way. Where you from? You speak Hindi? You click many pictures. You have pictures your country?

I said how do I say hello in Hindi, and they said Hello. So I said, I know hari om. Much giggling that one casused. I left them still nudging each other and saying Hari om! Hari om!

Best photo is of the Mishra Dairy. From the smells, there are cows in the darkness in behind, but at the front a semi-naked substantial man and several boys with lots of metal churns and some glasses with milk in them too. Chains of fresh marigolds looped over the front of the stall and incense burning. Can't say I got that one.

At a corner there were two cows tied up, with women hand feeding them stalks of fresh green from large woven baskets. I stood watching for a while, not sure about taking a photo. A passing man in a turban, the ever-helpful bystander, said to me solemnly, Cow.

The train station was remarkably orderly. Long long queues outside for the beat-up double-decker buses moved quickly. Inside more queues. Still, at this point I'm relieved I don't have to work out how to buy a ticket or actually travel by train.

Wednesday, 17 November 2010


Internet access from the hotel in Hanoi was not great so there has been a bit of a gap. I'll try to describe arriving in India. At just after midnight it was 34 degrees in Mumbai. For some reason I'd spent about 6 hours at the airport in Hong Kong. The cabin of the Cathay Pacfic plane to Mumbai was a cacophany of noise - that was the first feeling of being in India. Big family groups with lots of well-dressed children and a bun-fight to get luggages into the overhead lockers. One old man shouting out something that sounded like "Bugger! Bugger!" over and over. Maybe that's the name of his wife?

Collecting baggage was the next indoctrination. I was determined not to just up my spot by the conveyor belt, and as more and more people crowded in behind and beside me I hung on to my spot - only problem being it was impossible to see what was coming along. I was bumped and jostled and held fast against the shouting in my ears and face... Lots of officials directing people through Customs "Madam you stand behind the yellow line at number 32". Outside the terminal a sea of signs being held up but my name was nowhere to be seem. A tall curly-haired handsome man simply held a sign saying "Babe". I'd have gladly gone with him, but I don't think he meant me. I did find someone from the right Hotel who used his mobile phone and told me to take taxi.

Off I went bouncing about in the back of some beat-up vehicle with a man who seemed not speak english. We hurtled through miles of grungy poorly-lit back streets and I lost count of how many bundles of rags we passed. People sleeping on footpaths, against walls, in the centre strip of the road even. Some with scraps of laundry hung out. We stopped twice presumably asking directions. There was a lively market with gas lights and boys running around dragging goats on leads. I saw several large cows wandering about. Total urban decay, everywhere.

I made it down to breakfast this morning but had to make a quick retreat from the food smells. Spent the morning back in bed. I have been on a walk around the block and bought a copy of Indian Vogue for the equivalant of about $3 Aust dollars. It is hot out there and I'm feeling very weak today. That's OK. Enough for now.

Saturday, 6 November 2010

The Phnom Pehn Post

The Phnom Pehn Post is not bad. A little Monday edition last week gave a better picture of what's going on the world than you'd get in one of the provincial NZ dailies. Must be quite a challenge.

I liked the ads for Melbourne Cup at the Elephant Bar. With a picture of a jockey swatting an elephant. At the Foreign Correspondents Club at about 9.00 in the morning. You can imagine it.

How 'bout this:
EIGHT intrepid canoe explorers set off for the adventure of a lifetime through Cambodia yesterday.

Accompanied by a translator and local guide, these American explorers will be travelling for 20 days, from O’Svay on the Cambodia-Laos border, along a 400-kilometre stretch of the Mekong River to Phnom Penh.

They plan to arrive in the capital just in time for the start of the Water Festival on November 20.

Their boats will be no ordinary boats. Instead they will be the first group to journey down the Mekong on paddle boards.

Look out for them!

Tomb Raider

So, Two blue metal lockers in the foyer of the River Village Hotel looked incongruous, and I had noticed that one was stencilled 'Lara Croft' and the other, 'Indiana Jones'.

Turned out they contain a full set of props for dressing up. Lara's shorts, belt, boots, holsters, guns - the lot.

I can only imagine what this is about. Can you sneak into the temples at night? Anyway, I bet these hotel rooms have seen some sights!

Cost of books

I just bought a new paperback, not a photocopy, in a shop in Siem Reap. The UK price on the back is 8 quid. In NZ you'd be up for close to $20 I imagine. Here it cost US$9. I don't understand how this works.

Friday, 5 November 2010

Siem Reap

I'm in Cambodia for a week. It was a spur-of-the-moment thing, inspired by seeing Mi Son in Central Vietnam, which fed a great desire to see the wonderous Angkor Watt. I had no idea of how long I'd need here for a good experience, but arranged with a very efficient Vietnames girl in Hoi An to fly in two days time via Ho Chi Minh City into Siem Reap, and then back to Hanoi after 7 days. A quick search on Trip Advisor for a hotel turned up this wonderful place, the 9-room River Village manor run by Matt, an Australian from the Gold Coast. He is a bit of a Basil. He loves to regale his guests with tales about the decadence of the 5-star hotel industry and the general lack of happiness in western countries. "What do we have to show for all our efforts? Gadgets. Just more gadgets. Walk around the vllage here and you'll see people living in the most basic conditions, whole families living in these these tiny shacks without floors or windows, but they are HAPPY. These people are happy." Indeed they are hovels along the banks of the brown, rubbish-strewn streak that is the river. Scrawny chickens scratching in the dirt beside little plastic chairs around a cooking pot over a small fire, skinny dogs lying in the dust, an endless stream of motorbikes and cycles stirring up that dust, and from anyone you care to greet, the biggest and most welcoming smiles you'd get anywhere.

The deal is, you get a 3-day pass to visit temples in the area. It can be used on any three days in the week. If you go to get the ticket after 5.00 pm, you can experience the sunset that night for free. Matt has a family of staff, and I have Mr Lai assigned to me. He was there to meet me at the airport the first night with his tuk tuk. So Mr Lai took me out past Angkor Watt that first night and pointed to a dusty track. I fell into line with hundreds of other tourists speaking all languages you can imagine and we proceeded to stroll up the hill. You watch the sun go down, the last rays lighting the towers of Angkor Watt far in the distance. The evening was hazy and I know quickly it gets dark here and I wasn't hanging about to find my way back down the track after the sun had gone, so after climbing up the steep steps to the top of the temple and admiring the view I was heading back. I had to stand to the side of the track to make way for the elephants that were still heading up, carrying straggling tourists, as I walked down.

Mr Lai was ready at 5.00am next morning to take me to Angkor Watt for the sunrise. The road out of town was a steady parade of tuk tuks. "I wait here" promised Mr Lai, who is a shy lad of 26, not yet married, with little English and a lovely smile. Off I went in the dark, wishing I had thought to pack a small torch, stumbling on the flagstones, heading towards the East where the sky was just beginning to show light. I left those with their serious cameras and tripods waiting to catch an ultimate image of the towers reflected in the lake, and headed off to explore the inner temple ahead of the crowds.

Three days later, having visited many more temples, it is those first views of Angkor Watt that stay in my mind. I know I want to come back again, to explore more.

My favorite temple was the second I visited this morning, Preah Khan. It is so intricately designed in the overall plan, such a complex arrangement of avenues and gates and terraces. Ta Phrom I saw twice, to appreciate the different light in morning to that of the afternoon - this is the place made famous by Tomb Raider.

The town of Siem Reap is totally charming. It feels very safe. There is an endless choice of places to eat and drink. The markets are packed with cheap silks and local crafts. Come soon though - there are shopping centres being built all over the place, and there is already a Kentucky Fried Chicken outlet. Why, why? There is a charity called White Bikes, for $2 a day I have had a bicycle to get around town. I feel better that Mr Lai is not sitting waiting for me outside the shop/museum/cafe I'm hanging out in, and enjoy riding around; but on the other hand Mr Lai doesn't have any work that day so is not getting any income...