Monday, May 16, 2011

Of bicycles and sore bums

I hadn't really slept on the way to Siem Reap, so I wasn't really woken up when we got there. After a night in a cramped seat I staggered off the bus like a newborn fawn - dazed and wobbly.

My first step off the bus was into slush. It had poured all night, and thankfully I was met by a tuk-tuk driver from the Berlin-Angkor Guesthouse. I doffed an imaginary cap to the French couple, and off we went.

Moist. Damp. Wet. Puddles. Pools. WHOA! - an entire market was thigh-deep in water, and so were many by-lanes! People were wading through the water trying to save their goods from what would be a devastating loss. It was a sobering introduction to the daily life of the less affluent side of Cambodia. This was no metropolis. No traffic. Barely any fancy cars, and a hand-to-mouth existence for most of the populace.

The Berlin-Angkor Guesthouse was a short distance outside the heart of Siem Reap, off Sivatha Boulevard and little way down a semi-metalled pothole-ridden bumpy road. I was greeted by a couple of Cambodian men working there and then by the owner - Ralph. Ralph is a 61 year old German who grew up in Mönchengladbach. But, as I was to find out later, Ralph had traveled the world extensively and was full of hilarious and often very risqué tales.

I was surprised to find Cuban music playing at the breakfast area. It was the kind of music that makes you give it verbal and hand-gesture compliments as though it were a person sitting right in front of you. No? Just me then.

I inquired about the trip to the Angkor temples and was promptly sniggered at! If I wanted to see the temples I was advised to wake up at 5 a.m. so that I could see the famed 'Sunrise at the Angkor Wat'®. It was 11 a.m.

After a shower, I rented a bicycle from the guesthouse and made my way into the heart of town. It was much further than I had initially thought it was. But I had decided to spend my day wandering around the town instead of getting some much needed sleep. Who needs sleep? But seriously, who needs sleep?

I cycled down Sivatha Boulevard until the houses got smaller, thatched and a bit too spread out for my liking. I had cycled out of town. I turned around and made my way back. It was hot, my t-shirt was drenched in sweat and the bicycle seat hurt my arse a great deal. After aimlessly cycling around the town for an unmeasured amount of time, I chanced upon an Irish pub. My past experiences in Irish pubs in Cambodia were fantastic to say the least, so I thought I'd pop in for some food. 'Food'.

After about an hour in the pub, I struck up a conversation with a Frenchman at the bar. He was the owner. "'ey, why don't you come back in the evening. We have a jazz band playing 'ere tonight." A multi-national jazz band? In Cambodia? I had to come see this!

And so I returned the bicycle to the guesthouse. My arse hurt. I watched a bit of TV and then left my room. But before I left, Ralph introduced me to Angelo Vecchio. The first, and craziest, of the few Italians I met in Siem Reap. 'How rude', I heard you say. Well I'll tell you just one thing about him (and there were many) - he had cycled 92 kilometers the previous day, roaming around almost all the Angkor temples. People don't even do that on motorbikes! Why did he do this? What did he gain from this feat? "Naathing. But-a it was-a crayyzie, eh?"

This is one reason why I love backpacking on my own. You get to meet the most interesting bunch of adventurers, goofballs, conspiracy theorists and downright lunatics imaginable. And I wouldn't have it any other way.

Back at Molly Malone's (the Irish pub), the jazz band blew me away. Initially. They played some great stuff by Herbie Hancock and they were very, very good. Then they began to play stuff by the Rolling Stones and I got bored. But I met the owner, Thierry, again, and we spent a while chatting over dinner.

I had to wake up pretty early the next morning if I wanted to see the 'Sunrise at the Angkor Wat'®. Problem is, I'm not a morning person. I am not a morning person. I set the alarm on my über-cool disco watch and faded away.

My bum still hurt. I haven't ridden a bicycle since.

For the pictures of Siem Reap, click here.