Cambodia, Day Three (July 31, 2007)

I had a wonderful breakfast of baguette and fruit salad (apple, banana, dragonfruit, papaya and pineapple). I am enamored with dragonfruit and will be sad when I can't eat it every day. It's oblong, pinkish-purple on the outside, and white with black seeds on the inside.* It has the consistency of kiwi but is slightly less sweet. It's refreshing on a hot morning.

Only had a few minutes to check for my daily e-mail about Dad before catching our tuktuk to the temples. First stop of the day -- Phnom Bakheng. We hiked a shaded trail through the woods for about a quarter mile before reaching the top of the mountain. The temple had five small towers along each side of the stairway. We hiked the elephant trail back down, but alas, no elephant sightings. Unless the giant poo counts as a sighting.

Then we hit Baksei Chamkrong. It's a relatively small, pinkish pyramid, and we only spent a few minutes there before heading back to Angkor Wat to ascend the uppermost level of the temple. The climb is 33 feet high up stairs that are tall, narrow, rounded and slant downward - you're meant to feel as if you're climbing Mt. Meru. Having panicked the first two times I tried to climb, I grew more and more disgusted with myself because I did not fly 4,000 miles to chicken out at the most important spot in all of Asian archaeology. So I finally raced up the side at breakneck speed and never looked back.** I'm so glad I did. The view from the windows was astounding, and the walls were covered with a hundred beautiful, dancing apsaras. However, getting down those stairs was, uh, interesting. Glad I did it. Never doing it again. Ever.***

We took one final look at the galley with the monkey soldiers -- for some reason,**** we all love the pictures of monkeys biting off the faces of their human counterparts -- before going to lunch. I had fried shrimp with cashews and a (pine)apple shake, and Brad had a sweet-and-sour shrimp and squid.

We spent the rest of the afternoon at Ta Prohm. Even with all the tourists here, you're struck by a feeling of peace and solitude. The jungle has run rampant through the temple, and the huge root buttresses are interwoven with the structure. There are places where the roof has completely caved in and you have to step over rubble.*****

The first rain of the week fell as we were driving back to the hotel. Mr. Vanna tried to pull over to tie down the rain tarp, but we said, "Bah. We don't need them." Mr. Vanna laughed at the foolish, foolish tourists. The rain was hard, fast and cold and I instantly went from hot and sweaty to wet and shivering. (I discovered later that Brad, Meg and Eric were nearly killed by a bus when their tuktuk stalled. They decided Meg's gravestone would have read, "She tumped over.")******

That reminds me -- I should describe our weird little bathroom. It's the nicest Third World bathroom I've ever had, but it's odd nonetheless. The walls and floors are marble with a drain off the back corner. There's nothing in there but a marble sink and a toilet; the shower is a wall attachment -- it's as if the entire bathroom is one large shower stall. Trying to use a soaking wet toilet is not one of the more pleasant experiences of my life.

Dinner was at a Thai restaurant. I had fried rice with pineapple and tofu. Brad had pork with coconut milk curry in a coconut. We crawled back to our room at 9:00 to go to sleep to the sound of hundreds of bullfrogs outside our window (thanks to the afternoon rain, no doubt). I don't think it's ever quiet in Cambodia; there are always frogs croaking, birds chirping, or monks playing prayer music. It's quite peaceful actually.

I will say, though, as much as I love the temples, I'm glad tomorrow is the last day.******* My knees are falling apart, I've got two mangled blisters on my feet, and I've lost half a toenail. (The other half is still toying with me.) A few days at the beach is sounding pretty good. As Eric put it, we've hit the TSP -- Temple Saturation Point.

Brad's footnotes
* Best of all, they have almost obscene, curvy little leaves all over them that make them look like props from the original "Star Trek" series.

** After initially encouraging her to climb, I'm ashamed to admit I gave up on her and went to explore the carvings, enjoy the view and chase a real, live monkey around. I did climb down with her, though.
*** Down
did suck. It involved holding onto a wobbly safety bar and climbing down steps that were slightly less steep, but just as slanty and barely wide enough for two feet.
**** The reason is pretty clear in the very definition of what we were seeing. Monkey soldiers. Biting people. On the head.

***** Gah! I can't believe she didn't mention that this is where part of "Tomb Raider" was filmed.

****** More about this in the next post. Meg's a good Southern girl and has a fascination with some of the colloquialisms of her people. For a while, the verb "tump" was paramount to this fascination.

******* This proved to be a horrible miscalculation. See the forthcoming entries on Phnom Penh.

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