Thursday, October 2, 2008

Angkor, Wat is Happening?

I love a good road trip with people I like. Certain experiences are best experienced with a group – sharing big orders of food, understanding complex subway routes, greeting the New Year, doing stupid dares , etc.

But, l also like taking solo trips. You can take your time, set your own schedule. A better writer ( was it Pico Iyer?) once said that “travelling is one form of standing still”. So true. I find that the best time for me to take stock and think through stuff is when I’m away alone somewhere , relaxed and not distracted by the hustle and bustle of everyday life.

I was on a solo-trip to Cambodia a few months ago. This is a perfect destination for a solo trip. The temples are best enjoyed by yourself. You can take as long as you want staring at a mural, without worrying about somebody getting bored and wanting to do something else.

During the first day of my visit, I was at Angkor Wat just before the sun rose. For about an hour, I was the only one inside. I don’t have adequate words to describe the experience. But, try to imagine this - a temple hundreds of years old, alone by yourself walking through long dark hallways, illumination provided only by a flashlight, no sound except for the morning slowly coming alive. Not eerie. Strangely peaceful.

I was kind of disappointed when first light came and I heard the footsteps of the other visitors finally coming in.

One of the few bummers about a solo trip is when something funny happens and you don’t have someone to laugh about it immediately.

I stayed at a place called Palm Village which I found thru Trip Advisor. I highly recommend this place for anyone thinking of a trip to Siem Riep. I paid a little over US$150 for 4 days/3 nights including most meals ,the cost of a chauffeur-driven one day-tour and a traditional Cambodian massage and steam bath.

Which brings me to the funny part.

The massage started out well enough. Thatched hut. Two girls from the village. Four Hands. Nice.

My first surprise was when they took out their knives and started slicing fresh tomatoes and other vegetables which they then proceeded to spread all over me. I’ve had my share of massages before , none of them involved salad ingredients.

Not being too familiar with Khmer culture, having a wild imagination and with visions of their sharp knives still fresh in my memory, the thought crossed my mind that they might be prepping me up to be sautéed for lunch (theirs) like in a bad Roger Corman film set in Asia.

After about 30 minutes, they asked me to stand and sit by the wooden floor (all thru gestures, the girls had very basic English). My thoughts about being cooked alive in some kind of ceremony resurrected when they set a big cauldron of boiling water in front of me.

One of the girls left the room and came back with a big woven mat (i.e. “banig”). The girls then proceeded to unroll the mat which they encircled around me and the cauldron, forming some kind of cylinder. The top was open but not for long. A blanket was then thrown over the opening so that I was completely enclosed, sweating buckers from the boiling water .

That was when I realized that this was the traditonal steam bath I had signed up for. It would have been classic if the girls started chanting as part of the treatment. Sadly they did not. But, at this point, I started to chuckle. Slowly at first. A fit not long after.

I was still laughing when they finally pulled off the blanket and took away the mat. I was then asked to shower to wash off the salad ingredients.

I was asked to go back to the massage table for the last treatment. I started to laugh again.

I was okay with the papaya pulp that was rubbed all over my body but lost it when they started to wrap me completely with banana leaves so that only my eyes were showing. This is exactly how certain Filipino dishes are prepared for steaming. Between my body twitching with suppressed laugher and the slickness of the papaya pulp, the girls had a hard time of it.

After my massage and after leaving the girls a huge tip - well worth every penny - I went back to the pool-side and started texting my friends back home about the experience. It would have been so much funnier if they were around.

And then again, that could have meant missing my pre-dawn moment at Angkor Wat.


Dprabo said...

The sexy version of that would be Kim "Samantha" Cattrall with sushi spread all over her body..

The Girl With A Curl said...

Hi Tarcs, hopping over from my neck of the world wide woods. I'll be by often, because this one seriously made me crack up. I'm so glad they didn't start bringing out condiments like patis. That would've been a different sort of blog post altogether, haha!