(The below is based on a true story. Names have been omitted to protect the individuals involved.)
The Planner was desperate to go on a holiday. She confided: “Moi bozz iz driving moi crazee with hiz incezzant deadlines. Moi’z gonna bee dead beefore moi’z crozzed ze line! Moi needz a holiday fazt!”
What about the boss? You asked.
The Planner flicked an exasperated glare at your direction.
“Ze bozz? He can go to ze hellz!”
So, together with the Photographer and the Bitch Goddess (a.k.a. ‘the Goddess’) , the Planner made her pilgrimage to Siem Reap. The Planner had it all planned out beautifully in her head. From Siem Reap, they’d travel south-east to Phnom Phenh by boat and then cross the border by bus to Ho Chi Minh City.
Siem Reap was rather subdued for a tourist hub. The Goddess raised a disdainful eyebrow “So this IS Siem Reap?” The Photographer glanced around, adding thoughtfully “So dusty. Should have brought a mask”. Indeed, each time a vehicle drove across the rickety lanes, they would be engulfed in a billow of dust. The trio stopped in front of a guesthouse. It looked alright for the price (USD15 for a triple with attached bathroom with hot shower).
The Planner had everything planned perfectly. “Wee haz to zee ze sunrize and sunzet at Angkor Wat. I think wee will need two dayz. 1 day iz not enough. 3 dayz iz too much. What do you think?” The Goddess shrugged “Ok. I haven done any research anyway”. The Photographer nodded “Sounds fine”. And they arranged for a motorcycle tuk-tuk to bring them there for 2 days for USD 12.
At the Park entrance, they had to alight to buy the tickets. There were separate gantries for solo tourists who were getting single-day passes, solo tourists getting 3-day passes, group tours getting single-day passes and groups getting three day passes. It was quite early in the morning but a jam had already built up.
“USD 40 for a 3-day pass?!?!” exclaimed the Goddess. “So expensive!!!”
She strode to the dour-looking tourist officer at the gantry.
“Hello. USD 40 is very expensive. Can you give us some discount?” The lady stiffened.
“Sorry mdm, this is fixed price.”
“Can lar. Buy 2 get 1 free. We’re getting 3 tickets.” The lady fidgeted.
“No mdm, we do not give discount.”
“Can lar, USD35 per person ok? For 3 person” persisted the Goddess.
“Sorry I cannot”
“Ok Ok USD 39 can?”
“I cannot mdm. Do you want to buy? There is a long queue behind.” The lady was visibly impatient.
“Ok! Ok! I pay! I pay!”
The Goddess was seething. “US40 is about SGD70! They really know how to ketok people! Charge so much yet the pavements are all broken. Terrible!” The Photographer shook her head resignedly.
“Aye … iz like dat … “ the Planner tried her best to soothe the ruffled feathers
They headed to Angkor Thom first. “Izz ze capital of ze Khmer Empire. Angkor Thom meanz Great City” explained the Planner. And the Great City contained numerous temples and shrines. They went to the Bayon temple first. It was the temple with many faces. The Photographer was excited and started snapping right away. “Look! This face looks like Brad Pitt!” Now this got the Planner very very excited for Pitt was her favorite actor. “Where? Where? Which one?”
From Bayon, they headed to the Terrace of the Elephants and then up a hill to Phnom Bakheng, the first temple mountain constructed in Angkor, to watch sunset. It had been an extremely hot day and there were few refuges from the sweltering heat. The trio was almost wilting. So they were amazed when they met a horde of tourists trudging up the slopes determinedly.
Apparently, everyone at Angkor Thom that day and more was there to watch sunset. Everyone was melting in this melting hotspot. The Goddess wasn’t impressed. “I’m not a fan of sunsets” and promptly planted herself on a step. Undeterred the other 2 left her alone and enthusiastically went to ‘chope’ the best position for their sunset pictures.
They visited Angkor Wat very early the next day to see sunrise. But it was overcast so there was no sun. It was similarly overrun by tourists. Angkor Wat was dedicated to the Hindi God Vishnu and its 5 towers were represented the 5 peaks of the mythical Mt Meru, centre of the Hindi universe and abode of the Hindi Gods (not to be confused with the other Mt Meru which is in Tanzania). The shallow moat surrounding it was supposed to represent the cosmic ocean.
The Photographer was however more intrigued by the statues lining the pathway from the grand entrance. “Are these monsters or deities?” The Planner and Goddess took a closer look. “Look more like monsters” said the Goddess. “But they displayed theze figurez everywhere. Cannot bee.” The Planner argued. The Photographer agreed.
There were 3 types of creatures. The first was a bird-like creature with a man’s lower torso and legs. The Photographer nicknamed it ‘Birdman’ (鸟人) (actually it was a Garuda, the mount of Vishnu). The second looked like a Cobra but was in fact known as a Naga, an intelligent serpent race. They called it the snake (what else?). Legend had it that the Cambodian King married a Naga Princess and propagated the Cambodian tribe. The last was a Singha. “How come this lion has no, erm asshole?” mused the Photographer. “Why you alwayz notize zuch thingz?” chided the Planner.
They went to Ta Prohm next – the tomb raider film site. “Now, this is more like a proper temple ruin” For the first time, the Goddess sounded appreciative. “Ze zcenic ride from there to here iz not bad too?” asked the Planner hopefully. The other 2 agreed. The tuk-tuk had driven them through a quiet forest lane that made them forgot there were in a tourist hotspot.
Inside, they were awed by the sight of the huge gnarled roots of the strangler fig trees (and some said the silk cotton trees) engulfing entire sections of buildings. The Goddess sighed wistfully. “We should have come here first rather than the others”. They played hide-and-seek inside for a while.
Ta Keo was next. It was a smaller temple site and was also in similar pristine condition like Ta Prohm. “The guidebook sayz that there’z a roman-like structure here. Did you zee itz? Wait, look, theze motifz look more Buddhist than Hindi!” The Planner pointed excitedly. The Goddess and Photographer were impressed. “You’re quite observant!” praised the Goddess. “Of courze!” came the fast reply. Apparently the earlier temples were styled with Hindi motifs but the later temples were covered with Buddhist carvings when one of the kings converted to Buddhism.
They found the roman-style building near the other end of the compound. “Gosh. It really looks like it belongs in Rome and not here! Who brought it here?” exclaimed the Goddess. The building had 2 floors of tall columns stacked on top of each other. It’s probably as tall as a modern 3-storey building.
“Do you want to zee any more templez?” asked the Planner as they nibbled hungrily on biscuits outside Ta Keo. “No no … no more” said the Photographer hastily. “I’m running out of batteries” “And I cant walk anymore.” declared the Goddess.
That night, they went for dinner to celebrate the end of their Angkor Wat pilgrimage. The Planner wanted to try local Khmer food. The Goddess pursed her lips “Mmmm, you remember I can’t take seafood or spicy food right?” The Photographer added “And I’m vegetarian?” The Planner rolled her eyes in despair. “Whatz with theze people?”
In the end, they settled for pizza. But it was excellent oven-fired Margarita.