Friday, 22 March 2013

Siem Reap, Cambodia

Siem Reap is the gateway to Cambodia's famous temples. Since 1993, the number of tourists visiting Siem Reap has risen from approximately 7000 to over 2.5 million. This has lead to an influx of hotels, guest houses, bars, restaurants and, of course, tuk tuk drivers, beggers and children selling all manner of photocopied books and souvenirs.

The area of Siem Reap known as Pub Street is where most tourists will end up at some point, and is a vibrant, noisy and somewhat westernised area of the city aptly named for it's string of pubs and eateries. The street is closed off to traffic at night, turning it into a promenade for wandering tourists looking for a cheap beer or cocktail or a bite to eat.

We decided to stay on the opposite side of the river this time in an attempt to get a different feel for the city, and we were not disappointed. Staying on Wat Bo Road, we were still within walking distance of the action, while being able to enjoy some relative peace and quiet. Although our arrival was less than auspicious (read about it here here), the following few days were full of pleasant surprises.

We started by going on a hunt for a good cup of coffee. Luckily for us, we headed down street 25 which ran down the side of our hotel towards the river, and as we turned the corner onto the aptly named River Road, we stumbled into Bon Cafe, a relatively new and not yet discovered by westerners restaurant, that, as it turned out, had a great barista. We visited Bon Cafe at least twice a day during our stay and although the cocktails were a little low on alcohol, the food, coffee and fresh juices were all to die for.

 After we dragged ourselves from shop to shop in a vein attempt to find Tim Tams (!!!), we spent the rest of the day relaxing and recharging our batteries for the trip to Beng Mealea temple the following morning. We did, however pass by one of the many inappropriately named massage "parlours" that dot the streets. Signs  like this appeal to the silly little giggly girl inside!

We also managed to pay a visit to the markets which always makes me happy. Always so chaotic and hot but so much fun.

Beng Mealea deserves a post all of it's own, so that will be coming up next....

Wednesday, 20 March 2013

Khmae time.

Cambodia runs on it's own clock. Sure the hands on a clock face move at the same rate as anywhere else, but here, there is little meaning or importance placed on the concept of time. If a local tells you it will take 15 minutes, it might mean 15 minutes, or an hour, or two hours!

It is easy to become accustomed to Khmae time. When the bus from Phnom Penh to Siem Reap was supposed to take 5-6 hours and instead took 8 1/2, nobody cared. When the tuk tuk got a flat tyre, he was in no rush to get us to our destination, instead driving around looking for somewhere to fix it before taking us back to our hotel.

The pace here is slow out of necessity, it is way too hot to move quickly! I have spent the last two weeks constantly showered in my own sweat, the bodies natural cooling system. You need not be concerned whether your accommodation has hot water in the shower, you only want cold showers anyway.

So to the journey so far. Arriving in Phnom Penh after 25 hours in transit, I was totally exhausted.  All I really wanted to do was find some air conditioning and a cold shower and lie down. But we were only there for one night, due to leave on a midday (ish) bus the next day. So in the spirit of experiencing every second of my holiday, I pushed myself to stay awake. We found a cafe on Sisowath Quay, the main road that runs along the river front, and I plied myself with strong coffee. When I began to feel human again, we went to the central market.

I love markets in SE Asia. They are alive and vibrant and you can get everything you need from scarves and t-shirts, to bags, hats, watches, freshly killed meat, vegetables, the list goes on. There is a joy in asking the price of an item, then haggling until you get a price that satisfies both you and them. There is even more joy in haggling in Khmae. As soon as you speak a little of their own language to them, they are full of happiness and pride that you have bothered to learn. And your bargaining power goes up ten fold.

From Phnom Penh, we left for Siem Reap. The bus left only 45 minutes late! As we headed out of the city on National Hwy #6, we encountered a long stretch of roadworks. As we bumped along, we had no idea that it would add an extra 2 1/2 hours to our journey. Once we hit Siem Reap, the bus driver decided to drive around the back streets, dropping off all the locals who had jumped on the bus along the way, adding a further half an hour before we were finally deposited at the "bus station". I'm certain it wasn't the actual bus station, more like a car park in a darkened back road.

We were so exhausted and eager to get to our hotel, that we let our defences down for just long enough for a tuk tuk driver to convince us to let him take us to our hotel. In his defence, he knew exactly how much our hotel charged to pick up from the bus and agreed to charge the same, however as we rode off in the back of his tuk tuk, we realised he had a very flat tyre. He realised it too and decided rather than take us directly to the hotel, he would drive around Siem Reap, at 9pm, looking for somewhere to blow it up. When he finally found someone with a pump, they took one look at the what was left of his tyre, shook their heads and sent us on our way. Clearly, the tyre was too far gone for a quick fix.

Eventually, he gave up searching and took us to the hotel, where we proceeded to drag ourselves up four flights of stairs to our room, revel in a cool shower and fall blissfully into bed.

More to come....

Friday, 15 March 2013

Learning to relax

I'm sitting in a cafe in Battambang, Cambodia, reflecting on the first 9 days of my holidays. Cambodia has definitely tested me on this trip, but it has also rewarded me. Let's start at the beginning....

I jumped in the car with my wonderful partner, my luggage, and a sense of anticipation, for the one hour drive to the train station. "Have you got your money" he asked. "Yes" I replied, reaching into my bag to double check. "Have you got sunscreen, your phone, power cords, chargers?" The conversation went on in this vein for some time. "It's too late now, we're already on the way" I thought, but I appreciated his interest. As we arrived at the train station and I jumped out of the car, I said "Oh, by the way honey, I've also got my plane tickets and my passport, in case you were wondering". He had forgotten to check arguably the two most important things! Bless him.

Three hours on a train, and I finally arrived at Sydney international airport where I checked in for my flight and proceeded to effectively waste three hours before I had to board the plane for an eight hour flight to Kuala Lumpur. I have discovered I love to fly at night as the plane tends to be less full and you have more room to stretch out. I totally lucked out this time, getting a centre row of five seats all to myself! Thank you Malaysia airlines.

The next stumbling block was a six and a half hour lay over in Kuala Lumpur from 3am. Nothing was open, I had forgotten to book a room at the transit hotel, the internet was sporadic at best, and I was exhausted. From 3 to 6am, when I was finally able to get a coffee, was the longest three hours ever.

By 4am, the airport was starting to look like something from a zombie movie, with shutters down on all the shops, silent airport security people wandering around, and all the travellers, aimlessly walking or sprawled on chairs and looking half dead.

Finally, it was time to board my onward flight to Phnom Penh, Cambodia. Just less than 2 hours in the air and I had finally reached my destination. As I walked out of the airport, I was immediately hit with a wall of heat, noise, and pollution, and I loved it. Ahhhh, I breathed, I'm back in Cambodia.

Wednesday, 6 March 2013

Yay, I'm on holidays!

Last time I took an overseas trip I was employed in a full time position and had the benefit of holiday pay, so even though I was only travelling for four weeks, I took six weeks off, I had a week before I went away to relax and get into holiday mode, and a week after I got home to get my head around the idea of going back to work.

This time, I am not so lucky. So although I fly out of the country tonight, I worked right up until my draining ten and a half hour shift yesterday. It was a tough day. The first seven hours went along at an easy pace, but the last three and a half, I got kicked in the pants!

The last fifteen minutes I had the pleasure of what I like to call a "need for individual attention" group (or NIAs). There was a large group that just kept getting bigger every time I turned around. It started with one lady who ordered three different flavoured milkshakes. While I was making them, I overheard two more of the NIAs talking about what they wanted to order.

I finished the first three shakes and carried them over to the table. The next lady ordered two more. I asked if anyone else wanted anything. They all ignored me. I made the next two shakes and just as I was about to take them to the table, another NIA came up to the counter. "I'll take those for you" she offered "and I need three iced chocolates, a strawberry shake and a banana shake"

I turned back to the blenders and started preparing the third lot of drinks. Behind me, NIA number four was jangling her keys to get my attention. I envisioned grabbing them from her hand and stabbing her in the eye. "Breath", I told myself, "You're almost out of here"

I looked at the lady. There must have been something in my eyes because she almost took a step back. "Ah, sorry" she stuttered, "Could I have a large coffee and two more shakes?" I shot mind bullets at her, plastered on a smile and took her order. "Last call ladies." I announced, "Does anyone else have an order, because we are closing now"

Nobody responded. I made the last of their drinks, they paid, they left. On her way out, one of the ladies looked at me. "That was a busy little rush for you wasn't it" she grinned. I smiled at her. I started my pack down, I signed out, I locked the doors. I left a note for my co workers: "See you in three weeks guys. Don't miss me too much."

I've already forgotten where I work.

Monday, 4 March 2013

Allergy, Intolerance or plain dislike?

I really dislike olives. If I order something that normally comes with olives, I make  it very clear that I would like it to come with no olives. If it comes out with olives, I will send it back because even if I pick them out, I can still taste them and I really don't like olives.

As a server, if someone orders their food without something that is normally included, it is my job to make sure the food comes out as ordered. If it doesn't, it is my job to fix it. No problem. But it bothers me when people assume I'm a fool.

The other day I had a customer order a kids caramel milk shake on soy.
"Do you still want me to put ice cream in that?" I asked the customer.
"Oh yes, it's only the milk she's allergic to" The lady replied.

Now, I don't know what allergy this child had where ice cream was ok but milk was not. I'm happy to make a soy milkshake. It's no more difficult than making an ordinary milkshake. But your child is NOT allergic to milk if she can still eat ice cream.

There are people out there who have genuine allergies that can be life threatening and there are those who are intolerant to certain foods and these will cause them varying levels of discomfort. And then there are those who just dislike something or would prefer an alternative. I don't care which category you fall into, it's my job to bring you the food or drink the way you want it if it is in my power to do so. But please, give me the courtesy of assuming I'm intelligent enough to do my job without you having to outright lie to me.

Friday, 1 March 2013

One of those days...

It's actually been two of those days.

The first day was one of those days where just about every customer was a genuine pain in the arse. It was nothing major, just a lot of little irritations that built up over the day so that by the time my shift ended I really just wanted to hit something.

We all have those days and as mentioned in previous posts, because I have holidays coming up (in just four more shifts), I am finding it particularly difficult at the moment to deal with rude, messy, disrespectful customers.

Day two, I got cancelled when the manager decided to close for the dinner shift due to bad weather. I wouldn't normally mind, but I am madly scratching together last minute cash for my holiday so losing out on a $150 shift hurts.

Still, if I'm honest, right now I'd pay $150 not to have to put on my happy face for some condescending idiot so I guess, in the scheme of things, it's probably okay that I got the day off!

On an unrelated note, there has been construction happening on a new KFC restaurant in our town for some months now. For some reason, people seem to be excited about the prospect of greasy chicken being available (up until now, the nearest KFC was 45 minutes away). Anyway, my Facebook was  overrun yesterday with status updates about the KFC finally being opened and how exciting it is ??? Today, it had to close down again due to water damage from the rain! You would think they could afford to employ builders that know how to put a roof on properly! I guess those of us who didn't line up at the door to grab our fat fix on day one will have to delay the great KFC gorge of 2013 until they work out how to stop the rain mixing with the deep fryer oil