Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Monkeying about...

And then there was one. My man trip was over and I was all by myself. Now, rather than fawning around thinking about the past I needed to get on with the future. So I went to visit a past friend from Uni.

It had been a while since I last saw Hilary, in fact, our 2001 Communications Ball might have been the last shot....
I've aged

In fact I blame the UK for my massive ageing. Look at me two days after arriving on this little island.

You think that’s bad – check out me out in Paris, June 2000. A point to note -how stereotypically French is the guy behind me?

And the exact same spot 10 years later…..

Who ate all the pies???

Anyway, Hilary has been living in Phenom Penh for a good two years, and with her fiancé (now husband) slumming it as the CEO of one of the country’s largest banks, I thought it was worth a visit/use of far better facilities than a backpackers.

ដែលមិនចេញស្តី, សេចក្តីហាមឃាត យុវតី, មនុស្សស្រី, ក្មេងស្រី

Picking me up from the airport she gave the run down and the lie of the land. The bars that we could head to, the markets we could push through, the parties we would attend and the sites that I should see. And we got to all of them, although not in that order.

First thing was first, and that was a shower and a drink to catch up on old times.

Pulling in to Hil’s house my old ex-pat lifestyle from Pakistan flashed before my eyes. The driver, the guards, the maid, everything. I don’t think I’ve ever felt more at home than those few days. It was how I grew up, and what I recall from most of my childhood.

That night, after a few bars, we headed to a party held at the home of a member of the diplomatic corp. I would say which one, but seeing the party was in aid of him moving back to his country and the aim was to consume his entire liquor cabinet, I’ll leave it there. But it made me think how my parents must have lived - albeit me and my sister running around like idiots - and how amazing their lifestyle was.

The next day it was off the Killing Fields and S21, the infamous torture cells used by the Khmer Rouge. Hiring ‘Sammy’, my new rickshaw friend, we made the 30 minute ride out to the Killing Fields. One thing you notice about Cambodia is how empty it feels, particularly after coming from the throb of Saigon. I’m not going to go in to the details, but some of the sights and stories are quite disturbing, and to think it wasn’t that long ago.

However, the night was a different beast, with Australia vs Iraq in the Asian Cup. And what a surreal event it was. On one side of me as a high ranking Australian official, and the left of me were four Iraqi gents who said they worked for the Iraqi High Commission (I would have thought that any High Commission would be nullified with a regime change – but that’s probably just my ignorance). Although not overly hostile, I did feel a little bit like the UN stuck in between the factions. My weapon of choice – scotch.

Waking the next day at 5.30am it was time to head of Siem Riep.

My driver – Sammy – had arranged for another driver to pick me up from the bus station. So arriving just a little out of town, I looked around for a sign with my name on it. Not seeing one I started to get a little confused, and that’s when I spied my tuk tuk driver in the distance…holding a sign with a drawing of Bart Simpson.

I was going to like this town.

First thing first - find a hotel with a pool. That settled it was off the Angor Wat to get my three day pass to see the temples and take in the sunset over the entire area. I’d write a lot more about the temples and slumming around Siem Riep, but all I really did there was temples in the morning, lounge by the pool in the afternoon, and go out to the aptly named ‘Pub Street’ at night. It was a slow, relaxing few days with a cooking class here and there, a few books.

With my two days in Siem Riep slowly turning in to six, as I was in no rush to go anywhere. But all good things come to an end, and after spending five of those days with Mr Suni (my tuk tuk driver) it was time to say goodbye.

After I wore a colourful shirt to sunrise over Angkor Wat, Mr Suni couldn’t stop talking about it. So you can imagine his delight when I literally gave him the shirt off my back. Hopping on to the bus to head back to Phenom Penh, he drove the tuk tuk behind the bus for at least 5 minutes to make sure I was safely on my way (either that or he wanted to make sure I was out of town and there was no chance of securing my shirt).

So it was back to Phenom Penh before a flight to Chang Mai.

I really liked Chang Mai. It’s laid back, there’s a party if you’re looking for it but don’t have to, and lots of activities. Doing the standard white water rafting and cooking classes again, they were all a precursor for my crossing the border again for Laos, where I was spending two nights and three days living in the tree tops with the gibbons; zip lining between rickety huts about 150 metres up in the trees.

Hopping on the 3 hour bus ride to the border (trying to avoid a conversation with the English guy next to me asking if I carry some of the hash he had on him), a slim little canoe across the river and I was back in Laos and ready for the 3 hour drive and 2 hour hike in to the jungle.

Hiking through the jungle it was a few hours before we stumbled upon a single steel cable leading out in to the canopy and disappearing into the trees. Clipping in to our harnesses, we shot off the side of the mountains/tree branches/platforms/anything, only having our faith in an unregulated, untested, unsafe Laos activity – nothing wrong here….

For the next two days most of our time was spent hiking between these amazing tree houses perched high up in the tree tops, before zipping around the canopy and never touching the ground. It was an amazing experience, particularly looking out over the jungle and seeing lightening bolts shooting across the sky.

The beer in side pocket comes as standard...

But after two days – one gibbon spotted - it was time to head out of the hills and back to camp before catching a flight back to Bangkok.

I was ready to go home.

At the age of 30 I realised my backpacking days were behind me. I was excited to be heading back to a new job, a lovely girlfriend waiting (well actually Anna was in Ecuador for another month which was a killer of a wait), a comfortable couch and many friends to see.

I wanted to eat better, exercise again and apply myself to this new, settled down life. I was growing up. No more backpacking for me, this was my new life now:

But before I left to return to the real world….I of course had to check in to a five star hotel to remind myself of this!


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