From Koh Samui to Siem Reap, Cambodia

Friends Barb and Christine arrived this week, fresh from an 8 day tour of Northern Thailand, to spend a couple of days with us at our house in Bang Po, located on Moo 6 in a lovely local community just one hundred meters across the road from our previous chalet. We spent three days exploring the beaches of Chaweng, Lamai and Bang Po, as well as the town of Nathon and the Hin Lad waterfall and temple.

The day we spent on Chaweng, the longest and most upscale beach on Koh Samui, was a bit overcast at first and the waves were fabulous crashing rollers. We spent the afternoon on brightly coloured loungers for which we paid a pretty penny in food and drink from an indifferent restaurant staff. Later, after a Thai massage, we had a tasty Thai supper at the Infinity Restaurant on one of Chaweng’s side streets. The next morning, after negotiating a price for our own song thaew taxi, we hit the sights on the west coast.

After spending some time at the forested Hin Lad temple, and examining the elephants at the riverside trekking station, one of whom looked blind, Lamai Beach called to us and we enjoyed watching the beautiful red retriever dog fetch water bottles thrown in the waves from the sand in front of the Bikini Bar.

Thursday morning Ty and I were up early for our transfer to the airport, courtesy of Dave, and, rather than spend the night in Bangkok as we had originally planned, we decided just to keep on trucking, flying in to Siem Reap, Cambodia, after changing our airline ticket at the Bangkok Air counter in the Suvarnabhumi Airport. After a short forty minute flight, a line-up at the visa on arrival counter where a fleet of uniformed personnel passed our passports from hand to hand down the line, and a taxi ride of twenty minutes, we were ensconced at the Pool and Palm Villa just outside the downtown area of Siem Reap.

The hotel grounds have suffered from the recent floods, having lost much of their grass, trees and flowers to the waters that inundated Cambodia in the fall, but the place is very nice. Two wooden Kmer-style buildings, with very high ceilings and beautiful wooden furniture and fittings, accommodate guests, with a large pool and poolside restaurant on the back part of the property. Also a victim of the floods, the roadway into Siem Reap is badly chewn up, with enormous potholes that crews are in the middle of trying to repair. Some low-lying areas in the countryside here are still a bit flooded and only now starting to dry out.

The area around Siem Reap is very flat, with lots of cabbage palms and other deciduous trees interspersed with flat patches of yellow grazing land and brilliant green rice fields. Very bony cattle, lots of dogs and puppies, pigs, and chickens abound here.

The commercial buildings in this area are vibrantly coloured, with the newer hotels and villas reminding me of the ones I saw in Turkey. Downtown Siem Reap (the name meaning “Siam [Thailand] Defeated”) is lovely, with blocks of French Colonial architecture in multi-coloured hues, an Old Market, complete with chicken carcasses, fish, fruit, and multitudes of shoes, and a Pub Street, packed out at night with revelers and beautifully lit up, full of restaurants and bars. After a mediocre dinner at the Khmer Family Restaurant, we headed down the street to a bar with a nice outdoor seating area and met Dennis, a guy from Montana who’s here working on a project with a local school.

Our second day saw us up and out the door on a tuk-tuk bound for Beng Mealea, a jungle Hindu temple 60 kilometers east of Siem Reap. The tuk-tuks here have a different style than those in Thailand; here they look like 19th century horse carriages, with padded seats and sometimes luxurious fabrics, except instead of the horse, a guy on a moped pulls the carriage. Along the way we passed more road crews trying to fix things up post-flood, guys on mopeds with two live hogs tied to the back of their seats, houses on stilts (both shacks and fancy new digs), schoolgirls with long black hair and floppy wide-brimmed hats on old-fashioned one speed bikes, and tiny tractors with huge loads of logs. Two hours later we bounced in to the temple compound, paid our $5 US each for the entry tickets, tried to avoid the crowds of children scampering around our feet, and were swept into the orbit of a blue-suited, white-hatted one-legged land mine victim who became our guide through the ruin site (see next post for Beng Mealea). See more pics of Koh Samui and Siem Reap here and here.

 

Ladyboys and Temples on Koh Samui

Our next-door neighbours in Bang Po, David and Janet, had recommended a Ladyboy Cabaret in Chaweng and, when visiting friend Maggie expressed interest in checking it out, Friday night we were off down the road on a crowded Song Thouw shared pickup truck taxi to Chaweng, east coast party central on Koh Samui.

After a circuitous ride through the small crowded bustling streets of Chaweng, buzzed by the usual thousands of motorbikes ridden by bare-headed maniacs, we spotted the Burger King landmark (!) and hopped off and into the downtown beachside throng.

Although we were looking for Starz Cabaret, said to be next door to said Burger King, we didn’t see it and instead, after being encouraged by the gang of ladies outside, Maggie and I headed in to the Moulin Rouge Cabaret which was indeed next door.

We caught the last twenty minutes of the first show and the full second show, an extravaganza of high octane dancing, lip-synching, lights, and pulsing sound in a somewhat seedy down-market Vegas-like venue. Transformed by the glitter and lights, though, the stage looked good and the show was great.

Standouts for me were the Cher-alike, the gorgeous LB in blue glitter gown and peacock feathers,

the top-hatted person in silver (with a body that I would have sworn was female, unlike almost all the others who didn’t really pass),

and the full-bodied comic with a rose between her butt-cheeks, favouring a few select men in the audience with the pleasure of her buttock caresses.

The five male backup dancers were also great, especially one with an enormous smile who really seemed to be enjoying himself. The various takes on femininity were fascinating, ranging from LBs with very full breasts to those with none and from those with angular tall frames to those very petite. Because it was so kinetic and psychedelic, it was very difficult to get decent pictures of the show. See a few more here.

Saturday morning saw Maggie and I up and on the road with taxi driver Mai on a north island temple trip, taking in four of the Wats along the north coast from Mae Nam to Choeng Mon. Our first stop was Wat Na Phra Lan, a seaside temple complex at the east end of Mae Nam beach.

It had a beautiful elaborately decorated golden roof on one elevated platform, along with the usual assortment of temple buildings, and was deserted of visitors.

We saw only one orange-robed monk cutting the grass to the accompaniment of recorded chant music.

Next, still in Mae Nam, but on the far side of the Ring Road, on the hillside, was Wat Phukhao Thong, a temple and cemetery complex with, in addition to the usual, a highly decorated crematorium surrounded by burial chedis.

Being elevated, the site was shady and breezy and a pleasure to walk through. We also saw, on one of the elevated platforms, another decorated Buddha Footprint, this one about one tenth the size of the big one Ty and I had seen down south. This site was also bereft of visitors, with the exception of a local family picnicing under the gigantic shade trees and a crazy guy rolling in the dirt.

From Mae Nam we drove east to the most famous temple site on Koh Samui, the “Big Buddha” at Choeng Mon. Situated on small peninsula whose edges are eroding, the Big Buddha site contains what look like gigantic Hindu sculptures at the water’s edge,

as well as the Big Buddha and many, many smaller Buddhas, including one round smiling one (the “Fat Buddha”, a type I hadn’t seen in temples here before).

This place was surrounded with shops and small restaurants and had quite a few visitors, although not as many as I had expected to see, given its fame. The Big Buddha sits in state on a big lotus blossom at the top of a set of stairs and commands a beautiful panoramic view out over the Bo Phut Bay and the islands beyond.

Our final stop was the Wat Plai Laem, inland on a manufactured lake nearby. This place was almost hallucinogenic, with a giant fat Buddha

and a huge white Guanyin, the Goddess of Mercy and Compassion with nine sets of arms,

both occupying their own tiled platforms jutting out into the lake, along with other temple buildings on other platforms.

I felt like a cartoon character with eyes popping out of their stalks – the glitter, the gold, the mosaic, the tiles, the glass, all glinting in the hot Thai sun was finally too much and we called it a wrap, rolling back to Bang Po to rest our eyes.

Read more about the Big Buddha here.

Read more about Wat Plai Laem here.

See more pictures here.