Food For the Fishes

I knew I was in for it when we decided to leave Cambodia on December 30th. New Year’s Eve in one of the biggest cities in the world – and arguably the party hub of Southeast Asia – just can’t be good? Once the decision was made, all it took was a quick email to Meaghan to confirm that we would be ringing in the New Year with she and Chris at a discothèque in Bangkok. I wasn’t too worried though, I mean how much trouble could we get into –Meaghan and her husband Chris are ex-Peace Corp/NGO types. I mean they are the good guys, they’d keep us safe and sober. Right?

I underestimated the power of the young Australian. Jason had the forethought to smuggle two bottles of nice Champagne into Thailand from Cambodia and this is how I came to start sipping bubbles at the roof-top pool of our hotel as the sun set over Bangkok, far too early for such imbibing if one is to survive New Year's Eve unscathed. A few hours later and all the lessons I have learned about not mixing liquors, alternating water with cocktails and my patented party trick of ‘fake drinking’ fell by the wayside and somehow I ended up drunk and still awake at midnight.

But before there was champagne there was a fish massage, another cooking class and the trip from Cambodia back to Bangkok.

In Siem Reap there is a really nice night market, more designer boutiques than normal market stalls. Stand after stand sells the standard fare of scarves, wooden carvings, silk purses, and so on, but here many of the stores support local NGOs and humanitarian projects.
Thrown into the mix of trinket shops are a couple of fish massage tanks. Now a few posts ago I told you about my friend Kristin and her comment about not wanting to “bathe with those people” at water parks. Well Kristin’s voice was booming in my head at the idea of putting my feet into a tank of who knows how old water, filled with flesh-eating fish, who just ate the flesh off of ‘that guy’s’ feet. So naturally I dared Jason to do it. Somewhere in their I forgot about my aversion and threw my feet in the tank as well.

For our last day in Cambodia we took a cooking class from a local vegetarian restaurant that we had fallen absolutely in love with. This class was very different from the last in that we watched the chef cook rather than cooking ourselves and we chose from the menu what we would like to learn to make. We were told to pick five dishes and a dessert – it took us three hours after the cooking was done to put a dent into all that food. We kept begging strangers to help us eat it.
It is considerably easier to cross the boarder in Poipet from east to west. On the Thai side there are no stalking touts or tour bus operators, in fact we had to wake up a dozing tuk tuk driver in order to get a ride to the train station.
Since we had exhausted pretty much every other form of transportation in the last month, super yacht, subway, dingy, motorbike, elephant, plane, ferry, bus, taxi, bicycle, bamboo train and long-tail boat, we decided an actual locomotive was in order. There are many classes to choose from when traveling via the Thai bus or rail systems and I had dreams of a private car on the first class bullet train. Instead, I got a bench seat on a third-class train that took even longer than the bus.

That is not to say that it was not actually my preferred method of transportation. The train was actually quite nice, scenic and best of all… it cost 90 baht for two tickets, about $1.50 each. Onboard vendors sell hardboiled eggs, unidentifiable gelatinous sugar cubes, sliced pineapple and ice-cold beer. We were the only westerners on the whole rig and it ended up costing us more to take the subway from the Bangkok Train Terminal to the hotel, than it did to come the 300 kilometers from Cambodia. How can you not love the third-class train?

So back in Bangkok we prepared for the New Year. And by prepared I mean we chilled the champagne and I bought a dress and heels for about $4 – this marked the second time in six months I have worn high heels, I felt like a giant! Meaghan, Chris, Jason and I opted to celebrate at a nightclub named BED, which is a club filled with giant mattresses. Those of you who know me well, can imagine my excitement at the idea of simultaneously staying up until midnight and getting to be in bed by ten.

The four of us had an absolutely fantastic evening and I remember almost all of it. Wisely I had insisted on staying in the neighborhood where I always stay, even though the prices had gone up significantly for the holiday, and autopilot ensured that I woke up in the correct room the next morning, still in possession of my wallet, cell phone and dignity. New Year’s Day was an especially rough day, yes because of mild alcohol poisoning, but also because it was Jason’s last day in Asia. Around six p.m. he poured himself into a taxi, possibly still a bit drunk, and began the 48-hour journey that would lead him back to Australia and leave me alone and hungover in Bangkok.

That night my old friend loneliness came to keep me company. I had gone more than a month with constant companions and I had become accustomed to having people around again. Now facing two weeks of undefined solo travel I felt really, really alone. So, I grasped for control in anyway I could and I started planning a trip north to Chiang Mai. I booked a trek into the hill tribe country, purchased a super VIP sleeper bus ticket and took comfort in knowing that the next day I would be moving forward both personally and geographically.
Jas – what a dream of a travel partner you have been. I can’t thank you enough for all the adventures I got to have because you were along for the ride. Today in Chiang Mai I set out an offering for you at Wat Phra Singh and dropped 108 coins in the pots for your continued good luck.


Audrey SG said…
I have been had by you and your "fake drinking"! I am glad to hear you are drinking for real.
Jason Walker said…
Thankyou for some amazing adventures. hu fake drinking that could have been a good idea. Good luck with Chang Mai and your future trips
Sam said…
I'm rooting for you Rachel. And, I think you're going to love chiang mai. And, THANK YOU for making some of my adventures possible and for sure more memorable.
ludo said…
Hello,Rachel,i'm the french guy from warung sobat,i'wish you a very very happy new year 2009,hati hati,good luck .ludo from oyster place...

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