SE Asia Journal: Days 17-19

Tuesday, February 25, 4:10 p.m., Bangkok

After this morning’s writing I caught a tuk-tuk and went to the Angkor National Museum, which provides a very nice summary of Cambodia’s ancient history. Their presentation started with a short summary film and the Gallery of 1,000 Buddhas, a collection of Buddha images in stone, wood, and precious metals from throughout Khmer history. They were arranged by posture, time period, and material. While the many small images arrayed along the walls weren’t really accessible or visible, the larger ones were in full view. A fine, meditative space.

The remaining galleries traced Cambodia’s history, from its pre-Angkorian history in Funan, through the different belief systems – Hindu, Buddhist, and to a lesser extent folk religion. Then the major Khmer kings like Suryavarman II and Jayavarman VII were profiled and their works listed. Two galleries were devoted to Angkor Wat and Angkor Thom; the latter was actually the more extensive. Stelae detailing Khmer history and language were followed by the concluding gallery dedicated to clothing styles as revealed in ancient Khmer sculpture, and a final section on apsaras, which I didn’t realize had so captured the imaginations of both Cambodians and tourists.

Day 17 Bayon apsara 2

Pretty females doing sensuous dances will do that. I barely looked at the sometimes extensive texts provided with the individual images, relying on the larger summary texts and the very good audio guide (featuring a voice I’m certain I’ve heard in other museum audio guides).

Then it was back to the hotel for the bus, a flight from Siem Reap to Bangkok – and now I am back in the hotel that started all this. My plan is to set this journal aside for tomorrow, then return to it back home for some final thoughts. Dinner on the river ensues in an hour.

Thursday, March 6, 5:35 a.m., Reno

On the morning that I’m finally getting back to my daily routine of walking, meditating, writing, and so on, it seems appropriate to return finally to this journal to wrap up the final, painful day-plus of my trip. I should start by mentioning that when I returned to Bangkok, my hotel room was in fact larger than my home. Two bedrooms, three baths, three televisions, and much walking space, all just for me.

The farewell dinner cruise on the Chao Phraya River in Bangkok was quite nice. Once again there were plenty of vegetarian options for me. Along the river were all manner of noteworthy sights – other ships large and small (many tourist-oriented), large hotels, brightly lit stupas and temples, a very attractive modern bridge spanning the river, and amidst it all a few stretches of older, in some cases decrepit, buildings that hinted at what the river might have looked like in times past.

Day 18 Chao Phraya River

Along with the scenery, pleasant views along the river, and food, there was much pleasantness and picture taking with my fellow trip members. I said goodbye to everyone, and got some addresses and information from people. How lucky I was to be traveling with such nice people who also proved to be up for anything and everything the trip offered. I had two beers that night, which was probably one too many given that I had to rise at 3:30 a.m. for the following morning’s flight.

But rise I did. The trip home couldn’t possibly be as bad as the original trip to Bangkok, could it? Well, no it couldn’t, but it came darn close. While standing in line at the airport to check in for the opening Bangkok-Tokyo leg of the journey, we found out that the flight had been canceled! I was so surprised, not. Fortunately, when we finally got to the desk, we found out that we could join a Thai Airways flight to Tokyo if we hustled. Thai Airways to the rescue again, just as happened three weeks ago!

That flight was fine, as was the Tokyo-San Francisco connecting flight. But it was by this point just another morsel of news to find out that San Francisco was having bad weather, and all San Francisco-to-Reno flights were canceled for the day. My initial reaction was blasé, as I was fairly used to this by now (on the trips from Reno to Bangkok and back, three of my six flights had been canceled, and one seriously delayed). But I couldn’t bear the thought of hanging out around San Francisco for a day or more, so close to home. So I put myself together and rented a car for a drive home. After requesting the smallest vehicle they had available, they of course lined me up with a gigantic 4×4 Dodge truck! By this time, though, I had been up for 24 hours and was too tired and disgusted to fight it. So I decided to wrestle the truck home. In the event, I got used to the truck, traffic was light, and the only difficulty was fighting to stay awake for the drive. I managed, and made it home by 5:00 that afternoon.

One postlude remains: Throughout the trip I remained happily illness-free. Over our three weeks, eight of our sixteen tour members, I believe, were sidelined by stomach problems. For whatever reason – good diet, daily probiotics, who knows – I managed to avoid all that. Until the day after I returned home, that is, when in the afternoon the “distress” hit me. Only three days later did it feel like the bug had passed. So I did get my taste of that standard part of traveling to distant lands after all.

The three weeks in southeast Asia was one of the best, most meaningful stretches of my life, without question. I’m still assimilating a lot of what happened, getting some perspective on the people and places and experiences. It’s likely that the flight difficulties will fade from memory. My thoughts will turn often, however, to Angkor Wat

Day 16 Angkor reflecting

and Luang Prabang

Day 4 Wat Xieng Thong temple back

and Ho Chi Minh City

Day 10 Night view

and the Killing Fields

Day 13 Wristbands

and Vientiane

Day 8 Phra That Luang and me

and Banteay Srei.

Day 15 Banteay Srei 8

I’ve done this. I’ve proved to myself that I can travel and have these experiences, and that I can and will do it again one day.

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