I woke up in a strange place

By Marc Heiden, since 1997.
See also: a novel about a monkey.

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June 4, 2010

There was a fairly simple reason why I didn't write many emails home while I was in Cambodia: decrepit keyboards. So this doesn't describe most of what I saw there. Here's what I managed to plunk out.

Siem Reap

Sun behind Angkor Wat

I've been out of email range for the last couple of days. Can't really type an entire email at this keyboard, as most of the keys barely work. Just wanted to say hello.


I'm sorry I haven't written for the last couple of days. Still trying to find an internet cafe in Cambodia with a decent keyboard...no success, but one has to have slipped through, even if only by accident. I've been in the jungles around Angkor Wat from sunrise to sunset, and will be again tomorrow. It's unfathomably hot in there. And amazing.

Tree of ages

I'll write tomorrow if I'm not absolutely drained again, regardless of how many of the keys are stuck together. (This may look short, but these two sentences took a lot of time to pound out.) And if I am too drained, then I'll send you something from Phnom Penh, my next stop, the day after tomorrow. (It's the capital city.)


I'm exhausted again, but I'll type until I'm about to drop. I'm not quite bronze, but I am kind of golden at the moment. I'm off to Phnom Penh tomorrow morning on the bus, and then I'm going to try to arrange a side-trip to a city called Kampot before I go onward to Vietnam.

I did see monkeys twice on my first day in the jungle. There was a pack of them running along on the side of the road in the morning. My motorcycle driver paused so I could check them out.

Monkeys of Angkor

Then, at the end of the day, after sunrise, a monkey showed up outside the front gate of Angkor Wat as I was leaving to strike poses on top of a statue.

Lord Monkey of Angkor (and the weight on his shoulders)

Most of the last three days have been hiking amid the temple ruins, but there were some odd diversions - yesterday, my driver was keen to take me to an army base (at least I hope it was an army base) where I could shoot a gun. I was feeling agreeable, so we went, and a Cambodian guy handed me an M-16, showed me how to hold it, popped in a cartridge of bullets and left me to fire away at a bunch of old tires until I ran out.

Somehow I wound up here

Pretty surreal experience. He was trying to talk me into spending $120 for several rounds with this new shiny supermachinegun they had. Nobody seems to realize that, while I have more money than anyone they know, I'm still not *that* rich. Some nine year old girls at a small lunch stand yesterday extracted promises from me to bring them two bicycles, a football, and new shoes on Sunday. (I guess they were trying to be reasonable by giving me a few days to put the whole package together.)

Drop block city

The guy at the firing range also tried to sell me on a rocket launcher, but we never got down to discussing a price on that one.

Phnom Penh

Sam Bo, the city elephant

I'm trying to decide my next move. There's only one travel agent who sells bus tickets to the next place I wanted to go (south, to Kampot and Bokor Hill National Park), and I couldn't find them today. So I'm tempted to head straight into Vietnam from here, although I'm a little ahead of schedule right now, and I did want to see one more place in Cambodia before I left. Not sure what to do. (I could use this extra time for Malaysia at the end of the trip, but I've never actually thought of any reason to go to Malaysia.)

Kids on the loose

The heat is exhausting, but I'm all right. I need to do some laundry quite urgently. In Bangkok, they'd do 1kg for about 75 cents. I'm not sure what it is here. I bought new shorts and some t-shirts in Bangkok, but have yet to find anyone anywhere, even in the depths of the pirate-knockoff market stalls, that sells shoes in my size. People see my feet and gape. It's a universal human reaction.

Two feet and some things

My visa won't be ready until tomorrow afternoon, so I have to wait for the Sunday morning bus. Found out later that the elections are being held here on Sunday morning, so I was glad I'd decided to leave - developing countries can get a little weird after elections.

I sat down with the intent of making this a longer email, but this must be the worst Cambodian internet cafe yet. I think the four Windows 98 computers in here must be splitting a dial-up connection. (On the plus side, it's 50 cents an hour.)

Murdered by the Khmer Rouge

Upstairs at Tuol Sleng

Cambodians record a few thoughts about their torturer

So today I went to the Khmer Rouge sites - the prison-museum, and the killing fields - and I'm done with sights in Phnom Penh, but I have one more day here. Not sure what to do. I could use a day out of the sun, I guess. I read something about a pool, so I might go there.

(ED: I did not wind up going to said pool.)

Two tuk-tuks

I don't think I mentioned this - so, to get around in Cambodia, you generally flag someone down (or, if you're foreign, they flag you), agree on a price and hop on back of their motorbike. Once they've got you, they'd like to be your personal driver for the day - there are way, way, way more of them than there are tourists, and they can go hours between 'fares' - so it takes a bit of work to shake them off
when you're done.

In my case especially, being a young white guy by himself, they want to get me to a club / 'dance show' / 'massage'. So I've taken to telling everyone that my girlfriend IS with me, but she's (insert activity off the top of my head) right now. They get sad for a moment (one asked to see a picture), and then the light goes off in their head that they could lay down today's fare to borrow the cart (hitches to the back of the cycle, can hold two tourists) from their friend, and then they really excitedly begin proposing full-day itineraries for the next day. I then disappoint them by noting that my girlfriend has already made a plan and reserved a driver but I don't know how much it is...which leaves them at an impasse for future negotiations (although the guy today said he'd be parked outside the hotel all morning tomorrow morning just in case, meaning I need to buy a gorilla mask when I leave tomorrow).

Speaking of monkeys. Remind me to tell you about the one who stole my Coke.

Monkey Coke fiend

Monkey with empty can, considering options

Monkey eats empty Coke can

I'm ending each day exhausted. I hope that means I'm making the most of this.

I woke up in a strange place is the work of Marc Heiden, born in 1978, author of two books (Chicago, Hiroshima) and some plays, and an occasional photographer.

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Written by Marc Heiden, 1997-2011.