Ladies and gentlemen, imagine, if you would, a wormhole through time and space.
Now imagine me falling through it.
For the purposes of your imagining, this is what I look like:
Well… not really, I just thought it would be a nice bonding moment if we all paused to imagine jettisoning Justin Bieber into the cosmos, after all, life is about enjoying the small thrills. But back to serious things. Plummeting through a wormhole is my only excuse for not posting for so long. After the rise and rise of the laptop Man’s Best Excuse has been left curled disconsolately in his basket, with inexplicable homework fetish woefully unsatisfied. So, until hounds develop a taste for dual processors, I am left to reach wildly for excuses. But, all of this is really my long-winded way of saying sorry for being away so long. 😦
But now, on with tales of adventure.
A wild traveller appears. Traveller uses “Flashpacker”. It’s super effective.
I’ll be honest, my last week or so in Thailand didn’t exactly go according to plan, so the end result was that I felt pretty beaten up by the time I finally pulled it together to get off Ko Phangan. (I have something really boring called cfs that basically means I store energy about as well as a sieve stores apple juice, but you really don’t need to hear about it.) In terms of travelling as a solo female, however, feeling limp and insubstantial is not exactly ideal; everything suddenly felt like much more effort than was at all reasonable. Shower so as not to be offensive to the general public?!? Are you serious!? Get dressed so as not to get arrested and thrown in Thai jail?! Surely not!? Pack my rucksack, lift it and carry it 3 feet to the waiting taxi?! Are you kidding me!? Be driven to the airport?! Don’t be outrageous! Sit around in said airport for an hour or so, then sit on a plane and be flown to another country?!? Don’t be ridiculous! You get the idea. Every limb suddenly discovered its hilarious ability to weigh an absolute ton and every time I sat down I really did have to check with myself that I could actually get up again if required. Although I couldn’t really imagine bothering for anything less than a herd of stampeding rhino, or something with really sharp teeth and a penchant for ripping humans to pieces. You know, something like this:
In such a state even a passing stranger politely enquiring after the hour of the clock is likely to receive an utterly blank stare while I wonder what on earth a watch is and why this crazy person is gesturing at my wrist as if I have the time strapped to it or something. Having the reaction time of an asphyxiated slug is not exactly what you want when alone on an island in the gulf of Thailand.
So what did I do? Why, I did what any sensible person would do: I hopped a plane to Cambodia and, thoroughly abandoning the impecunious principles of backpacker travel, upgraded my entire life. I stayed at two gorgeous hotels, got massages every day and had a guide show me all the most glorious places to drink in the wonderful soulfulness that is Cambodia’s life blood. I drank champagne and ordered room service ice cream. Go ahead and hate me for an unprincipled comfort-whore, but please, at least read all about it. I promise you, it makes fabulous reading. How could it not? It made fabulous living!
Cue the gorgeous Cambodian People.
I had been told one thing very clearly. Before leaving for Cambodia I was to have $20 and a passport photo. I was cautioned that without these I would not be given a visa. Any traveller not rendered at least a little nervous by the word “visa,” has obviously never been to the Indian visa office in London. By the time I was in the taxi to Ko Samui airport I had not only failed to prepare $20 dollars, I did not have one single solitary $. Nor did I have any passport photos. (Word of advise: if you find yourself on Ko Samui needing passport photos, just don’t bother. No matter how many enquiries you issue you will never get a more informative response than a vague wave and a cry of ” Tesco, Tesco!” In the end I gave up and had a club sandwich and a chang with some half naked Canadians instead: much more constructive use of my time.) Far from fretting that I wouldn’t be allowed into Cambodia, I just sat back and marvelled at how flat it is, it’s the most beautiful country: a vista of stretching green plains laced with the bright red of dirt roads and an occasional shimmer of brightly gilded pagoda, it’s breathtaking. (I also checked out the hunky German guy next to me while pretending to read Sherlock Holmes, but that is much less classy, so we’ll keep that between us I hope.)
It turns out you need neither $ nor passport photos to be issues a visa upon entering Cambodia. All you need is a smile and $21 dollars worth of Thai Bhat. The fine for a visa without a passport photo is a thoroughly terrifying $1, and you can pay the whole whack in either dollars, bhat or, perhaps a little strangely, euro. Thus the toughest thing about entering Cambodia was actually surviving the mockery of the visa monkey who returned my passport. I might look like a serial killer with a migraine in the photo but that doesn’t mean I enjoy hearing about it!
Then something awesome happened.
Just as I was resigning myself to a hefty queue of customs victims, a smiling official shouted my name over the crowd. Naturally assuming, after my pessimistic fashion, that I was in trouble, I sheepishly raised a hand and prepared for the worst… which was… getting swept straight through customs, reunited with my bag, supplied with a bottle of chilled water and placed in an air-conditioned car on the way to my hotel! (Anyone who’s been to Cambodia in the middle of dry season will understand the importance of the air conditioning. If you haven’t had the pleasure of Cambodian dry season, imagine taking a seat at the centre of the sun, and you’re getting close. Don’t get me wrong, I love the heat; I may well have been a dragon in a previous life, but I, like most people, have a very low tolerance for discomfort after a stint on a plane.) As we drove to the hotel the driver chuntered merrily about Cambodia, naming the many, many hotels as we passed them and filling me in on their ownership and history. I drank it all in, the exotic twist of his accented English and the happy trill of his pride in his country blew through me like a fresh breeze, taking with them all the desolate white noise of the week before. This was change, this was movement and progress, new sights, new sounds, new smells, new places and people. And I didn’t have to walk. This was paradise.
Once at my hotel I was handed over to the concierge. While they found the paperwork to check me in I was armed with a cocktail that took my breath away. It was a highly inedible-looking shade of green but tasted absolutely divine. To this day I haven’t the slightest idea what was in it, which, somehow, makes it all the more thrilling. Thankfully this also gave me a moment to quietly adjust to how utterly beautiful the hotel was, which fortunately meant I could suppress the urge to caper about laughing, dancing and saying “oooooh” at inanimate, albeit ornately carved, objects. Check it out, though. Could you blame me?
To be honest I’m not sure how to best tackle my experience at Le Residence D’Angkor. I reckon I can get it across pretty clearly though, by showing you the email I sent my mum on my first night:
Oh my god I fell into a giant vat of herbal tea!! Oh no wait… I just got a Khmer massage with ginger oil. I smell fantastic!!! And I just ordered tagliatelle from room service! I have never felt so luxurious in my entire life! I’m so happy! A tiny Cambodian woman rubbed a bag of herbs on my buttocks… who knew that was the key to happiness!!?? xxxxx
Other than totally abusing the poor exclamation point, I had also, as you can see, become a bit of a ninny. But, please, let me explain.
This was the bed I had all to myself:
After 3 weeks of bunk beds, single beds and, always, sharing a room with the tallest fidget on the planet: this was BLISS. And it went to my head… a lot. The tagliatelle was my first non-rice-based dish in a while too. Which went to my head a lot as well. I had been exhausted, footsore, heartsick, homesick, actually sick, my head hurt, my arms hurt, my neck was stiff and I hadn’t slept properly in 3 weeks. After the flight my surgery incision points hurt and there was sand in every single item of my clothing. I was down to my absolute last pair of clean pants and I hadn’t had a hot, powerful shower in what felt like living memory. (Incidentally, check out my bathroom.)
All these acres of 100% cotton and delicious drinks, dark wood panelling and fluffy white towels, beautiful art, beautiful people, perfect manners, friendliness and all the welcoming smiles I’d met between here and the airport; it was like giving honey to Winnie the Pooh, or fish to Pingu (… or drugs to an addict if you’re feeling a little more R-rated.) It scoured every corner of my weary person and routed out every last fragment of childish glee, sending it all rushing to the surface in a whirl of dizzy euphoria. But the real winner, the real big hitter in the collusion of decadence that was quickly turning me into the epicentre of all joy, was that massage. And, oh my, what a massage.
The recipe for eternal happiness is as follows.
1) Don hotel 100% cotton robe. Do not wear underwear beneath it, they’ll just ask you to take it off: prepare yourself to be very free indeed. Think nudist beach confidence without the socks-and-sandals combo.
2) Walk through gorgeous hotel to gorgeous hotel spa.
3) Drink small cup of herbal tea. It is essential that you do not know exactly which herb is in the tea. It adds an indispensable sense of je ne sais quoi.
4) Bask in feelings of sanctimonious healthiness from drinking herbal tea and not asking for sugar or spitting it out.
5) Meet the delicate Cambodian woman who is about to change your life. She must be quiet and serene to a point that borders on beatified.
6) Enter mood-lit massage suit complete with calming string music from hidden speakers.
7) Daringly remove robe, revel in unabashed nudity. Feel very continental.
8) Slide under waiting warm towel and lie face down.
9) Let the magic happen.
First the small Cambodian lady rubs ginger oil into her hands and holds them before you to inhale the scent. Up until this point I thought I’d known what ginger smelt like. Oh no. This wasn’t the cinnamon-polluted ginger of baking, not the chilli-infused ginger of South East Asian food, nor the watery ginger of tea. This was full on warm, fruity, heady, comforting, health-giving, enlivening, pain-vanquishing ecstasy. Things started out like a normal, dare I say pedestrian, massage: small deft hands rubbing scented oil into my back. But then the bag of herbs got involved and things got stratospherically soothing. Over the next hour I was rubbed, tapped, patted and generally burnished with warm herbs over every inch of my body, and I have never felt so good in my entire life. I was warm, bathed in the rich balm of ginger with all my skin alive and singing under the hands of this genius woman. Whatever you are doing right now, drop it. Drop it and run, don’t walk, to your nearest airport. Sprint on to the first plane to Cambodia. Hurl yourself through Siem Reap International Airport and get yourself to Le Residence D’Angkor for this massage. You absolutely cannot live without having this experience. Thank god for Cambodian women with heated bags of herbs!
There’s so much more where this came from but I can’t stay here writing about heaven on earth; not only did I just sit in a cafe and laugh for a full 4 minutes out loud about that email I sent my mum, I also caught myself considering minesweeping the remains of some banana bread that the guy next to me left half uneaten: I think I need something to eat. I promise things will get less ditzy if you keep tuning in; I just had to get the giddy, bubbling delight out of the way before the serious matters of sunrises, amok fish and genocidal maoist revolutionaries take hold, forcing silliness into the back seat.
In the mean time, may you find all the jubilance, rapture, revelry, gaiety, elation, satisfaction and solace that I did in my week in Cambodia.
See you soon.