Tuesday, December 20, 2016

November 16

Early, though not too early, we got up and had breakfast before catching our taxi to the airport. The Chiang Mai airport was not very big, but not very small either. When we arrived at the airport we weren't really sure whether we needed to go to the domestic check-in, since our first flight was domestic, or to the international check-in. I was fairly certain international made the most sense, but since our taxi driver had dropped us off at the domestic check-in, we went ahead and jumped in that line - but that was only after we waited in a verrrry long line just to get through the quick security at the entrances to the airport. I'm not sure I've ever been to another airport where there is a routine security just to get through the front door. But, finally through we initially waited in the domestic line. Brandon and I did try to use a little self-check-in stand, but when we were trying to get Duane and Shauna over in time to weigh their bags, the screen timed out and refreshed, starting over. Annoyed, thinking we'd have to start over, we tried to scan one of our passports and found that we had successfully checked in and couldn't do it again from the self-check-in, even if we hadn't printed boarding tickets. So, back in the domestic line (there was pretty much no line at this point). The agent at that check-in confirmed that we needed to do international check-in, so we walked a little ways down the building to the international check-in desks. That line wasn't long, but it seemed to take forever. But we got through, got all of our tickets for both our flights, and were up and through security (#4) fairly easily. We'd worried a little about our bags being too heavy to carry them on (the limit was 7 kgs with both Air Asia and Nok Air and our bags were all over that), but no one ever checked their weight, so we just never fussed with it.

Actually, I should mention that after security we had to pass through departure immigration from Thailand. The only reason I even recall this is because I remember thinking it was weird that we were at our own international gate for a domestic flight when there would surely be other people who just wanted to take the domestic flight. The answer to this question came when just before we went through the "boarding door" as the door connected to a hallway where the other passengers who were just traveling to Bangkok were having to walk the long way from their gate entrance.

Our flight from Chiang Mai to Bangkok was pretty quick (much quicker than the train!). We landed at the Don Mueang (DMK) airport and for whatever reason, they had a completely separate terminal for arrivals and departures. So we had to essentially exit the airport and come back in through security (#5). I just remember being glad that we had extra time between flights to make the connection. But once in, it was pleasant enough to wait for our next flight.

The flight from DMK to Siem Reap was also pretty short. Before we knew it we'd landed and had the fun task of visa application and immigration. We'd filled our forms out on the flight, but we first had to wait in a line to submit the visa application, and then in a big bunch of people as our names were called out and our passports/visas were returned to us. In the meantime, our passports/visa application had passed down a line of people like an assembly line as they crossed all the t's and dotted the i's. Once we had our visas we approached the immigration lines. At the immigration desk the immigration officer would potentially take out picture and our finger prints. The instructions were not clear and as I fumbled to figure out what they wanted me to do with my hands (they wanted each set of four fingers and then each thumb), the immigration office sharply rapped the finger scanner with his pen to indicate that I had more I needed to do there. It seemed like a rather abrupt response, but I did what he asked me to do!

Finally through, we passed through a brief customs thing and then went to try and find a taxi. It was not immediately clear where we were supposed to go for a taxi, so we wandered towards the entrance to the airport thinking they might be outside. Shauna and Duane had stopped to readjust their packs when a man from the airport came and told us to come back and that the taxi desk was off to the side. And there it was! The taxi (from the airport to the hotel) was $7. And that's all we expected to get. Little did we know! As a man led us to the side and told us to wait by the edge of the sidewalk, Brandon had quickly asked him how to say hello in Cambodian/Khmer. I initially thought that the man in the Lexus that then pulled up was the same man. But when Brandon said, "Susaday!" the driver looked back excitedly and said, "You speak Cambodian?" Haha, which of course we didn't - just, "Hello!" and "Thank you" at this point. From there he talked and talked and talked and talked - seriously would not stop. He excitedly welcomed to Cambodia he assured us that he would take care of us just as we would take care of him. This was all immediately confusing and just a tiny bit alarming. He asked what we were planning on seeing and we explained that we'd come mostly to see Angkor Wat as we had very limited time. He immediately recommended we wait on going to the hotel and instead go straight to the Angkor Wat ticket building, as then we would avoid the morning ticket rush and could go in to the site tonight. He told us he knew a good place to take us for sunrise and then he could take us to the hotel after.

We deliberated on all of this a bit. All the little alarm bells that go off in your head when someone feels like they're pushing themselves on you and you're not sure whether to trust them or whether you're being ripped off or whether they'll disappear with your luggage - these were all going off. But we decided to go with it anyway. We bought our tickets (leaving our luggage in the car), and he was happily waiting for us when we were done. We headed straight into the park and he took us to Pre Roup (alternately spelled Prae Roup). There we explored and watched the sunset before finally returning to him.

Everywhere you go around the temple complex there were people trying to sell us guide books, scarves, fans, postcards, and knickknacks of every sort. The first young woman to approach us, I kind of wish I'd bought a scarf from. Her English was immaculate and she seemed well versed and very persuasive. I almost went back. But after saying no to her, as well as learning that buying things from children was discouraged (as it encourages children to sell stuff rather than being in school), it was much easier to say no to the rest.

The sunset was wonderful, if hidden somewhat by the trees. The light on the temple was beautiful.

When we returned to Suvann (that was our driver's name), he took us to get dinner first. On the way we determined that to have his services as a driver for that night at the next day would be a total of $210 (though with a top it ended up being $300). We thought about it for a minute and then decided that even if that number was inflated, it was reasonable to us for all that he would be doing. He had already done so much and he would be with us for most of the next day, starting very early. The restaurant we ate at in some ways it felt like it had been built as a tourist eating place, but all the same, the food was some of the best we had on our trip at restaurants. After dinner he took us just down the road to the hotel, Angkor Boutique Tropic Hotel. The hotel was tucked away down a back alley (probably just wide enough to fit a car). We took our packs and he walked us back to the actual hotel. The hotel staff there were completely wonderful and I wish we'd had more time to spend there! We checked in, went to our rooms, closed the curtains, and pretty much went straight to bed.

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