Travel as Metaphor

The blog of novelist Sue Swift.

Sunday, February 04, 2007

Back to Thailand

I had a free morning before checking out of the Angkor Star, so I did preliminary packing and then went on a balloon ascension.

On this trip, I have taken almost every conceivable type of transportation: car, motorcycle, tuk-tuk, elephant, boat, plane, and now, balloon. I wonder if I should round out the Cambodian experience by taking one of the cute horse-drawn carriages I’ve seen around Angkor, or perhaps ride a train back to Thailand.

It was a perfect morning for a balloon ascension. Sunny, light cool wind, clear air. I am wearing black denim capris with the cuffs rolled up above my knees, my pink Chicks Rule T-shirt and a black lightweight wraparound sweater. I have a hat and sunglasses in my zebra print satchel, and black Mary Jane style Sketcher flats with white sox on my feet.

A word about the hat. My trusty, washable Sunday Afternoons explorer hat with the wide brim and excellently long neckflap is filthy, so I have one of those hilarious bamboo and cloth hats, the ones that fold in on themselves like a fan. I first saw and fell in love with them, their campy faux Asian print patterns and general kitschy silliness. Mine is hot pink, gold and purple. It’s a sight to behold, as am I.

The balloon ascension was marvy, except for the photos…unfortunately I was shooting into the sun when taking pix of Angkor Wat. Angkor Thom wasn’t visible due to the mist of evaporation. After a few tries, I quit, took a shot of the baray and then just absorbed the wonderfulness of it all. (The baray, BTW is a huge artificial reservoir that waters the area…there are two or three in the area, and the west baray, which I face, was built in the eleventh century by Suryavarman I. It looks to be about five miles long and one across, and half full.

Back at the hotel, I found that I couldn’t pack everything including all my new clothes and gifts, so I opted for buying another backpack. Unbelievably, I don’t have one on this trip, so why not? Who cares if I have a gazillion at home? A person can always use a gazillion and one. Backpacks are like that.

After a half hour of invigorating shopping, I went back to the Angkor Star, packed, ate lunch and checked out. The experience was marred by finding bugs in my rice. Rice was replaced with apologies, but not, as I’d hoped, by a reduction in the bill. This place has no class. Then checkout was marred by the clerk’s retention of my credit card…I’ll admit I forgot to get it back. Very unlike me…must have been distracted by my new silver and carnelian bracelet. Or maybe it was the dead flies in the lunch.

The hotel called my tuk-tuk driver, and after several miscommunications, a bellboy net us at the airport with the missing card. Paranoid, I decided to check my credit card transactions online to make sure that no one had lifted my information.

Moved through ticketing, passport control and security at Siem Reap without incident and am not drinking a latte in the Café Ritazza. My croissant is everything it should be, warm and flaky, completely unlike the cold, lardy lumps offered by the Angkor Star…If one is going to consume carbs, they’d best be perfect, I say.

The view out the window is graceful, an oblong green pool bordered by rock and surrounded by lawns. It’s reminiscent of the baray reservoirs and other artificial ponds in the Angkor complex. Laughing baristas cluster at the next table; it’s a staff meeting. I mention that I used to work at Starbucks and we chuckle. Camaraderie among the hairnet and apron set.

The flight to Thailand was likewise without incident. As we flew toward Bangkok, the dusty land became progressively greener, more verdant, with more water in ponds and paddies flooding the land even though this is the dry season. Testimony to the King’s water management efforts. We flew along the Gulf of Thailand’s shore, hundreds of miles of white beaches interrupted by occasional mangrove forests.

We landed. We taxied. We disembarked into buses to take us to giant Suvarnabhumi terminal. On the bus, a group of us farang women chatted about Cambodia, Angkor, the kids, the sights…as we approached the terminal, we were greeted by giant yellow banners, with the symbol and image of King Bhumibol and the legend, LONG LIVE THE KING. Upon seeing them, I murmured, “It’s good to be back in Thailand.”

Next to me, another American woman said softly, “I missed the King.”

I said, “I did, too.” And I meant it

Thursday 11 January

I had a couple of very vivid dreams last night. The most interesting of them had me getting from an island to the shore with a lawnmower belonging to my parents. I climbed down a ladder to the water with the lawnmower clanking behind me. Down and down I went, until I was underwater with the heavy metal lawnmower dragging me down. I couldn’t stay afloat with it. I would drown unless I let it go. But wasn’t the lawnmower valuable? And it belonged to my parents. Shouldn’t I return it?


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