Sunday, October 16, 2016

Reminiscing Siem Reap: The WonderMokchics, Day One

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To move, to breathe, to fly, to float
To gain all the while you give
To roam the roads of lands remote
To travel is to live
- Hans Christian Andersen
The Fairy Tale of My Life: An Autobiography

Precisely what my chums and I did in Siem Reap that end of January 2014. The adventure began at 5:00 a.m., when Di, Rai, Yani, and I reunited at the Low Cost Carrier Terminal (LCCT). We were early not only because of our excitement, but also to avoid the human congestion due to the Chinese New Year holiday. To keep ourselves attentive at such hours, we conversed over coffee until the boarding gate opened.

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The journey from Malaysia to Cambodia was idyllic, especially as the sun rose majestically. Beholding the beauty, I was beyond grateful for various reasons; the husbands' empathy for the wives' need of a mutual personal space, the opportunity for me to be in Siem Reap again a year after the first visit with Kamal and Khalish, as well as the trip being WonderMokchics' third vacation. Di, Yani, and I did miss Lina and Tiqa who were with us during the previous trips, but, the three of us were delighted to welcome Rai this time around. Upon arrival, it was her personality that solved an issue with the management and the personnel at Frangipani Villa Hotel II, yay!

Soothed, we wandered around the town center, which was only a five-minute tuk-tuk ride away from the hotel. Oh, we were in love with the quaint little outlets. One of them, aside from advocating local artisans' creations, had postcards and mailing service, too. Thinking of our loved ones, we wrote and wrote.

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By noon, there was a change of direction; from streets full of everything Cambodian to a lane lined with halal restaurants, mostly Indian. At Maharajah, we chose the traditional cuisines, especially the ones foreign to us. Among them, paneer thali set (which consisted of mattar paneer, baingan bharta, dhal, salad, naan, and rice), special biryani, cheese naan, aloo keema, chicken pakora, and baingan pakora. One word for all of them: sumptuous. Generous portion as well, and more importantly, within our budget.

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Our travel style? Free and easy. The itinerary was a combination of my memory, the chums' research, and the locals' recommendations, all unwritten. Tonlé Sap, the largest freshwater lake in Southeast Asia, was our next destination. Tuk-tuk time. A rickety ride, but the driver's gentleness hypnotised us into believing that everything was fine. It was, with bonus fun factors; the cool breeze, the wonderful view, and of course, the appearances of Lara Croft's personas (read: us). Thank you, Sadam, for recommending your brother-in-law's service. They even guarded us from scams. After riding a number of tuk-tuks, the four of us concluded that Sadam, whom we first met at Siem Reap International Airport, offered the best service at the best price.

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Tonlé Sap amazed us with its uniqueness. The colourful floating village was a beautiful contrast to the brown lake. The people, despite life's challenges, were always amiable. A stop for Zuhur and Asar at Masjid Ar-Rafee'ah was a beautiful experience, too. The Muslim community cordially welcomed us, their Khmer translated by their smiles.

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The excursion was concluded at Angkor Archaeological Park. Queueing at the main entrance, the four of us agreed to purchase the one-day pass, which allowed visitors a visit of the park in the evening prior to the main tour the following day. I did persuade Di, Rai, and Yani for me to explore more of the temples on the third day as they roam the city, to no avail. "The more, the merrier," they said, to which I eventually agreed. Later, how glad I was to do so.

At Angkor Wat, the architecture and the art mesmerised us. The moat, the gopura, the motifs, the galleries, the bas-reliefs. Each detail glorified by the golden dusk. We left the ancient temple with a heightened appreciation and a deepened curiosity.

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