Guangzhou Baiyun Airport

phnom penh via guangzhou: monks and boat noodles

Tuesday, January 18:  Another travel day, from Hanoi to Phnom Penh.  I have to be at the airport at 6:30 a.m. for an 8:30 flight on my favorite airline:  China Southern. 😦

the pool at the villa langka in phnom penh

the pool at the villa langka in phnom penh

The Hotel Ngocmai calls a taxi for me, and back through the dark, through the yellow haze we go.  I pay the hotel in advance for this taxi; I’m told the hotel pays the taxi directly.  When we get to the airport finally, the driver asks for his tip.  I look in my wallet and the smallest thing I have is a $10 bill.  I am all out of Vietnamese dong.  It’s not a problem here in Vietnam as they take dollars just as readily as dong.  I take out the $10 and ask the driver if he has change, in dollars.  He looks in his wallet and has only a few dong; not enough to give me change.   And no dollars.  I say, I’m sorry.  I can’t give you a tip unless you have change.  I am not about to give him $10 for a tip, when I’ve paid the hotel $15 already for the ride.  The taxi driver whines: My tip, my tip!  Where’s my tip?  I don’t know what to do, but I cannot afford to give him $10.  It’s mean, I know, but I tell him I’m sorry.  And then I walk away.

the villa langka in phnom penh

the villa langka in phnom penh

This bothers me the rest of the day.  It still bothers me today.  Should I have just given him the full $10?  That didn’t feel right to me.  But it didn’t feel right to leave him in the lurch either.  At the time I was worried about my flight and checking in on time, etc.  But later, I think, I should have gone searching in the airport for change.  I feel like I committed some petty crime.  If I had done this one thing right, I probably would have saved money on the rest of my trip.  Because from this point on, I find myself giving bigger tips to everyone else I meet along the way as recompense to that poor taxi driver in Vietnam.

my room at the villa langka

my room at the villa langka

Sometimes we can embarrass ourselves by own behavior.  Believe me, I have done this many times in my life.  I did something not good and it haunts me later.  There is no shaking it.  All I can do is to try to do better next time.  That’s all we, as humans, can do.

The flight is uneventful until I get to my all-time favorite airport of Guangzhou at 10:55.  I’m worried because I only have one hour between my flights and I know they put you through unreasonable rigmarole at that airport.  I feel relieved when I get off the plane because a woman from the airline is holding a card with my name on it and “Phnom Penh.” I say, yes, that’s me, and she ushers me to a special desk where she issues my boarding pass.  I think, it’s going to be easy!  But when she’s done she sends me through immigration after all, where the serious Chinese officials spend a great deal of time inspecting my passport and then they take it away and tell me to have a seat.  I say, Where are you going with my passport?  Of course, no one can speak English so I am left waiting and worrying what on earth could be the problem.  After what seems like a long while, they finally return with my passport, and I go back into the cold basement of the airport to wait for my 11:55 flight to Phnom Penh.

Wat Langka

Wat Langka

Another cramped flight with bad food, and a lot of turbulence.  I don’t often worry much when I fly, but this flight is so rough, I’m doing a lot of praying.  Finally, I arrive in Phnom Penh at 1:50 pm, where a driver from my hotel, the Villa Langka, is standing in the airport with a sign.  I walk outside and am hit by a wave of heat.  Oh, it feels so good.  After being cold and getting sick in Vietnam, I’m thrilled to be warm.  In the van, I strip off my layers and check out the streets of Phnom Penh from the airport to the hotel.

Wat Langka

Wat Langka

Ohm.

Ohm.

It’s a much more sedate and classy version of Vietnam.  There are motorbikes aplenty, but not nearly the numbers as in Hanoi.  It’s bright, colorful, cheery, but also poor and scattered with rubbish.  Not in-your-face rubbish, but rubbish nonetheless.

Looking out from the temple at Wat Langka

Looking out from the temple at Wat Langka

We arrive at my hotel, which is beautiful for $42 a night.  There is an open air lobby with tropical plants, an outdoor cafe next to a blue pool surrounded by leafy trees.  I check into my room, with two white-covered canopied beds pushed together, making a huge inviting expanse of sleep-beckoning glory.  I lie down for a bit, then go out and sit by the pool and have a glass of red wine.  Feeling quite happy by this point, I take a walk around the neighborhood.

two nice monks i meet outside of wat langka

two nice monks i meet outside of wat langka

Directly across the small side street is Wat Langka, one of Phnom Penh’s five original wats (pagodas).  Founded in 1422 as a sanctuary for Holy Writings and for a meeting place for Cambodian and Sri Lankan monks, it escaped destruction as it was used as a storehouse by the Khmer Rouge.  As I walk around, I am impressed by the huge Buddha statues, the offerings of fruits and incense, and the serenity on the grounds.  As I leave there, I run into two monks in orange robes, one of whom speaks English and asks me where I’m from and how I like Cambodia.

Wat Langka

Wat Langka

the shrines at Wat Langka

the shrines at Wat Langka

Back outside the hotel, a couple of moto-remorks and their drivers are waiting patiently for customers.  A remork is a cute, often fringed, canopied trailer hitched to the back of a motorbike.  It can fit about 4 people comfortably.   Tourists also refer to these vehicles as tuk tuks.  A Mr. Lo introduces himself and asks me if I’d like to rent him for the day tomorrow.  It seems I read you can hire one of these for $8/day, but I know I want to go to the Killing Fields and they are quite far out-of-town.  I offer him $20 for the day; he agrees to meet me at 8:00 a.m. on Wednesday morning.

mr. lo and his tuk-tuk

mr. lo and his tuk-tuk

After leaving Mr. Lo, I take a walk to find the Lonely Planet-recommended restaurant, Malis.  Walking along the street, I am captivated by the roar of the motorbikes, the tropical lushness, the bright-colored buildings in yellow, lime green and royal blue. I love the Cambodian lettering on street signs.  When I arrive at Malis Restaurant, I find it is closed for some kind of renovation.

Phnom Penh street scene

Phnom Penh street scene

I then seek out the restaurant Boat Noodles, a two-story wooden open air restaurant abundant with greenery.  From the second floor, I can see all the activity on the street corner below, the motorbikes, the tuk tuks, the cars, tourists and locals meandering along the sidewalks.  I order a Tiger beer and a Cambodian specialty called Grilled Amok fish wrapped with banana leaf.  It’s served with some light sauces, fragrant with cilantro.  So far, I am loving the food in Vietnam and Cambodia!  I try to take a picture of my meal, but I get the message again: CARD FULL!  I have the new card I just bought last night in Vietnam, so I switch the cards.  Then I take some pictures of my stunning meal before I gobble it down.

Boat Noodles Restaurant ~ amazing food :-)

Boat Noodles Restaurant ~ amazing food 🙂

After dinner, I look for a massage place recommended by a woman my age who is also staying at the hotel.  On the 2nd floor on a nondescript street, it’s difficult to find, but after riding up and down the street several times in the tuk tuk, I find OM, where I get a great hour-long massage by a tiny and limber Vietnamese girl for about $8.  She doesn’t use any oil or lotions ~ I would have had to pay more for that.  I feel my tight muscles turn to mush and when I leave, I’m floating.  I know I’m going to sleep well tonight.

I’m tired from having been sick the last couple of days, and from my travel day, so I get in my white fluffy bed early and read my book, Eaves of Heaven, falling asleep in the dream world of Cambodia.

the lush setting at boat noodles

the lush setting at boat noodles

Categories: Asia, Boat Noodles, Cambodia, China Southern Airlines, Guangzhou Baiyun Airport, moto-remorks, OM, Phnom Penh, Travel, Villa Langka, Wat Langka | Tags: , , | Leave a comment

taking myself along: sometimes travel is an ordeal

Thursday, January 13:  This morning, I take a deep breath as I psych myself for the trip ahead.  When planning this journey from East Asia to Southeast Asia, my thought was that it should be a cinch; after all, these countries are in the same quadrant of the world.  It should be minimal hassle to get from one place to another.  But.  When traveling from Daegu, four hours south of the biggest international airport in South Korea, this is what it takes:  (1) a one hour door-to-door trip from my apartment to Dongdaegu Station by walking and metro; (2) a +four-hour trip by bus to Incheon Airport that costs around $31; (3) a two-hour early check-in at the airport, meaning a wait of 2 hours before flight; (4) a ~4-hour flight to Guangzhou, China; (5) a five-hour wait in the airport; (6) another +2-hour flight to Hanoi; (7) a +half-hour drive to my hotel in Hanoi.

It’s an ordeal.  I love to travel and savor the adventure, the anticipation, of it all, but sometimes I get worn out by the thought of the logistics.   So, when I leave my house at 6:30 a.m. and spot a taxi, I’m tempted.  It will cost around $13 to take the taxi, but less than $1 to take metro.  The taxi is so enticing, so much easier.  Should I or shouldn’t I?  I pause on the street, freezing in my lightweight jacket which I’m wearing for the “warmer” Hanoi weather.  No!  I force myself to keep walking, rolling my suitcase behind me, the 5 blocks to metro.  I cannot, simply CANNOT, be lazy and toss money away on the first morning of my trip.  So, I trudge miserably along to subway and endure the long ride on metro to the bus station.

On metro, a middle-aged Korean in a crisp suit with a pin-striped button-down shirt opens his magical satchel and starts trying to sell footless tights, holding them up and stretching them out every which way. A throwback to the old days of vacuum cleaner salesmen, he with his slick classiness.  Sales pitches such as these are quite common on Korean trains.

I didn’t reserve a bus ticket for the ride to Incheon because it’s not a holiday and it’s a Thursday, and I figure there should be no problem getting a bus.  Wrong.  The 7:30 bus is sold out.  Luckily, I get the last available seat on the 8:10 bus, which will put me at Incheon at 12:10.  I’m supposed to check in at 12:15 for a 2:15 flight.  If I hadn’t made that bus, I would have suffered all kinds of difficulties.  A person must plan every single detail ahead of time, it seems.  Nothing can be left to chance.

Check-in at Incheon is fast and easy; it’s a modern airport and I’ve never encountered any problems here.  I’m flying on China Southern airlines, which I’ve never flown before and I will never fly again.  The price was cheap; that’s why I took it.  And most definitely, I get what I pay for.

The food on the airplane is the worst I’ve ever had.  The seats are cramped.  There are 179 people onboard, so it’s on the small side.  Nonetheless, its job as an airplane is done satisfactorily as it gets me from here to there alive and well.  I arrive in lovely Guangzhou, China around 5 p.m.  Here, the true ordeal begins.

I’ve never flown THROUGH China before, so I don’t know if this happens in every Chinese airport or not.  Since I’m just doing a transfer, I think I shouldn’t have to show my passport, go through immigration or security checks.  Yet.  I do.  You do.  Everyone does.  It’s such a freaking hassle.  I wait in line, I show my passport; some people are upset because the authorities take their passports, ask them to have a seat, give them the third degree.  I am irritated, as are the other transferring passengers.  I stand in another line and put my belongings and myself though metal detectors and x-ray machines, AGAIN, even though I did all this at Incheon.  After all this, I am finally at the gates.  My gate is downstairs on the ground level.  It’s COLD.  There is no heat in this airport.    I find a little cafe to get a cup of coffee. Just to warm up.  It’s small and it costs me $9 and it’s not even hot.

I think since I have five hours here, I will try to get comfortable.  Most airports I’ve been to have fold-up armrests so a person can stretch out on the seats.  Most airports have slightly cushioned seats.  The lovely Guangzhou airport has hard plastic seats with no retractable armrests.  I’m forced to sit in these uncomfortable seats, freezing because of course I’m dressed for Hanoi (which I think will be warm but actually is not, as I will write about later!).  No carpeting, just a green speckled linoleum floor, which I get to know quite intimately.  It emanates cold.

Funny.  If your body is uncomfortable, a minute can seem like an eternity.  I am chilled through my bones, my blood, my internal organs.  I have brain freeze. There is nothing I can do to get warm.  I try walking around, I try sitting, I try reading my book to take my mind off my misery.  But the book, Eaves of Heaven, about wartime Vietnam, only makes me more aware of my discomfort as the characters in the book suffer all kinds of bodily degradations.  Their miseries magnify my own.  In a moment of desperation,  I ask the lady at information if there are computers available for passengers for a fee.  No, nothing like that exists in this airport.  No TV, no diversions of any sort that don’t cost a fortune.

I find a little bar on the basement floor that serves beer.  They will take US dollars but no charge card and they can’t give change in dollars.  I have just the right amount for one beer, which I nurse and savor for a good 45 minutes.  I don’t want any of the Chinese Renminbi floating about in my pockets, so I pass on another.

my lone beer at the guangzhou airport... trying to pass the time

my lone beer at the guangzhou airport… trying to pass the time

Misery.  Pure and simple.  When finally the hour arrives to take the China Southern flight to Hanoi, the stone-faced flight attendants just stand there doing nothing.  The time approaches and no one is boarding.  So infuriating.  I am losing patience with this whole process.

I strike up a brief conversation with a gray-haired bohemian Californian in a faded jean jacket and his Vietnamese wife; they are headed to Hanoi to visit her family.  This diversion is brief; luckily, we are called to board a bus to the tarmac, where we climb the stairs to the plane.  Already it is a half-hour past take-off time.  I’m due to arrive in Hanoi at 11:15 p.m.  Now it appears I will be late, as if 11:15 p.m. isn’t late enough.

On this flight, they serve another meal they say is “seafood.”  I find when someone says something has “seafood” in it, you really have no idea what you’re getting.  I take a bite and chew; it is some kind of squid.  I HATE that rubbery texture and I spit it out immediately.  I’m so classy. 🙂  I ask for the chicken but find that is just as bad, locked in its skin and fat as it is.  Disgusting.  I am so sick of bad food, as I really have grown to dislike Korean food immensely.  My mouth waters thinking of the ten days of good food I KNOW I will encounter in Vietnam and Cambodia.

I arrive at Hanoi airport at about midnight.  A yellow Transylvanian haze envelops the airport.  A man has my name sloppily printed on a piece of cardboard; he is apparently my ride.  The taxi ride from the airport to the Old Quarter of Hanoi is in slow motion, surreal, through a highway bordered by untidy open fields, streetlights casting a titanium glow.  The driver keeps asking for my hotel information.  Shouldn’t he know this since the hotel arranged for him to pick me up?  It feels like we’re in some scrublands, some place far from civilization.  He is driving so slow I think we will never get there.  I am tired and a little afraid that I’m going to be taken to some place where I will be robbed and left by the roadside to freeze to death in my lightweight raincoat.

my cold room at the hotel

my cold room at the hotel

Finally, we arrive at the Hotel Ngoc Mai.  The neighborhood doesn’t look great especially at this hour. Next door a building covered in green construction netting.  Across the street, poor Vietnamese squatting on the sidewalk, talking and drinking and smoking.  Motorbikes parked everywhere and buzzing on the street. The hotel staff is awaiting me; it’s near 1 a.m.  They escort me to my room, which looks nice at first glance, but on closer inspection, I see it’s seen better days.  It’s cold and though the guy shows me how to work the remote, the air never warms after his departure.  I lie under the thick white comforter shivering all night, tossing and turning.

Welcome to Hanoi!  Xin chào!

Categories: China Southern Airlines, Guangzhou Baiyun Airport, Hanoi, Hotel Ngoc Mai, Incheon Airport, Travel | Tags: , , | Leave a comment

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