Last night was a trip – within the trip. As SmarTours often does, they arranged a “local culture” dinner for the group. It was at a large dinner/theater place not far from our hotel. You’d think these performances would be pretty hokey and “touristy”, but au contraire, they are most often highly entertaining with skilled performers and authentic music and dress. In fact, we saw one of the same dancers featured in an official Cambodian tourist film. Here’s a little film Marsha shot from out seat:
We also thought you’d like to see a video of the special Ta Prohm temple at Angkor Thom
The following day was the beginning of our long trek home. Since the 4-hour flight from Siem Reap to Shanghai was not until 11 pm, we had the day to spend on our own. The heat was oppressive again so some of our group decided to take advantage of the our great resort hotel’s pool, bars, restaurant, spa, etc. – rather than tuk-tuking it downtown for a sweat-drenched walk and shopping.
Others of us discovered, through the concierge, that the new Angkor National Museum had opened recently and might be a nice diversion. He arranged to have the museum send a bus to take us over. What a fabulous place it turned out to be. Brand new and beautifully designed, it gave detailed explanations of Khmer history with specifics on the wats we had visited (that we should have seen before we went). The displays and audio guide really put what we had seen the days before in perspective. Now every aspect of the architecture, art, craft, and religion fell into place for us at once. (Sorry, no photos allowed).
We (alliteratively) took tuk tuks back to the hotel for a couple of hours of relaxation and packing for the trip home. The hotel let us have a very welcome 5 pm checkout. From there we loaded onto the bus, had a beautiful Cambodian-style farewell dinner, and off to the airport for our late night flight to Shanghai….
AND THEN IT HAPPENED….
We said goodbye to our tour guide and driver, checked in our bags to JFK and LAX and settled in at the gate looking at our luggage being loaded. Flyers’ Nightmare. The “flight delayed” sign popped up. Rain, fog and high winds in Shanghai. No problem. We all had very long layovers in Shanghai, so might as well wait right here in Cambodia. So we waited and we waited…and we waited.
Finally, at about 1 am we learned that the flight wouldn’t leave until 5 pm, yes pm the next day! Over 200 people at the end of their patience and wits, and many missed connections made for a pretty nasty scene. Siem Reap airport is small and not a pleasant place for a full day layover. Not much English spoken. And, there were no China Eastern Airlines reps there at all. After much screaming, phone calls, texting, even consultations with lawyers, China East decided to put us up in local hotels (without our bags of course). Our Cambodian visas were used up as well, so we had to wait for the local police to issue temporary (72 hr.) ones so we could leave the airport – and return the next day. Believe it or not we didn’t arrive at the relatively seedy hotel until 6 am – that’s how long all the logistics took! We got a couple of hours of sleep (I woke to get some breakfast for us since the hotel restaurant breakfast closes at 9:30 am). Too exhausted to fully sleep we dozed a few hours, showered, turned our underwear inside out (kidding), took a little walk (very little…it was stifling), and checked in, again, at the airport for our 5 pm to Shanghai.
We had just learned that we, personally, were booked on the flight from Shanghai to JFK at 11:30 am the next day. So – what would happen when we arrived at Shanghai at 9 pm (with a 14 1/2 hour wait ahead of us)?
I really don’t know how our Shanghai flight landed right-side up in typhoon conditions. A drenching, 40 mph, sideways rain and 40 degrees F cold soaked us to the bone as we had to walk down open passenger stairs to the terminal buses. All our warm stuff was in the suitcases anticipating 70 degrees back in the states. The crying and laughing were indistinguishable.
Now we had to get our bags (that were originally checked through to JFK) and proceed through immigration to confirm that we had flights for the next day. Again we had to get more temporary visas, this time for China so we could be transferred to buses to hotels for our layover (at least China East did make that accommodation – second hotel in two nights). All this took hours of course and we finally reached our hotel (over a 1/2 hour from the airport) at about 2 am. It was pretty much a cold, cold fleabag. No bottled water in the room so I had to find a convenience store in the cold, cold rain so we could re-hydrate and take our pills. Fortunately we had our very wet bags so could change and shower after our 4-hour nap. The hotel breakfast was not quite the international spreads we had become accustomed to. But it was OK – steamed buns, fried rice and strange, un-sweet pastries carbed us up nicely. People were not well-rested and happy on the bus. One late lady had such a screaming, cursing (I assume) fight with the driver that I thought they would come to blows…unless that’s just the way he was complimenting her nice yellow dress in their special mandarin dialect?
Finally we checked ourselves and our bags in. China Eastern is always booked full on the Shanghai-JFK “Shuttle”. We got two seats together at least – albeit the last row, just beside the lavatories. Don’t feel too bad…they did actually recline and there was extra room around the lavs so people weren’t leaning on our seats and putting their butts in our faces.
Everything else went like a gentle breeze. I even slept a few hours on the 14+ hour plane ride and Marsha watched four movies. We were only 24 hours later than originally planned, but a day filled with a travel story we’ll never forget (one we’ll use gladly to one-up other travelers who offer us their own nightmares).
In the end, our adventure in Vietnam and Cambodia (and inadvertently in China) was a beautiful journey. It’s a shiny new space tucked into our minds’ file cabinet. We’ll never forget the special new things we’ve seen, touched and tasted; the wonderful people we’ve met; the important lessons we’ve learned; and the knowledge that we are privileged enough to be able to do it again. We will. And we hope you will join us.
All the best….
Marsha & Joel