On the day we were set to leave Battambang, a bit of an adventure awaited us, as the most intense rainstorm of our trip happened to start just 15 minutes before we were supposed to leave our hotel and walk a few blocks over to where our group taxis were set to leave. Two in our group bravely ventured out in the deluge and succesfully convinced these cabs to come to the hotel and pick us up. This hadn't been an option before as our hotel itself sought to sell us tickets to bangkok, and as this is a less touristy spot, the hotels/travel agencies are really competitive and we had heard that some had even come to blows over some tourists. Nevertheless we got into our Corolas(there was a theory that with all the japanese infrastructure investment, they had reached some informal agreement that all the cars they would import would be japanese), and started off. For the first half hour, it seemed like we were redoing our previous trip, as the car seemed to be navigating a river system instead of the streets of the third largest city in Cambodia. The ride on the highway could have made almost anyone nervous, as you realized that as you couldn't see a few meters in front of the car, neither could the driver, yet he still cruised along at over 80 km/h. Putting all anxiety aside, it was another exercise in what people can get used to, as we passed a good number of people out in the streets, more often than not on bicycles, who were peddling along almost as if nothing was out of the ordinary, while I think I have struggled to stay on my feet outside. We passed a few nondescript towns and cities on the way towards the border, but none were quite like Poipet, the town on the border. Few places were quite as depressing, and the closest was probably the one just across the Vietnamese border, when we came into Cambodia. The border itself was quite a hassle free afair, unlike going into Cambodia, which was substantially more difficult(although that experience is marred by the fact that we had to wait a couple of hours to be picked up once we crossed the border into Cambodia, and then immediately afterward our bus broke down). Something surprising was what happened to be in no-mans land; a pair of quite fancy Casino resorts, which were much more luxurious than anything probably with a several hundred km radius, on the Cambodian side, which of course takes advantage of gambling being illegal in Thailand. There were a pair of such places right across the border from Vietnam as well, but no others anywhere else in between, which means the Cambodians seem quite happy to let their neighbors lose their money but keep their own people from doing so, much like singapore, which has tried to present itself as the alternative to Macau in the far east, but with the caveat that no Singaporean is allowed inside the casinos. In any case, as soon as we were over in Thailand, there was a marked difference, as signs and advertisements sprup up out of everywhere, there were many more people trying to 'help' you, exemplified by a young french guy who came by to ask us, thinking we were crossing into Cambodia, not out of it, if we already had our visas, and told me he had been approached by what seemed three official looking guys, who sold him a cambodian visa, all one after each other, each one claiming the guy was lying when he said the guy behind him had already sold him the visa. As a matter of fact, I suspect all three of them weren't real, as you only get your visa once you have exited thailand and then go into the border crossing station on the Cambodian side. Anyway, we didn't have to wait long to get picked up, unlike those who had been waiting for 4 hours, but only because they were going to some strange seaside town on the eastern Thai coast. The ride then went smoothly, with a rather long refueling break, where there were enormous lines to fill cars up with gas, and then continued flying on the highway towards the city. Either knowing some convenient roads or being extremely lucky, we got dropped off the middle of the backpackery area of bangkok in quite little time after entering the city proper.However, then getting to our hotel was something else altogether, and we were in a taxi for at least an hour and a half. First, though, it took us another half an hour to find a taxi that would use the meter, as in this area, being particularly touristy, they just decide they wont use the meter, knowing they can make more by just naming a price, with tourists normally not knowing that by law, they have to use the meter. The ride ended up being quite enjoyable, highlighted by an example of thai hospitality, when the taxi driver bought and gave us a bag of fried banana, and then also offered us a bottle of water, but which we already had. Unfortunately the hotel wasn't particularly close to the historic center of town, and so we did not set off proper to visit the touristy sights of bangkok until the following morning. Most of the sights are all found in the same neighborhood, on the river, which meant that we had to take the 'skytrain', the most used, elevated public transport in town, which reminds you of Epcot Center with billboards, and then take a public boat up river, past several bridges, skyscrapers, and the fanciest of the hotels in town. Our first stop was the largest buddhist temple complex in Thailand, more famously known for the world's largest reclining buddha, which must be over 40m long, and really ornate, even being inlaid with mother of pearl art on the soles of its feet. Unfortunately the river of tourists made it not the most enjoyable of temples to visit. The grounds ended up being enormous, with tons of small stupas, courtyards lined with rows of more typically-sized gilden buddhas, strange chinese-looking giant statues, as well as other small ones of rather peculiar characters on and around miniature mountains. The grounds of the temple was also well known for housing one of the most well known massage schools, but being the beginning of our day, it seemed almost counterproductive to have a massage then. Finally, there was supposed to be a crocodile pit/garden, but which we found dry, empty and in a general state of disrepair. Leaving this temple we made our way towards the National Palace, which was actually right next door, but required going all the way around to enter on the opposite side. On the way, we found yet another small example of the 'innovative entrepreneurship' of bangkok, where a rather oficial-looking guy, with a uniform and badge, offered to help us, and when we told him where we were going told us it was closed for lunch. Being aware of scam artists around the tourists sights, I asked him about going to visit the temple we had just come from, to which he said it was also closed, for some kind of thai ceremony. Later in the day, we saw him talking to very australian looking couple, but in the end it did not seem that they would fall for his tricks either, as we found that if you followed his advice, he led you first to another guy on the take, to reiterate the inaccesible nature of your destination, before going somewhere else, where there normally is no entry fee, but giving you the pleasure of paying quite a premium for their assistance. In any case, the national palace seemed almost to be a scam in that direction, as it was phenomenally expensive, and then a section of the palace was in fact closed off for a 'royal wake'. Furthermore, anna was told upon entering that she wasn't dressed appropriately, and after a 15 cue in a separate building specifically made to rent clothes to 'inappropriately dressed foreigners', the guy behind the counter told her she was dressed just fine. Not wearing tiny shorts or tank-tops is one thing, but why the royal family should give a crap that a woman's shoulders or a man's knees are visible seemed a bit too much. In any case, the royal palace resembles the one in Pnomh Penh quite a bit, and a lot of the national treasures are actually taken from there, when the kingdom of Siam had occupied much of the area that is now Cambodia. The principal sight is the emerald buddha, a buddha made of green crystal, housed in a particularly ornate temple, both inside and out, again that resembles the one in Pnomh Penh quite a bit, but has much nicer other stuff inside(as lots of it was taken from the Khmers), but was also lacking the solid silver floor tiles found in the temple of the Emerald Buddha in Cambodia. The area around this temple though is qutie larger and more full of stuff, with a ton of either finely decorated or gold covered stupas, as well as a walkway around the exterior courtyard with depictions of buddhist mythology. This was also the case in Pnomh Penh, but in quite a dreadful state, while the one in Bangkok was immaculate, as if it had been painted yesterday, and showed the most spectacular of scenes, of wars between monkey armies, as well as fighting giants. The palace area of the grounds was quite underwhelming, partially because we couldn't go inside any of it, and partially because of its seeming artificialness. Because of the millions raked in from visitors, they are able to keep these buildings also in perfectly restored conditions, but as a result, look more like a royal theme park, than anything that had ever been lived in. After visiting the palace, we sought our way to a restaurant on the river, where we would be meeting one of my former colleagues from the US, who had recently moved back to Thailand after some 15 years in the United States, getting a doctorate at Berkeley, working in DC, and then going back to the San Francisco area for further financial work in the private sector. We were a bit early so we went around some local street stalls and ended up in a big market of religous figures, icons, and amulets, and upon exiting to make our way back to the restaurant, got caught in a storm that resembled more being under a waterfall than under a shower. After a great lunch, we went back towards the boat, but first stopped to have Anna's fortune told. Having read a book about an italian author who spent a year without travelling while being a reporter in asia, because a fortune teller told him not to do so, she was particularly in the mood to have her fortune told as well, and in the end was quit pleased with the results. After hitching a boat ride a few piers downriver, we got off in chinatown, that on a saturday afternoon was quite low key. Nevertheless, we found a pair of pedestrian streets, lined with covered stalls, where you could find really all sorts of crap, as well as cloth and textiles, and then another street with simple lines of covered tables with a vast array of things, including guns, model cars, and sex toys. Seeing the afternoon ending, we made our way back to the boat, and then the skytrain to head to the northern area of town, where we stopped and had dinner with a friend of mine from georgetown, recently moved there from Saigon, and preferring a hundred times to live in the far east over the United States. Here we sampled more of the consistently good thai cuisine, but that was markedly more expensive than what is found in its eastern neighbors, and then settled down to watch some english football. This was short lived, given a need to pack for a final time, and then head to the airport to catch our flight to Milan, via Cairo, in the middle of the night, on a pair of big, comfortable Egyptair jets. The stopover was long and tedious, but the 8 hours of waiting were helped a bit by being able to spend them in the Egyptair business lounge, where at least I got a little more sleep, and we had free breakfast and lunch. Sadly, there is no further destination, no next temple to visit, no next restaurant to try. I will certainly seek out vietnamese(and if possible cambodian and laotian) cuisine in London, but if nothing else stray beyond the burger-fish and chips-curries triangle that would have otherwise dominated my desired dining destinations. We don't know when we may be able to return to these distant destinations, but we know for sure that they made enough of an impression, that the question is still not if we will go back, but when.