As Rachel said in her message on my Message Board, Monday did feel like 'back to school' day, especially as I had a new uniform - white blouse and long black Khmer wrap-around skirt with gold embroidery at the bottom! My position is General Manager and I've been working 8-4 this week while the owners are still in Australia. The staff are lovely and have been very welcoming. They are also very hardworking and competent. This is pretty much a settling-in week, getting to know how The Villa operates, before the owners get back from Australia next week and I start handling all the reservations.
One of my responsibilities will be talking to customers about the tours provided by The Villa and so yesterday afternoon, Wednesday, I went on The GreatLake Tour - which takes you out to Boeung Tonle Sap : the heart of Cambodia and one of the largest salt water lakes in the World. It also houses the majority of Cambodia's Vietnamese population in the Chong Kneas floating village. Depending on the time of year (ie. rainy/dry season) the lake increases & decreases in size quite dramatically.
In the evening I met up with Roanna's mother, Sally (I worked with Roanna at Odgers) who had taken up my recommendation and is staying at The Villa for five nights. She's a lovely lady, and great company, and we had a nice evening at The Red Piano www.redpianocambodia.com - one of Siem Reap's longest established bars/restaurants (it opened in August 2000!). This is where Angelina Jolie had her wrap party following the filming of Tombraider in 2001 and where they even have a cocktail named after her.
Today, Thursday, I went out on another of The Villa's tours - Outlying Adventure Tour - which took me to Kbal Spean and the River of 1000 Lingas, about 50km from Siem Reap. The last time Craig & I visited Kbal Spean we were taken up the mountain by car, but as the road is very narrow (you can only travel up before noon and down after) and we were in a van, we had to walk up. Boy what a climb, especially in today's scorching heat, but it was worth it for the views and to stand under the waterfall. This is a place of Hindu religion and is still considered very holy. Phnom Kulen, many centuries ago, was the capital of Cambodia. The lingas are carved into the rocks and riverbed; representing the female (square) & male (round) reproductive organs. There are also some beautiful carvings of the Hindu God, Vishnu.
On the way back to Siem Reap we stopped at four temples; Banteay Srey (meaning Citadel of Women) built in the late 10th Century from beautiful pink sandstone and with some of the most intricate carvings of all the Angkorian temples; Lolei and Bakong; both part of the Roluos collection of temples representing the remains of Hariharalaya, the first major capital of the Angkorian-era Khmer Empire, and Banteay Samre, built in the mid 12th Century, and where I had my fortune read. The fortune-teller and I prayed to Buddha with incense sticks held between our palms, somphea-ing three times for a long life. He then tied red cotton string around my wrist (which I must keep wearing until it falls off naturally) and I placed a book of fortunes on the top of my head, closed my eyes, and inserted a needle into one of the pages. The man took the book from me and smiled, saying it was a very good prediction, and our guide kindly translated the prediction for me . . . apparently I am going to be very wealthy!
I'm currently at The Blue Pumpkin www.tbpumpkin.com in the centre of Siem Reap, indulging on a chai massala tea and creamy linguini with bacon, cheese & mushrooms. It costs $4.50 and is one of my favourite (rice replacement) meals here. When I arrived last week I came here, all eager to have my linguini, only to find that the kitchen was closed for refurbishment. The Blue Pumpkin is a nice little café : upstairs is an air-conditioned lounge with a bed-type sofa along one wall, where you can slouch back against huge pillows and use the WIFI while you eat & drink (see the photo on their homepage).
Tomorrow, Friday, I'm going out on another tour, this time to Beng Melea, located approximately 70km from Siem Reap, and separate from the Angkor complex. Beng Melea is very similar to my favourite temple, Ta Prohm, left to the jungle and overgrown with trees. Craig & I went there last year but we didn't stay very long. It will be nice to spend more time there, especially while it's Cambodia's low tourist season. I'm then meeting up with a few people for dinner - all of whom are ex-pats working on various projects here. It will be nice to get to know a few more people.