Extract from my (draft) travel memoir
Even from the road the hotel looked good: shiny, clean and smart with a cream facade and at the front a blue swimming pool; to our eyes it was like a pop star’s luxury residence. The outside was neatly paved, with pots of bright pink and orange flowers, and lots of pretty summer shoes outside the entrance. As it was early our room wasn’t ready so we waited at the bar/restaurant: fruit salad, baguette and jam, and lots of coffee. We met two women sitting at the next table, one from South Africa, one, younger, from England, they’d met on a previous trip and decided to do a trip together. We went on about India and how great it was. The younger woman didn’t like India, she said she’d got hassle from men. She was the only person we’d met who hadn’t liked India. But of course there’s a flipside to every country, no point pretending otherwise.
The reception staff, young men with good haircuts, were lovely and friendly, they did us a hand drawn map of directions to the barbers for Anthony and a place that did proper massage for me. ‘Not like-’ he mimed someone giving a very lazy massage and chatting- ‘Ten dollars please.’
The room was big and clean, painted white with its own bathroom with a hot shower and towels provided. The bed had white sheets, duvet and pillows. The headboard was solid wood, shiny and carved, mid colour wood not pine not mahogany but sturdy and heavy. At the other end of the room was a wardrobe with double sliding mirror doors, it was like having my own private yoga studio! A desk and chair, two bedside tables, and everything so clean and polished and shiny. That room, although no more expensive than our average, felt luxurious.
I had read about travel fatigue in someone’s Instagram post. As well as the normal missing friends and family, dealing with the stresses and strains- unfamiliar foods, new places- of travel; some people also over schedule, moving from place to place too fast, packing the days with long tours, and over photographing everything. There was no danger of us doing that but we still got tired sometimes, especially when ill in Delhi, hence why we cut our plan to travel around Rajasthan down to a month in Pushkar.
Nearby the hotel were smaller restaurants, cycle hire places and travel agencies. A short walk away was the main food area with lots of restaurants, pubs and an indoor market which we had a look around. I became temporarily enamoured with glazed and decorated bowls made from coconuts, elephant purses and checked scarves, the prices going down as I looked without me doing or saying anything. Other than a pair of sunglasses to replace my ones from Phnom Penh which had broken, I didn’t buy anything, and the feeling of wanting things soon wore off.
That first night we had tofu, pad Thai, ‘no fish sauce,’ staff familiar with vegetarians which was good, and fresh mango juice, thick and gloopy, ‘sexy in the mouth’ like the noodles of the first night in Bangkok and then later our first night in Cambodia in Phnom Penh.
There were lots of big Westernised bars and restaurants as well as street stalls with small plastic tables and chairs on the pavement, stalls on the back of motorbikes, plugging into power supplies installed on trees.
The room in Siem Reap represented real comfort and luxury; especially after a week in a tent, with everything sandy. On the polished wood bedside table, my lipbalm, my kohl eyeliner, my earrings, a charcoal face pack I was excited to buy from the 7/11, and my new glamorous (but cheap) black mirror sunglasses which I always kept there, the ceiling fan reflected in them.
We’d noticed shrines in Koh Rong, here there was a big one in the hotel foyer, and another big one in the restaurant we went to most often. Every day fresh; two cans of coke; a can of drink, cups of coffee, a cup of tea in a glass cup; two glass cups of hot drink; two apples; a bunch of bananas; a basket/bowl of all sorts of fruit; fruit and veg; stacks of money; a bunch of incense, something new every day. It was like the morning rituals we watched in Pushkar, shop keepers sprinkling water and lighting incense before the working day began.
I wondered if we should do it at home, make a shrine, have a morning ritual, make a tea for the shrine, light incense, set an intention, not directly from or connected to a recognised religion. Anthony said religious practices look like a kind of OCD sometimes; he once had a friend who used to walk around the room fifteen times before he went out, everyone thought it was a big problem but Anthony always wondered why was it a problem, why not just accept that it was something that he did, like a kind of ritual. Like I could change my OCD checking of the taps before I go out into a mini ritual, say thank you for having water.
The restaurant where we ate regularly was open to the street, we watched people going past on motorbikes and scooters and parking outside. I liked looking at people’s clothes, a lot of the women looked quite glamorous in lacy dresses and one day we saw a woman with astonishingly long hair. On the opposite side of the road there were shops, I saw a bird going in and out of an electrical box, a small box on a pole with a slit; I saw that in front of the shops next to it there were also boxes with birds nesting in.
At the restaurant, I was excited to notice that there were fans reflected in my sunglasses again, just like in the room. Anthony pointed out that I put them on the table facing up, and fans are on the ceiling… Another time, in the market, I saw my sunglasses reflected in two big blocks of ice.
We talked a lot over meals at the restaurant. I noticed that we were able to discuss things like politics better without annoying each other or getting annoyed. It’s not so much that we disagree on big picture stuff, more that the way we approach things is different and used to cause conflict during discussions. Each difficulty this year has moved us forward in terms of how we handle discussions, personal issues and the way we are together…. Part two on Sunday
Thank you very much for reading