Last day here, so I booked myself in to an oil painting workshop through a co-operative called Backstreet Academy. I found it through Trip Advisor - things to do in Siem Reap. For $16 I was offered a 3-4 hour workshop to produce my very own oil painting. So I checked out of my room after repacking my bag to fit in all my souvenir shopping and caught a tuktuk to the venue.
I was the only one doing oil painting. An American couple were doing pencil sketching and soapstone carving so it wasn't very busy. It was a bit odd, because my teacher (who was a lovely bloke) didn't actually show me what my finished work was supposed to look like, and since Angkor Wat was one of four ancient temples I visited yesterday, I wasn't at all sure what it actually looks like....
Nevertheless, M was a very patient teacher and very lavish with his praise as I laboured on. I found it very different managing a brush thick with oil paint compared to the acrylics I used to use for folk art, and there was no opportunity to practice brush strokes or anything, so to my perfectionist eye, my finished work was disappointing, but I thoroughly enjoyed the experience, and will one day try again to master this medium.
When I got back to Home Sweet Home (after 2 hours) I found a place in the sun around the side to put it, hoping it would dry in time to take it home. By then it was lunch time so I had my second go at Cambodian food, and ordered Chicken Amok from the kitchen. Simple fare, but delicious! ..and this time no side effects...
I still had 3 hours to kill before I had to go to the airport, when the tuktuk driver, Wang, came over to have a chat and practice his English. He is 24, and earns $100 a month, of which he sends $60 home to pay off a government loan to cover medical expenses when his father needed an operation last year. It will take him 2 years to repay the debt. Then he will save up so he can buy his own tuktuk. I asked him if he could take me for a ride for an hour or so and just show me around, so for $5 he was more than happy to oblige. We drove out of the city into the countryside for a bit... the houses are quite different from Vietnam, and the rice paddies seem a lot less intense.
We stopped at a Music School and Wang suggested I should go and have a look, which I did. A friendly young man proudly showed me through and asked me to sign the visitors book. It was lovely to see so many young people enthusiastically participating in the various classes. I left a small donation.
Next stop was very unexpected. He took me to a very up-market shop called Cambodian Art Galley. OH MY GOODNESS.... Totally surrounded by exquisite works of art... I was gob-smacked! A very charming man named Javid welcomed me and showed me an array of beautiful pieces that had me captivated. Of course the prices matched the quality, and after bargaining myself silly at the market over a few dollars, here I was considering hundreds of dollars!
It came down to realising that if I didn't stick my neck out and buy, I would always regret the opportunity missed. I did manage to save over $300 by bargaining with him, and I am thrilled with the three exquisite pieces I bought... Two embroidered silk scarves made in Cambodia, and an elaborate wall hanging made in India....but like they say: "You get what you pay for!" and what I've got is unique as well as exquisite (if totally over budget. LOL)
When I got back to the tuktuk, Wang asked me for a copy of the receipt. Seems that there's a chance he might win a new motorbike on New Years Eve for every receipt with his name on it gives his a chance in the draw. Talk about clever marketing.... I would never have gone there if he hadn't taken me, though to give him credit, he did assure me that I was under no pressure to buy by going in for a look...... Hmmmm.
I felt pretty windblown and dusty by the time we got back to Home Sweet Home, so I had a quick wash and got changed and repacked my bag once again and it was time to go to the airport.
I lined up to check in only to find I had booked the flight for tomorrow!!! Originally, Gene had considered coming with me and she's flying home from Hà Nội on Wednesday, so we were talking about returning on Tuesday. Then she decided to have the extra days in Hải Phòng, so I decided to come back on Monday...today! But when I booked online, I apparently selected the original date...duh! The Vietnam Airlines manager was called over and he went off with my ticket to see what he could do...and how much it would cost, while I stood waiting, praying for God's grace.... I was delighted when he told me the change over would only cost me $30!! That was a very pleasant surprise.
So at 6:10pm I left Cambodia and got back to Việt Nam by 7:30pm. Sorting out my visa on arrival didn't take long and I was soon in a taxi headed for Bat Dan Street. Note to self....next time, get Little Hanoi Diamond to organise a car to pick me up....that only costs $15. The taxi cost $20... Mind you, he definitely took a convoluted route to get here. As we wandered through the old quarter taking the long way round we went through an area where there were hundreds of people overflowing from the pavements eating street food...and it's just an ordinary Monday night!