I was in Cambodia touring the temples of Angkor. My guide Ree, was staring at me with a look of utter horror on his face. I was smiling broadly before I realized I had made one of life’s awful tourist gaffes.
It was a hot morning, and I had been at the temples since 5.30 to capture the magical moment when the sun rose over one of the ancient world’s most amazing complexes – Angkor Wat.
By 11.30 am, Ree could see I was struggling in the heat.
“Sir,” he inquired, “Would you like to go to an air-conditioned restaurant for a late breakfast?”
I willingly agreed. We returned to the car and, as we began driving towards the restaurant, I decided to invite Ree and the driver to join me for brunch.
After 10 minutes, the driver pulled into a small car park and Ree pointed to a cute little bridge over a small stream and a winding path that led through the trees to a vague sort of stone building. He gestured for me to cross the bridge.
I beamed, and said: “Ree, I’d like you and the driver to come with me. It will be much more fun if we go together.”
It was at the this point that Ree blushed and stammered “No, Sir…”
I jocularly grabbed Ree and the driver by the arms and began theatrically pulling them over the bridge, chuckling, “Come on guys, let’s all go together!”
It was at that point Ree explained the car had stopped at the Angkor public toilets so I could have a comfort stop before eating. The restaurant was still several kilometers away.
I wished the bridge would collapse and the stream would carry me away.
As I wandered through Indo China, my embarrassing moments continued.
In Hoi An – the tailoring capital of Vietnam – I made enemies with a female solo traveler. Take tear-sheets from fashion magazines, and the Hoi An tailors will copy anything – at dirt cheap prices.
My initial thoughts, as I wandered through streets filled with tailor shops was that the clothing looked very 1970s-ish. The styles and colors were, in the main, diabolically awful.
While sitting at a coffee shop, a female solo traveler asked to join me. As we chatted about our Vietnam experiences, she commented about how cheap the Hoi An clothing was. I nodded, and looked diagonally cross the road to one of the tailor shops. I thought most of the clothing on show looked utterly hideous.
“I agree, it is very cheap,” I said to my coffee companion, “but most of it looks like rubbish.”
I pointed to the shop opposite.
“Look at that shop,” I said with a chuckle, “who would be seen dead in most of the outfits it has on display, especially that dreadful looking furry jacket!”
My companion looked startled and replied angrily, “I have just spent almost $1,500 in that shop, and at the top of the list is the furry jacket.”
She stared icily at me, stood, turned on her heel and left.
It’ s wonderful to see other travelers make mistakes.
While cruising the Mekong aboard a luxurious vessel called the Pandaw Mekong, an American woman opposite me at the dining table deftly pushed to one side of her plate some delicious and very innocent looking grilled aubergine.
“I have no idea what it is,” she said haughtily, “but it looks foreign.”
The next morning we did an on-shore excursion to a snake wine factory. It was hot and steamy, and by the time we reached the snake wine establishment, the American looked frighteningly overheated.
As we entered the place, a factory employee handed everyone a glass of snake wine. The American grabbed hers and quickly tossed it down. “God,” she said, “I really needed that.”
I stared at her in amazement.
“I can’t believe what you just did!” I said in astonishment. “You won’t eat aubergine, but you have no hesitation in drinking snake wine!”
“Snake wine?” she gasped. “I thought it was rice wine!”
I watched as she scooted past scores of full wine bottles, each containing one or two pickled reptiles, and regurgitated her breakfast into the Mekong.
Just as interesting is watching people about to blunder into embarrassing moments.
While waiting for a flight from Kuala Lumpur to Ho Chi Minh City, I met two posh women from Sydney and discovered they were also heading for Ho Chi Minh City to join an up-market tour operated by Peregrine.
“We always travel with Peregrine,” they chorused. “They have such a nice class clientèle.”
About 15 minutes later, a short rotund woman wearing a mini skirt that looked at least one size too small plonked beside me and introduced herself.
“I shouldn’t have worn this bloody mini skirt,” she said. “All the bloody men have been perving on me.”
She told me she was also headed for Ho Chi Minh City – to join a Peregrine tour – presumably the same one as the posh Sydney-siders.
She was the total opposite to the posh Sydney-siders, and was clutching a well-worn paperback called “Naughty Housewives”.
I smiled at her and said: “I think those two women are on the same tour as you.”
“Excellent,” she said, “I’ll bloody well go and make myself known to them.”
I watched helplessly as she bustled over and was given extremely short shrift.
“That didn’t work,” she said as she returned. “They really aren’t my type at all. They don’t have anything in common with me.”
I wondered how the trip would go, but kept my mouth shut.
Sometimes fellow tourists can deliberately cause embarrassment to others.
The last night of my Mekong cruise, one of the Australians on the trip deliberately sat at a table of four Mormon couples who had always sat together during the 8-day voyage.
“I suppose you are wondering why I am sitting with you,” he grinned. “But as Mormons, you must understand that in Australia your disciples always knock on my door at the most inopportune times. Tonight I am exacting my revenge.”
The Mormons continued to look non-plussed and sank deeper and deeper into embarrassment as he regaled them with extremely bawdy and steamy stories, which included telling them he was gay, and beyond saving.