Cambodia: Love at First Mishap
Before even arriving in Asia, I just had a feeling I'd fall in love with Cambodia. Something about it felt untouched, unchartered. It's what drew me to it and what allowed it to lodge itself in my heart forever.
And yet - there are so many reasons I could have become disheartened.
On a boat tour, a big boat ahead of us in the river got stuck - since it's dry season and the water is quite shallow - causing a 45 minute stand-still boat traffic jam.
The now infamous butt incident - where I took a squat on the side of the road, only to have my backside bitten 60+ times (I counted) - damning me to butt-scratching and mild resemblance to a leper, for the rest of my stay in Cambodia.
The lady in Siem Reap who sold me a boat ticket to Battambang, instead of Phnom Penh. After noticing at the port, in the nick of time, they pulled me to a quarantine area for 30 minutes, catalyzing in me a very real fear that I would be stranded in this tiny town, without a soul who spoke English.
The unreal sunburn I got when I accidentally fell asleep on that 6 hour boat ride from Siem Reap to Phnom Penh.
Any of the many Cambodian buses I took, but mainly the one from Phnom Penh to Sihanoukville, taking at least 2 hours over what it should have, with multiple pit stops, bus breakdowns, a crying baby (of course), and endless Cambodian fighting movies.
Reception at my hotel in Sihanoukville (a sleepy beach town) didn't stay open for my late arrival. I forewent sleeping on the beach and getting eaten alive by mosquitos (see butt incident), in favor of climbing through a window and becoming a squatter in an empty bungalow until morning.
That damn chicken wrap in the Otres Beach Night Market in Sihanoukville, that christened my body with its first (yes, first) bout of food poisoning while out here.
All that - and I still loved this place. Here's why.
Out of the window, just before touching down in Siem Reap, I saw a tiny village. Village is probably too big of a word - I saw a collection of maybe 10-20 houses built on stilts. A million thoughts began running through my head, chiefly: how do these people survive? With limited time in Siem Reap, I decided that I'd do the Temples of Angkor in half a day so I could tour a floating village in the afternoon.
To see Angkor Wat at sunrise, tuk tuk pickup is 5am sharp. Yes, the temple is breathtaking, but what you don't often see pictured are the hoards of people trying to get a picture.
I stood back a bit and soaked it in. Pro tip: wait out the crowds. They get antsy and start dissipating, after which you can get a perfectly gorgeous picture (crowd-free).
Angkor Wat is truly something else. Explore the inside - the sun hits it just right at this time of day. The stone carvings are intricate as lace. The grass couldn't be greener, and the colossal structure stands tall, mighty, and breathtaking all the same.
I hit the Bayon next. Easily my favorite temple of Angkor. It's 512? faces constantly watching, some seemingly smirking, others content, but each unique. The faces of King? feel omniscient, but human. Fit disposition for a king.
In the shadows of the Bayon I encountered a group of about 10 children playing. The Angkor temple complex is huge (add dimensions) and houses mini villages and clusters of homes within it. Many people living within the complex either sell goods (sarongs, food, souvenirs) or work for Green, the organization in charge of maintaining the Angkor grounds. While the women work on the grounds, their children roam.
They were the most innocent, sweetest little beings. They laughed and smiled and played tag and were just being kids.
Alas, I had to move on. Time-strapped, I capped my temple run with Ta Prohm, of Indiana Jones and Tomb Raider fame.
Unfortunately by now it was lunchtime, and the Japanese, Korean, and Chinese tour groups had infiltrated. They clogged the small temple grounds and blocked most good pictures. I was able to get a few, and found some off-the-beaten-path structures to marvel at in peace.
Had I more time, I'd have seen more temples, and by bicycle. That said, if time is of the essence, you can certainly hit the main temples in half a day. Regardless, the Temples of Angkor are not the be missed. A must see. A humbling human experience. A marvel in design, symmetry, and human capability. If hundreds of years ago, humans could make THAT - how come the homes in Siem Reap are shoddy collections of metal siding, or wooden structures on stilts?
Next time, on LBBW.