Temple Drive-By

There is nothing better than finding someone at the airport holding a sign with your name after two days of traveling. Nothing. My driver took my suitcase and navigated through the crowds to his tuk-tuk. This excited me, too. I love riding in tuk-tuks and on motorbikes. It’s so exhilarating. So, my first glimpse of Cambodia was from the back of a tuk-tuk. It was around midnight, but the air was still hot. The smells and sounds reminded me of India. There were people walking along the road, while others whizzed by us on their motos. The hot air whipping through my hair, the sounds of music, the smells of food cooking. It was gritty, and I loved it.

My hotel had a beautiful jungle-like garden with many buddhas scattered throughout. I liked it online, and it did not disappoint when I first saw it at this late hour. The entire hotel, really, is very nice. And less than $15.00 a night. It has great air conditioning, a must in this Cambodian heat. Free bottle water, breakfast, airport pick-up, cold wash cloths when I return from being out in the heat, and a free massage. I can’t imagine needing anything more.

I had plans to meet my friend, Amy, at 5:00 am the next morning, so I went straight to bed. I knew from previous trips to Asia that I’m up around 4:00 am on that first morning and each day I wake a little later, as my body slowly adjusts to the new timezone.

The front desk couldn’t find a tuk-tuk at that early hour, so someone gave me a ride on his motorbike. Amy was getting the bikes ready when I pulled up; she had rented two bikes with large baskets the day before. She was so prepared for the day’s heat – we each had two liter-sized water bottles in our baskets.

We set out on our bikes in the dark. Luckily, she had a small light on hers to navigate the holes in the road. We stopped at a food stall on the side of the road to grab breakfast for later in the day. In Thailand and Cambodia (and I’m sure other places), food is often served in small plastic bags. We each got a bag of rice; Amy got a bag of meat, and I got a unknown green vegetable and another bag of what I thought looked like bread, but it turned out to be eggs. It’s hard to know what to get at places like this – you’re essentially relying on sight alone.

When we made it to the park entrance, we were asked to show our tickets, which we didn’t have. We thought we could buy them at the gate, but they were sold closer to Siem Reap. Instead of making us ride our bikes all the way back, two men gave us rides on their motorbikes. I was already hot from our bike ride (really this translates to I was already drench in sweat), so this was a great way to cool off a bit.

We started our day at Angkor Wat, which is just as impressive as you expect it to be. It’s so massive and still so intact.

After Angkor Wat, we took a coffee break. Amy’s as crazy about coffee as I am, so we were a perfect pair. I haven’t mentioned the constant touts around the temples and really everywhere. Miss…. Lady…. And whatever they are trying to sell follows that greeting. Post cards. Whistles. Toys. Water. Pants. Shirts. The list goes on and on. There was one persistent girl; I don’t know why she liked us, or rather why she liked Amy, but she kept reappearing. When we later decided to stop for coffee, we humored her and sat at her table section. I could tell she was pleased with herself. We each ordered an iced coffee, which turned out to be delicious. Reminded me of Greek Frappes. We each ordered another after we decided one just wasn’t enough. Coffee addicts unite! We also ate our food from earlier – the smell from my vegetable bag was so pungent that I closed it immediately before it made me sick. The bread that turned out to be an omelette of sorts was delicious and rice is rice.

We continued through the temples. I found the Bayon Temples, with the faces carved into the stones, to be more impressive than Angkor Wat. We also visited Ta Promh, which was also  incredible to see with the temples being somewhat overtaken by trees in the jungle. For me, it’s hard to pick a favorite among Bayon and Ta Promh. There are so many smaller temples amidst the larger ones. We would slow down, sometimes turn around on our bikes to see them, but we never got off. We jokingly coined this, temple drive-bys.

I bought a three-day pass and there are still so many temples to see, but I have time to see them. And there’s not much you can do during the hottest part of the day. We rode back to Siem Reap around lunch time (mind you, we started our day at 5:00 am, so it already felt like a full day) and had lunch and a couple beers. We both ordered a curry dish, which was delicious and only $2.75. You can’t beat Cambodian prices.

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