I packed my running clothes, hoping I could run on my trip. I wasn’t entirely sure it’d be safe, and I didn’t know if I could bear the heat even if it was safe, but when I got to Cambodia, I learned that my friend, Amy, had been running each morning. She recommended that I head out before the sun comes up because anything after that is too hot.
So on that my first free morning, my second in Siem Reap, I laced up my shoes and hit the streets just as the sky was showing the faintest hints of light. Since I was still recovering from jet lag, I woke early and didn’t have to struggle with my normal morning routine. Are you sure you want to get out of your warm bed to run? Don’t you just want to sleep?
I stood on the street in front of my hotel, waiting for my Garmin to sync and trying to figure out which direction to go. This was my second day in the city, but I spent the first day at the temples with Amy, so I didn’t yet have my bearings on the city.
Tuk-tuks drivers circled me, offering rides. I kept shaking my head no and tried to mimic that I planned to go running. They looked confused as to why I was out so early, standing in them middle of the street with my arm draped over my head (because obviously that helps my Garmin sync).
By the time I actually started running, I had an audience. They all watched as I ran down the street and rounded the corner. I was unsure of where I was going so I had to mentally note each time I turned so I could navigate my way back. I ran the same block until I felt comfortable with my sense of direction and began adding blocks. I eventually found Pub Street (it’s much quieter in the morning hours in case you didn’t know) and the little side streets lined with shops and restaurants. Running became my orientation to the city.
I learned the grid of the city square on that first run. Each local I came across looked at me with a sense of bewilderment, but I felt like I was providing them quality entertainment at that early hour. I watched the city come to life–shop keepers opening their market stalls, monks making their morning procession. It was magical, and it was all mine.
On subsequent runs, I began heading further outside the city square and eventually found several smaller parks along the river. I also found runners–four Cambodian men. I was the only woman. The trail through the park was just shot enough that I continued to run into the same four men several times each morning. Each time they greeted me with big smiles and friendly waves. They confirmed what I’ve long thought–that runners are the friendliest people around.
The early morning runs became one of my favorite experiences in Siem Reap, so much so that I began setting my alarm once my jet lag wore off.