After we rushed back from Kyoto to Tokyo, we were onto Cambodia. I wasn’t sure what to expect—it was my first foray into Southeast Asia and I had heard that Cambodia was a precarious way to start exploring the cultures there. I was a little bit nervous about getting around and the tight schedule we had to see some of the main sights. Of course, I was most excited to see Angkor Wat—one of the true wonders of the ancient world.
We took another quick flight from Phnom Penh Siem Reap, where we would be staying for a few days in order to experience the culture and to grab a tuk tuk to the main temple. We stopped by our hostel and dropped our backpacks off before heading out to see the small town of Siem Reap. You could tell that it was working hard to capitalize on its local landmarks—even the local beer was named after the famous religious site, and it every other business was a tour agency that offered sunset, sunrise, and day tours of the national park.
We chose to try out a sunrise tour before the afternoon sun got too hot. It was a far cry from Japan where it was clear that the fall weather was setting in. Cambodia was hot and humid, and we had to take care not to get bitten by the aggressive mosquitoes. We were also exhausted after running around the island of Japan, so we opted for a chance to rest in the afternoon before enjoying a night out.
Our tuk tuk driver picked us up at four in the morning. Rubbing the sleep out of our eyes, it was all I could do to stay awake as the tuk tuk bounced up and down the dirt roads. The sun was just starting to rise when we saw our first glimpse of the temple in the distance. While I had heard it was huge, I didn’t actually realize how massive the structure actually was until we arrived and had a chance to look it over. The sun was now peeking out from behind the elongated domes.
Our guide gave us a few hours to walk around the complex and climb to the top. What I found the most fascinating aspect of the art displayed there was how they had kept some of the original, Hindu friezes and somehow managed to incorporate Buddhist art into the structure. At first it seemed to contradict each other, but after some time, I began to like this amalgamation of art history.
We completed a quick tour through Angkor Thom, as well. It was built during the same period, but instead of tiered domes, faces of the happy Buddha smiled down at you as you approached the temple. It was impossible not to feel some joy as we strolled through.
There was much more to see, but most of it was a blur for me. It was time to go back and taste some of the delicious foods that Siem Reap had. We said goodbye to Angkor Wat before returning to our hostel for a nap. I was grateful for the much-needed rest and the opportunity to relax before we explored the night market and sat down for some barbeque. As always on our travels, it was an opportunity to try some strange foods, including snake, kangaroo, crocodile, and more. We even managed to find a tarantula on a stick for dessert.
After a dance performance, we were overwhelmed with a fantastic day and were thinking about how we would soon be headed back to New York. It had been a whirlwind, but I had felt so fortunate to see a place that I never would have made it to on my own.
Where have you been that you never expected you would?