I think that if they had an award for last minute travel booking, I would win the award.
A friend I used to work with was traveling around South Africa when she decided that instead of traveling from Johannesburg to Cape Town as she had intended, she canceled that flight and flew from Johannesburg to Seoul. While she was at the airport. One way ticket, first class, 115K miles.
Anyway, I guess that preface matters because her birthday was in December and she talked my friend and I into flying to Cambodia with her for her birthday. So, 4 days out I booked a ticket to Cambodia. And applied for a visa.
So in December I went to Siem Reap. I only went for a weekend, I flew in Friday night and left on the redeye (this seems to be a reoccurring thing…) Sunday night. Without a doubt, this was one of the most memorable trips I have had thus far. It may sound sappy but man, it was surreal. It’s not even a crazy place, it was just the ambiance, the atmosphere, the people, everything went together to make it a truly special time.
Friday we headed to the airport, hung out in the lounge, then boarded our flight to Cambodia. We landed and exited the plane on the tarmac, which was new to me, and got hit with the wave of, you guessed it, heat and humidity. We went through immigration which was made easier with our e-visas but doing it again I’d put up with the line and get a visa on arrival, simply just to have the sticker in my passport. A tuk tuk took us to our hotel, where we dropped our bags and went into town to see what the night life was like. And yeah, it was interesting. Now Siem Reap is NOT a huge place, but they get a million or so visitors every year due to Angkor Wat being literally 2 miles away. So anyway Siem Reap is basically comprised of a bunch of hotels and restaurants. So we checked out the main drag, realized nobody knows how to mix a drink, and swore to only drink from bottles for the rest of the trip only to forget that the next night… Anyway, I’d say that 70% of the population of people there were folks under the age of 22, and 30% really old white men looking for, well, you know. Throw in about a thousand tuk tuk drivers constantly asking you if you need a ride, and you have a pretty good idea of what night life is like in Siem Reap.
Saturday morning Maria’s friends from Africa arrived. They had flown in from Vietnam. We all went together to check out Angkor Wat, which is still considered one of the 7 wonders of the world. We rented two tuk tuk’s and a guide for the day and all in all, the tuk tuks were $16 each for the entire day and the guide was $30 because well, he spoke english. It’s hard to grasp just how cheap all of it is, I mean would you do something all day for only $30, let alone $16??
I’ll let pictures speak for themselves, but there are a few things to note. Cambodia is a country which let religion and politics intertwine throughout the past few centuries. They also have switched religions as a country several times in the past few centuries, in the same way that the US switches political parties in the white house every 8-12 years. And apparently when you switch religions, you have to change all your carvings in your temples, so there were plenty of buddha’s that had been switched to sun gods and water gods turned into buddhas. Fascinating.
Cambodia’s method of preservation is leaving everything alone. They refuse to renovate or fix anything that is breaking; rather if something breaks, leave it alone. Let the building stand the test of time.
After literally dying in the 35C+ weather, and losing 500 gallons of water via sweat, we made our way back to the hotel and into the pool. After substantially cooling off, we all went to dinner for the birthday girl and then attempted to find out what the country had to offer in terms of “night life.”
Like any birthday in a foreign country, you tend to go out of your way to meet new people, which we did. We also had the pleasure of realizing that yet again, bottled is better than mixed because holy crap they don’t know how to make a cocktail. This is also home of the 80 cent beer so… You know what else I find fascinating is that every country I have been to so far has a “local beer” that everyone is in love with. And you know what, they all usually suck pretty bad. Cambodia was no exception.
Sunday we spent more time exploring Angkor Wat, but instead of heading to the temples we went to find a waterfall, only to have it be an arduous hike for a measley stream of water. Serious let down. Then we traveled to see a couple of other temple sites, and at this point I’ve probably seen enough temples to last a lifetime. Anywho, always an experience. This time we couldn’t use tuk tuk’s because it was too far of a distance, so we rented a van which was more expensive at $40 for the day. Hahaha
After the tours we went to the hotel pool and just enjoyed each other’s company. We headed to dinner that evening at a really nice indian joint and told our tuk tuk driver to pick us up at 10PM, not really sure if everything translated or not… Well, it did because he was there waiting, ready and willing. He drove us to the airport and I tipped him 20 bucks, which is more than a days wages, and I don’t think he realized how much I gave him until after he left. I guess what was crazy for me at least was that the hotel made an effort to pair us with the same driver for the duration of the stay. They do this for familiarity. As a result we kind of got to know the guy in what little we could communicate. They go out of their way to do things for you. Yes, they’re desperate for money. But the guy sat there and waited for us for an hour because he wanted to make sure that he was there when we were done; I call that dedication. And he did that for $2, the usual fare to the airport.
What else you notice is that there is an entire generation of people missing. Oftentimes the genocide instituted by Pol Pot is left out of textbooks and is rarely talked about and seemingly easily forgotten. The Khmer people haven’t forgotten, and it’s apparent when you visit. Besides the missing generation, they have banded together and are extremely proud of their heritage. And I’m proud that they are willing to share it. Next time I visit Cambodia I definitely want to visit Phnom Penh, but I’d also love to visit Siem Reap again.