If I did not see anything else in Cambodia, one thing I knew I needed to check off my list was Angkor Wat and visiting the other temples of Siem Reap.
As I mentioned in my previous weekly rewind, this past weekend I went on a temple hopping adventure. I explored not only the world’s largest religious monument, but also smaller ancient ruins that made me feel like Indiana Jones.
Everything started Friday night, when Laura, Rebecca, three other new volunteers, and I crammed into a tuk tuk to make it to the bus station. We chose to ride a night bus to Siem Reap, in order to arrive in time to see the sun rise over Angkor Wat on Saturday.
If you know me, you know that sleep is something I struggle with. Insomnia, not being able to sleep in any bed other than my own, and waking up to little noises plagued many of my nights over the past few years. Hence the notion of sleeping, the sole sleep my body would receive before a full day out, on a six hour bus ride for the evening terrified me. And I shared this fact, over and over again. I feel sorry for my poor friends who had to listen to my paranoia and whining.
When we finally reached the bus station and I nervously entered the Giant Ibis bus, a sea of beds greeted me. For a moment this provided me with some solace, but it soon ended when the reminder of a moving bus filled my mind. Growing quieter by the minute from worry, I climbed into my bed, popped a sleeping pill into my mouth, and prayed that soon I would fall asleep.
In the end I slept, but also woke up several times during the night from the bumpy roads, honking horns, and chit chat of other discourteous bus passengers. When we arrived in Siem Reap around 5 o’clock in the morning, I felt tired, but fine, and began mentally preparing myself for a long day.
Originally, Laura and I planned to visit the temples with our friend Annika, who volunteered with us in Phnom Penh but had now transferred to a placement in Siem Reap, while Rebecca stayed back at our hotel, having already visited them a few years prior. Annika would meet us at the bus station in the wee hours of the morning, and we would rush off to the temples to “catch the sunrise.”
However, dawn was here and Annika was not. Laura, Rebecca, and I desperately tried to message and call Annika but to no avail. Flustered and confused, we felt at a loss of what to do. We could not go to the temples without her, but surely we would miss the sunrise if we did not leave now? We could try and see if she slept in later at the volunteer house, but what if she was in transit here? Our minds were full of questions.
Being better friends than stereotypical tourists we immediately ruled out jetting off to Angkor Wat without her; our whole plan was to do this temple excursion together. However, that did not solve the problem of how to find her.
Then like a miracle, one of the IVHQ volunteer coordinator’s appeared. He approached us and explained that Annika was asleep at the volunteer house and he was unable to wake her up despite knowing she intended to meet us here – he had driven to the bus station with the tuk tuk originally arranged to pick us up with her. At first I felt a bit skeptical of this man, but as the story was so specific and detailed I reasoned that surely he was not lying. Thanking him, we climbed into the tuk tuk and asked to be taken back to the volunteer house to collect our sleepy friend.
When we arrived, Rebecca went with the coordinator to retrieve Annika: having been her roommate before, she knew how to wake her up. About ten minutes, Rebecca reappeared with our very exhausted Estonian friend. Covered in pink paint, Annika apologetically recounted her previous evening, which included drinks and dancing. Now, everything made sense.
With the now beginning to shine, we realized that missing the infamous sunrise over Angkor Wat was not a tragedy this time – the sky was so cloudy, no beautiful watercolor of pink, orange, and red sun rays shone through it. Our day started with a misadventure, but one that became a blessing in disguise. Since we already missed the sunrise, we decided to stop at our hotel and drop off our bags before taking on a day of walking and sweating.
The following nine-hours of my life were unforgettable. Eight temples, nine hours, over twenty thousand steps on my pedometer, exploring the temples of Siem Reap was a truly incredible experience.
While most people speak only of Angkor Wat, I found the smaller temples to be even more extraordinary. They were less crowded, more unfamiliar, and lent an eerie ancientness that transported me back in time.
The majority of Cambodia is Buddhist. Monks roam the streets in their orange colored robes and Buddhist pagodas riddle the streets. However, the temples in Siem Reap represent the country’s past with Hinduism. Angkor Wat was constructed in dedication to the Hindu god Vishnu. The surrounding temples were also built under declaration of various Hindu practicing Khmer Kings. As a result, not only is the architecture of the temples unique from other religious sites in Cambodia, but their history is especially exceptional as well.
I reveled in the history and beauty of the temples, while simultaneously sweating out my body weight with each additional step. I climbed up steps, received a blessing from a monk, and took more photos than I ever dreamed I would.
I wish that I could write more about the temples, and provide some inspiring or insightful words that could truly relate their magnificence. However as I am at a loss for words, I hope pictures will make up for it. If you ever find yourself in a position where you have the ability to play pretend as “Indiana Jones” and roam about these wonders, then know it is worth every single penny.
After nine hours, Laura, Annika, and I said farewell to the temples and returned to the hotel to shower off our sweaty adventure. We freshened up, made some attempts to feel pretty, and then returned to the outside world for dinner and drinks.
Drinks began with margaritas with our Mexican feast at dinner. Then transformed into a few shots at a tuk tuk bar. Soon it spiraled into drinking out of buckets at clubs. Before I knew it I found myself doing the limbo to try and win a free shot, and covering my body in pink paint at a club appropriately named “Yolo.”
But do not fret; if you know me, you know I stopped drinking after my first drinks at dinner, happily, and cheaply, intoxicated for the remainder of the evening. Whoever said you should build up your alcohol tolerance in order to have a good time clearly underestimated my ability to have fun. A self proclaimed one drink wonder; I had the time of my life while also waking up feeling fresh as a daisy the next morning.
After another night with very little sleep, our final day in Siem Reap was spent wandering around down cute streets, having girl talk, and eating lots and lots of ice cream.
My weekend in Siem Reap allowed me to experience the side of Cambodia I dreamed about before I came here. Siem Reap is small, green, and full of history. Saying goodbye to this beautiful place was more difficult than I thought, but with another five months of my time in Cambodia left, hopefully I will find myself there once again.