We arrive in Siem Reap at 8pm Saturday night after another joyous and bumpy 7-hour bus trip. This one was EXTRA bumpy and it’s probably because there was no bathroom on board and although I’ve been purposely not drinking much water, I had to go. Boy, did I have to pee. I survive, and we are greeted at Ta Som Guesthouse with the guy (who I’m pretty sure thought we were Australian because he kept making Australian jokes and laughing at himself) making us welcome drinks! Papaya-banana-mango smoothies, mmm. We were staying 3 nights so were jazzed with the welcome party. We stayed on the 4th floor (no elevators anywhere, and we always seem to be on the top floor, am I complaining?) in room 134. Room 134 on the 4th floor, made me chuckle.
Walked to a side street and got some easy cheap dinner. The owner, a Cambodian named Paulie, was doing trick shots on the pool table while we ate. After kicking Haley’s butt in Connect 4 (okay fine I only won once), we played a few games with Paulie and an Aussie named Luke. I suck at pool, like, really bad. Luckily, I was on Luke’s team and he was good, and also really laid back so he didn’t mind. His Australian electrician license expired so he’s been backpacking for over a year, not working, just traveling and kicking it, that’s what I like to see!
We spent the following day exploring the Temples of Angkor Wat. A friend I studied with in Australia (2009) recently backpacked Southeast Asia with her husband and recommended the Tuk Tuk driver they had. His name is Meas and he brought us ice cold water and a friendly smile. He drove us around to each of the temples and was very reliable. Thanks for the hook-up Britt! Angkor Wat is the largest religious monument in the world (or at least that’s what my postcards say) and it’s unbelievable. IT’S HUGE. The amount of detail, meaning, storylines, and labor that went into building all of these temples leaves you mind-blown. Meas took us first to Angkor Wat (the biggest, and best in my opinion) then to The Bayon, and ending with Ta Prohm a.k.a the TOMB RAIDER TEMPLE. Add in a few smaller ones along the way, a lunch with smoked fish that makes your stomach turn, 90+ degree sun, the steepest stairs in the world, and by 2PM you’re ready to call it quits. We both aren’t reallyyyyyy Temple people, but both really enjoyed Angkor Wat. A lot of people do 2-3 day tours of these temples, but 6 hours was good enough for us! hah!
As if I didn’t get enough cardio and sun, I went for an afternoon run. I felt like a pile, but pretty good by the end of it. Because of how dehydrated I’ve been I was craving a beer, and nothing else. I wanted to see Pub Street anyways so it seemed like the perfect opportunity. It was 5pm so I looked at Google maps briefly and walked in it’s direction. I was in Julie-land and overshot the street by 10 minutes, laughed, and turned around. Once on the street it didn’t look as touristy as everyone said it was, I also didn’t recognize any of the bars I heard about. Turns out, I was on Khmer Pub Street, the street with a bunch of run-down local bars. It was deserted. I laughed again and got a Tuk Tuk and said I need to go to Pub Street! and he was like okay 2 dollars! and I was like fineeeeeeeee. Got to Pub Street and told Halez just to look for me on one of the outdoor patios when she was done with her afternoon frolic. Sat next to 3 other guys (swiss, irish, british) and chatted it up. We all drank .50cent drafts and shared stories and laughs. Ended up getting dinner with them at a super local spot right around the corner with no inside, no bathroom, and best yet, no name. There was one guy in charge of making everyone’s food and he looked about 20 years old, and he did it in the middle of the restaurant. The food was incredible, cheap (1.50), and we ended up sitting next to 4 South-African sisters who ditched their husbands and kids for a 2 week Cambodian vacation, they were grrrreeattttt.
The next day we rented bikes and rode through dirt-road villages along the river. Our destination was Tonle Sap Lake, but when we got close the guard wouldn’t let us in! hah! Riding through the villages was really fun because all the kids we passed said “Hello!” every.single.one. They meant it too, they were so friendly. It was a SCORCHER. Rode past beautiful fields and villages, stopped for a shade break and rode back. We stopped at a Hammock Bar and I got a smoothie. Hung out on the hammock, journaled, read, swayed, and then realizing (rather abruptly) that the smoothie was a straight laxative, went running to the bathroom. Showered and rested up out of the sun for an hour and grabbed some dinner and the best Gelato I have ever had. Made with only Palm Sugar, Fruit, and Water, I got the Venezuelan Chocolate and it was such a surprise because I don’t even like chocolate ice cream (sorry dad). But THIS, oh my, THIS was something to be sad about when gone.
After a nice morning run I laid in the Royal Gardens to do some planks and push-ups. Two girls came over and sat down next to me. They were very shy and didn’t know much English, but were in school and learning it. They kept giggling and would ask me questions with what words they knew. I tried to get them to do some push-ups but they just laughed like I was crazy! I asked them a lot of questions but they didn’t understand any. We took a few selfies, we listened to my beats, and shared a lot of laughs (even though we both didn’t know what we were laughing about). The Cambodian kids are my favorite part about Cambodia. The landscape is beautiful (very green), the culture is interesting, but the kids of Cambodia have been my favorite. There is also so much support here for them. A ton of restaurants and trade shops in Siem Reap are Non-Governmental Organizations (NGO’s), which help support and train the kids of Cambodia. A lot of the proceeds go to schools, and a lot of them offer apprenticeships and training programs with valuable work experience. We have not seen anything with this type of frequency in the other cities we visited (and we’d know, we do a lotttt of restaurant hopping), so it was nice to end our trip in Southeast Asia on a positive note. I’m aware that’s just one part of Cambodia, and there is a lot of poverty throughout the Kingdom, but knowing there are bright spots in places makes me very hopeful.