Day 21: Siem Reap
I pack as soon as I’m awake. Last night Lucia and Jorge told me the hostel they are staying at has a pool and twenty-four hour bar. It doesn’t take long to find, and I snag a bed amongst the forty or so others set up in this huge attic-like space.
Morning is a procession of breakfast, swimming, getting impossibly lost in town on a rented bicycle, muttering angrily to myself, and eating lunch.
Then I’m back on the bike and riding towards Angkor Wat.
Apparently, if you arrive at 5pm to purchase a ticket, you can go in to watch the sunset at Angkor and still use your ticket for the next day.
After twenty minutes of riding down the hot dusty highway in the wrong direction, I’ve practically missed sundown.
So back to the hostel pool to cool off before going to the river where hordes of people and lanterns and celebrations are taking place for the Annual Water Festival.
I peruse the market, grab dinner and head home. My alarm clock is set for three and a half hours from now, because I’m going to watch the sun rise over Angkor Wat tomorrow!
Day 22: Angkor Wat!
Alarm is the perfect term to describe my feelings at 330am when that damn ringing goes off, signalling the start of my day. The grog of a four hour sleep has me second guessing my plans, but I throw back the covers and rub my eyes. My bag is already packed and I’ve strategically awoken in my outfit for the day.
I hop on my bicycle and am on the road just after 4am. My teensy bike light illuminates the pitch black stretch ahead.
The ticket booth already has a few hundred people lined up before they open at 5am, but it moves quickly.
With day pass in hand, I pedal along the road, tuk-tuks and cars and motorbikes zipping past every minute.
I follow their trail of headlights left onto a wide dirt road along a moat of water. Throngs of people clamber out of tuk-tuks and tour groups flood from busses.
Parking my bicycle on a grassy patch, I cross the road, seat myself on a set of stone steps and gaze across the water at a black silhouette painted against a lightening night sky: Angkor Wat.
The ascending sun exposes Angkor’s timeless wonder one stone brick at a time.
But even the majesty of Angkor Wat can’t replace my four hours of lost sleep. My head bobs in the slow heat of the sun, and I respond by moving to the shade to chug an iced coffee and layer spf 90 onto my freckled white-girl skin.
Then over the moat and into the stone fortress I go.
Inside the outer walls stretches a massive grassy area. A wide pathway cuts through it to the inner structure of the temple. I walk through the giant corridors, reaching an open stone courtyard dominated by massive columns and vast conical turrets.
I wait my turn to climb the mountain of steps into one of the cones and am rewarded with a view of fairy tale ruins and centuries old foliage.
Heading back to my bike, I’m distracted by little monkey bandits snatching chip bags from unsuspecting hands and picking fleas from each others hair.
It’s still morning, and already I’m in the early stages of major sweat. In Asia, is it doesn’t matter if it’s nine in the morning or three in the afternoon; the sun is a beast until it disappears beyond the edge of the Earth. It’s a nine litres of water kinda day, a pants and long shirt and hat in the thirty plus degree weather kind of day. Flo had cycled around this playground of ruins prior to me, and given me sufficient warning of it’s exhaust level. It’s a seven kilometre ride from hostel to site, plus another twenty five or so to see the rest of the temples on my list.
Lunch is spent beneath the glistening blades of an electric fan, which propel me to continue my ruin run.
Some temples are small and relatively unimpressive (compared to their neighbouring counterparts) and others cause my eyes to moisten in their very presence. But the magnum opus is the final one of the day, and the true artist is Mother Nature. The banyan trees claim this archaic structure.
The branches of one tree seem to have no awareness of gravity, and each of it’s gnarled roots are thicker than a well-fed man. They grope the temple walls like some giant, frisky hand, distorting them as though they are simply Lego blocks.
What a boss.
I am exhausted. Cycling bumpy dirt roads and stumbling around ruins in the sun makes me want to pass out on an air mattress in the temple moat. Instead, I cycle around in search of sunset. The best place to watch it is at some temple too far for me to reach in time. The sun is reddening to my left and I turn my bike down a dirt path in the bush. It leads to a small village in the jungle and the sun bleeds its scarlet rays over the palm trees and long grass until dipping out of sight.
In the dusk, the bike ride home is almost refreshing. It is the second last day of the Water Festival and closer to town the traffic becomes knotted and bright with vehicle lights and the skies explode in colour – fireworks.
The streets are alive!
I go for dinner with a Dutch guy from my dorm and he enlightens me on the Jewish holiday Sukkot, which involves building huts from natural materials in the jungle and feasting and sleeping within the dwellings for the week long ceremony. I think I may convert to Judaism once a year just to be a part of this.
After a few beers by the pool that nearly glue my eyelids shut, I say goodnight to Dutchie and call ‘er a day. And what a day at that.