5/10/17 - 5/14/17 88 °F
Oh dear, so I have a lot to catch up on from the last several days. There hasn't been a lot of down time to sit down and write, or even think.
Also, randomly, my blog posts are getting like 250 views??? Pretty sure I gave the link to about 20 people, so it's fascinating the number of strangers who must be finding the link through travellerspoint.
So we got up bright and early and were in the lobby by 7 AM for our tuk tuk to Angkor Wat (we were trying to beat the heat). And by we, I mean I was in the lobby waiting for the rest of my crew for about 15 minutes (see previous post re: going to bed early). We saw monkeys at the entrance to the park, which was exciting and terrifying, given this sign:
We also saw one elephant on our way in, that was available for rides. He looked miserable... riding elephants is a big no-no for tourists (sadly), since these elephants aren't treated very well. I'm still planning to go to the sanctuary in Thailand that is well known for being ethical, but you don't ride them there either. Anyway, since this was the first day of exploring the area, we decided to do the "big" circuit, which meant we saw 5 smaller temples and got home reasonably early to avoid the heat of the day. I actually feel pretty bad that I don't really know the history of the different places we went. If you know me then you know this lack of preparedness is uncommon - there just wasn't time to learn everything i needed to know. It did kind of change the way we wandered through, marveling at the architecture and design, speculating on what it all meant rather than having someone give us all the answers on a tour. We felt kind of like explorers having discovered the ruins for the first time. There were amazing carvings and structures and each place had a slightly different feel to it, whether it was different stone used for building, different symbols and designs, or a different style of architecture and use of water, which as very interesting. We got blessed by a super old little monk inside one of the temples, and of course then left an unspoken donation of a dollar. This little guy was making BANK.
At one point a random security guard/park person pointed out a special area to us that we would have missed otherwise, telling us a few sentences about it. I thought he was just being nice and enjoying his job, but then he literally begged for money for the "tour." WTF. There are also a lot of rules for the temples, mostly about what you can wear (shoulders and knees should be covered for women), but also obvious rules like don't go around screaming and don't touch everything. Of course we immediately saw one French guy climbing all over the ruins taking silly photos and touching everything. As if I needed more reasons to hate the French. (J/k!). At each temple our tuk tuk driver, whose name was Ban, would give us instructions on where to meet him next. And at each temple we would somehow go the wrong way and have to do a walk of shame to find him down the road. It was a million degrees and I spent the entire morning covered in a sheen of sweat. I wore sort of touristy clothes, including a big hat for the sun and hiking shoes so my feet would be OK. The other girls I was with were all dressed in beautiful things and wearing cute little sandals, and I was a little jealous of the photos they would get out of it all. After seeing their blisters at the end of the day I changed my mind about all of this, content with my happy feet and zero sunburn.
Taking photos with people you've just met is such an interesting experience. It was all fairly odd at first, but as we got more comfortable with each other we started experimenting with timed photos and silly shots, and started to have more fun. I'm really glad I didn't spend these days alone. I was also glad to not be alone in between temples, when little kids selling magnets or postcards SWARM you and follow you all the way up to the next boundary where they're not allowed to be. One of the rules of the temples is to not buy from these children, which is so hard to do. I wish they were all in school...
After our day at the temples we returned to town and got lunch at Sister Srey Cafe, another business in town that gives back to the community in its own ways, hiring local workers, using sustainable methods, providing quality food, and feeding money back into education and the children of Siem Reap. I got a mango chicken burger and a pineapple and coconut juice drink, and was the happiest girl in the world for the rest of the day. It was all so good! There is a cute little boutique upstairs that sells some locally made clothes, and I found the most beautiful white dress...but a white dress does not mesh with travel, and I have very very little room in my bag for souvenirs, so I left it behind. We all returned to the hostel and crashed for the rest of the afternoon in the air conditioned room. Thank goodness for A/C...seriously.
I spent the evening reading a book down in the common area of our hostel, listening to a rain storm. Every time there was any lightning the lights flickered, but we never actually lost power. I finished reading the Alchemist, so I left it at the book exchange. I wrote down a bunch of quotes that I wanted to remember, but right now this one seemed most fitting:
"The secret of happiness is to see all the marvels of the world, and never to forget the drops of oil on the spoon."
The next morning we were going to see the sunrise at Angkor Wat, so we had to be up and ready to go at 5 AM. We took the tuk tuk out to the temples, along with half the other tourists in town. The sunrise was pretty neat, and it was surprising to see how many people showed up for it, even in the low season. I can't imagine what it's like during the peak time of year.
After sunrise we had breakfast at a plastic table near the entrance, getting a mediocre pancake, and the worst coffee I've ever had. Chickens wandered around beside us. It was an interesting contrast to seeing the sun rise at one of the wonders of the world. After breakfast we found a random procession of women in white, being led and followed by monks in orange. We had no idea what was going on, but it was beautiful.
In Angkor Wat, we found another monk doing blessings, so we went for it again (some extra luck can't hurt the solo traveler, right?). For some reason the monk gave me two bracelets instead of one, which caused an unnecessary amount of jealousy in the group for about 6 minutes, and then it was forgotten. We saw Angkor Wat, Ta Prohm (from Tomb Raider), and Angkor Thom this day, otherwise known as the big 3. Again, it was a day full of beautiful things to see, lots of heat and sweating, and also the cutest floppy eared dog.
After a day of wandering ancient ruins, we headed back to Siem Reap and opted to go to lunch at Joe to Go Cafe, which was my second time being there. At this point everyone basically trusted me to find our food destinations, because I always had ideas about ethical places to eat delicious food. Thank goodness for that one random blog post I found....
After we got back to the hostel everyone laid down and I went to the cinema room and watched the original Godzilla movie. I was the only one in there and it was amazing. That night we went to the Night Market, which as significantly less pushy and crazy than the Old Market, and I finally bought some of the pants that every tourist under the sun buys when in Cambodia. I love them but feel silly wearing them here. I imagine they will be amazing when I'm in Central America or even New Zealand. For now I wear them as my PJs. After that we went to the circus, which was AMAZING! They take young people who are at risk and struggling on the streets, and train them in acrobatics and performance, as well as providing an education for them in a number of fields, so that they can make a productive life of their chosing when they are older. The circus performances help offset the cost of this program, and it was an amazing show. The performance that night was about a young man who had a disability. He wanted to join a group of his peers, but they shunned him for being different. He came back to them as a female avatar and taught them a lesson. In the end everyone was friends and it all worked out (of course), but it was a nice story of inclusivity, but also interestingly of the spectrum of gender and sexuality, which surprised me in a pretty conservative country. It was worth every single penny and we all loved it.
The next morning we all said goodbye, and I set off to take the bus back to Phnom Penh for a night or two while I figured out my next step. I should have worked on responsible things on the bus ride, but I just wanted to stare out the window, watch the world around me, and listen to some music, so that's what I did. I booked a hotel right next door to the bus station (literally), and was so happy to not have to deal with tuk tuk drivers when we got off the bus, but just walk a few steps to my own room. The hotel wasn't quite as fancy as I expected, but there was a big bed, a bath tub, and air conditioning, so I got some food and immediately fell asleep for a million hours.
Also, there was a COMB in the free toiletries! Now all I'm missing is some proper shampoo and conditioner. In the meantime I just rock my greasy hair, but at least it's no longer full of tangles. I took a glorious bath and then combed my hair and all was right with the world. I was finally truly clean for the first time in two weeks.
I received a message from one of the girls I had met in Siem Reap, inviting me out for drinks with her and some new friends at a place down the road, just far enough that I would need to get a tuk tuk. I declined, but was torn about it. I had spent the entire day alone doing my laundry, taking a bath, watching Netflix, and just generally recouperating, and felt like I *should* go out and about, especially since I knew someone. I just didn't feel comfortable getting a tuk tuk by myself at night in Phnom Penh, so I declined. I can't tell you how uncomfortable this city is for a solo female.
This morning I invited her to come to my hotel for breakfast instead, since it's right next to the bus station where she would be leaving from. We had a gorgeous breakfast and she told me about her night last night, and I have to say I'm so glad I decided to stay in. Her hostel arranged a tuk tuk driver for her, who then took her in the other direction, down an empty alley, and another man asked for her bag. She said no, and then the tuk tuk driver said he needed to see her phone to figure out where he was going. Again, she said no. Eventually she said I'm either screaming and running away from you or you're taking me to where you said we'd go, and finally he said OK and took her to her final destination. So... basically he tried to rob her and she just said no. She got SO LUCKY that they took no for an answer. I am horrified that this happened to her, and I cannot even imagine what I would do if I was in the same situation. It reminded me that another of the girls we met in Siem Reap told a story about when she was in the Philippines, and a guy she had been hanging out with (a local) offered to give her a ride home, and instead took her to some random place in the middle of the jungle and tried to kiss her and grope her, and she had to just scream at him to take her home, because she had no other way to get home. Horrifying. So, I don't care if I miss out on an experience here and there, I'm going to be extra cautious and have no regrets if this means that I dont' have stories to tell like these. Ugh.
After breakfast we still had a few hours before either of us had to leave or I had to check out of my hotel room, so we went up to my room, sat in the air conditioning, and watched Finding Nemo on TV like little kids. It was the perfect opportunity to be in a safe and happy space, and neither of us had any regrets about staying inside instead of adventuring through the city before we left. I have to come back here for my flight to Thailand, but I plan to spend as little time in the city as possible. I just can't love you, Phnom Penh. I just can't.
In a few hours I'm boarding a bus to Kampot, a lazy town a little ways from the beach. I've heard it's really quiet and peaceful, and I've booked a room in a nice hostel, where hopefully I will find some new friends. The reviews say that they are very welcoming and can help arrange tours, and they have a rooftop where you can hang out and watch the sunsets. I'm hoping it feels more like Siem Reap than Phnom Penh. I'll stay there for a few days and then decide whether to continue down to the island beach area, or whether to stick around, or whether to do something else entirely. I've heard some bad stories about the islands if you're solo, so I probably won't go there unless I find some folks to travel with. Either way, here's to the next few days being nice and slow and calm, just the way I like to travel.
Also, I finally managed to upload some photos to my Flickr account, but I absolutely cannot figure out how to rearrange them, so they're all jumbled and that's just how it's going to have to be for now. But if you want to see more photos, head over there