Apr 23 2008

Cambodian Finale: Angkor What?

Published by at 9:55 am under Cambodia

As the bus pulled out onto the bumpy road from Kampong Cham, a guy came around handing plastic bags to all its passengers.

“Are these supposed to be barf bags?” Ben asked me.

“This is so not a good sign,” I replied.

We were headed for Siem Reap, home of the mighty temples of Angkor, a requirement on any S.E. Asian tour. Surprisingly, the six-hour ride passed tolerably, with two exceptions: the woman directly behind me who kept retching into her barf bag, and the ever-present karaoke blaring from the televisions. Bonus this bus ride: the featured DVD must have been a “best-of karaoke duets” compilation – both Ben and I could sing along!!

As we stepped off the bus, we were immediately surrounded by the typical torrent of tuk-tuk touts. Knowing we needed a ride to a guesthouse in the city center, we paused to hear their pitch. We were surprised when one man approached us offering a free ride.

“Hello, hello!” he said. “I give you free ride now IF you hire me to be your driver tomorrow.” (The many temples are too far apart to walk comfortably between them, so some form of transportation is necessary.)

I was impressed with this man’s clever business savvy, so after negotiating a price (one that was “good for me, good for you!”), we agreed.

Luckily, our driver also had lots of insider information, including that if we bought tomorrow’s tickets to Angkor Wat tonight, we could visit a temple this evening at sunset for free. Having heard so much about the legendary sunrises/sunsets at Angkor Wat (and knowing full well we’d never wake up in time for sunrise) and enticed by anything anyone calls “free,” we had the driver pick us up that evening to take us to a temple he recommended as having the best sunset views.

Didn’t take us long to figure out why the views are so good from this particular temple: it’s on a freakin’ mountain. A mountain we unwittingly found ourselves climbing with throngs of other weary tourists.

About halfway up, Ben and I were startled by a young guy ahead of us turning around and saying something unexpected:

“I’m sorry, but do you have a blog?”

I can’t describe the exact feeling that accompanies a stranger asking if you have a blog, but it’s somewhere between apprehension and fear. We both hesitated as I did a brief risk-analysis in my head.

  1. What are the chances this person will expose me as the huge dweeb I am if I admit that I am a blogger? VERY HIGH
  2. What are the chances I’ve ever insulted this person, or any person or company he may be affiliated with, on my website? VERY HIGH

Upon frantically looking around and determining there was no means of escape, Ben and I simultaneously mumbled a hesitant “yes.”

As if we weren’t flabbergasted enough by being recognized, the guy surprised us further by saying he’d actually emailed us recently. A few weeks ago, we received an email from Nate in Colorado. Nate and his girlfriend, Jenny, were coming out to S.E. Asia for a while and, in his research, had stumbled upon our site. Since WE are obviously SO AWESOME and THEY are obviously SO AWESOME, why don’t we meet up to talk about just how AWESOME we all are?

Ben and I were game, but as our means of communication are limited and S.E. Asia is the size of, like, a continent, it was harder than anticipated to meet up, and our plans fizzled.

But here we were: we had indeed, if unintentionally, met up!

I can’t begin to fathom the coincidence of running into Nate and Jenny in Cambodia and can only assume destiny has something momentous in store for the four of us. Hopefully it involves forming an elite superhero task force, saving backpackers the world over from hawkers, scammers, lousy exchange rates and bed bugs. Oh, and blogging all about it, of course. Ok, really I just want to see Ben in tights.

We climbed to the top of the temple with Nate and Jenny, at which point Nate unzipped his backpack, pulled out a bottle and was all, “hey does anybody want some wine?”

Then I was all, you are my new best friend.

So that’s how we found ourselves enjoying the first wine we’ve had in weeks, chatting with our new best friends, and watching the sun fade behind the clouds from the top of an ancient temple.

This is why I love the internet, people. Because you’re hiking up a random mountain in the jungle of Cambodia, talking about why Indiana Jones had the hots for that severe Nazi woman even though she was a severe Nazi woman, when someone turns to you and asks if you have a blog. Cyperspace is the coolest.


Later that evening, we met Nate, Jenny, and another couple at a bar near Siem Reap’s central market for several rounds of Angkor beer.

Unfortunately, being woken up at 5:30 in the morning by roosters crowing and clawing under your bamboo hut (us), and a long day of exploring temples under the hot Cambodian sun (them) does not leave you feeling like your fun-loving, awesome self. Come midnight, the increasing number of yawns around our table made it clear that it was time to turn in for the night. Unfortunately, we were heading our separate ways the next day: Nate and Jenny were off to Vietnam and we were staying put in Siem Reap. Ben and I were both disappointed that our new best friends were leaving, as Nate and Jenny really did seem awesome. Fortunately, they live near a ski resort in Colorado, so even though I’m sure you only extended an invitation to visit to be polite, please do not be surprised when Ben and I come barging into your home next winter. Thanks!

We have also decided that we are going to model our lives on theirs: they own their own business and take time to travel the globe 3-4 months out of every year.

Our next day began too early. We had a lot of ground to cover and only one day to do it. Whereas most tourists spend at least three days exploring the giant complex of Angkor temples, we only had time for the one-day pass.

Angkor Wat is the pride and joy of the Cambodian people. It is pretty much their only claim to fame, and they cling to it desperately. An image of the temple is smack in the center of their national flag! One time, when a false rumor got around that a popular Thai soap star was claiming Angkor Wat belonged to Thailand, it sparked riots on the streets of Cambodia.

And having seen it, I can see why. These temples are amazing. Seriously, I’ve never seen anything like it: they look like they come straight out of a movie. In my opinion, they are the best ancient ruins we’ve seen on our trip. And we’ve seen a LOT of ruins.

The various temples are surprisingly intact. And ’cause this is Cambodia, where they really don’t care what you do once you fork over your $20 per day ticket fee, you can clamber up, in, and around the temples however and wherever you like!

I could bore you with the fascinating history of the Angkor temples, but I’ll refrain. Mostly because I refrained from learning any of it myself.

Instead I’ll give you a brief photo tour of our day exploring Angkor Wat.

This one’s the biggie. It’s the temple that’s actually named Angkor Wat.

The next most famous temple, Angkor Thom, popular for the giant faces on its towers.

Close up!

“Mountain temple.” Stairs at Angkor temples are less like stairs and more like ladders, with their vertical faces being about a foot long and their horizontal ones being about two inches wide. Very tricky, let me tell you.

Our favorite temple. It’s called Ta Prohm, but everyone just calls it “jungle temple” as the jungle has taken it over — giant trees have sprouted up on top of the temple, their roots snaking through the ruins. Lara Croft was filmed here.

Ok, so I like to climb in things.

Check out our Flickr page for more photos. I didn’t label them because there are hundreds of them and, well, all this blogging is taking major time away from swinging in my hammock.

NEXT: Back to Bangkok »



3 responses so far

3 Responses to “Cambodian Finale: Angkor What?”

  1. Jenny Nelsonon 23 Apr 2008 at 12:36 pm

    Hi guys!

    You are AWESOME yourselves! we were so happy to run into you, and hope the rest of your travels have gone smoothly, you are due home soon is that right? You are more than welcome here in Colorado whenever you feel the need. Let’s try to kind of coordinate our travel plans again some time.

    Thanks for the great reading material and the link to our website. Snazzy!

    Jenny and Nate :)

    yes we are still dorks checking your blog!!

  2. Jodieon 23 Apr 2008 at 2:24 pm

    Hmmm . . . I’ve been wanting to head out West for a ski vacation . . .

  3. Nomadic Matton 23 Apr 2008 at 3:00 pm

    That;s an awesome story and lovely pictures of Angkor Wat.

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