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Sun set at the temple

December 23, 2014

The flight from Phnom Penh to Siem Reap is only 30 minutes and was filled with tourists.  I had wanted to travel by bus, the way Cambodians do and to see the countryside as I went, but the roads here are very bad and I was warned that it could be an 8 hour drive or longer.  I’m sorry I couldn’t do that, but with such a short visit, choices had to be made, alas.

It is a unique pleasure to get out of an airport, especially a chaotic third world one, to find a crowd of men holding signs in various languages looking for their guests, while others cry “taxi, lady?.” It get my blood pumping in anticipation.  The best moment, of course is to find the man (it’s always a man, or a boy, but never a woman) holding the sign with my name on it.  “YOU!” I pointed at him! “That’s me!”  He loaded my pack into his tuk tuk and off we went.  Siem Reap is one of my favorite types of towns.  What was once a small community turned into a bustling international metropolis of tourists on their way for an adventure.  Pokhara in Nepal as you head up Annapurna, Cusco in Peru as you set off to Machu Picchu, Ouarzazate in Morocco – I love them all! So of course, I love this town.

Everywhere were Santas, and trees, and holiday lights, though not a menorah to be found.  Hotels and restaurants advertised holiday special dinners.  We passed the Bug Cafe which offered insect tapas, and the Night Market, which would surely merit a visit, and arrived at the Golden Butterfly Villa, a lovely guesthouse at the end of a narrow dirt alleyway.

I was treated to a limeade drink which was a refreshing as anything I’ve ever consumed and some coconut sticky rice.  The concierge, a very soft spoken young woman, walked me through the options of tours the hotel could arrange for me.  I pointed to one and said I’d like to do that.  She hesitated and said “I cannot recommend you do that tour.  there are many poor people there.  This one is nicer” and she pointed out another option.  In the end I opted for a temple / river combination for christmas eve and Angkor Wat for sunrise on Christmas day.  There was a sunset option at Phnom Bakheng but I would have to leave right away.  I gobbled the rice, through my bags in my room and jumped back into the tuk tuk, to the surprise of everyone who thought a massage was the option I’d choose.  My driver, the same man who picked me up at the airport and who’s name I need to learn as he’ll be my driver for the duration, spun me through town and by the gates of Angkor Wat.  “Do you want to see sunset here?” he asked.  “Where is better?” “Phnom Bakheng, but you must hike.”     Oy – always I end up hiking! But in for a penny and all that.  He left me at the bottom of a trail and pointed upwards.  “I’ll be here when you are done” he said pointing towards a sea of tuk tuks, some in which the drivers had hastened hammocks as they waited for their fares.  I groaned and headed up, but the 15 minute trail was quite easy with frequent vistas to see the beautiful landscape and slowly setting sun.  So many in fact that I didn’t quite realize I needed to go on. When I did, I practically ran up the hill to reach the temple before the sun went down.  It emerged from the mountain – tall stone spires and crumbling walls. I climbed to the top and stood with the silent crowd as the sun majestically lowered beneath the horizon.  Within seconds of it’s setting, guards walked through the group yelling “closed! temple is closed now.” and we all headed down the dirt path. The twilight and rocky trail left me a bit nervous I would fall (I mean, of course I would, right?) but I did not.  I sang hiking songs in my head and thought of the many hours walking through the woods in twilight in New Hampshire. And I felt so at peace.

I was less at peace as the mad rush to tuk tuks began at the bottom of the trail.  I scanned through the darkness for my driver, running through what I could remember – striped shirt, beatles mop top hair cut… but he found me easily and we headed back through the darkness.  Small tents of vendors lined the way, their wares all looking identical.  Back at the hotel, I checked email to see if Shari, my camp friend who’d posted on Facebook that she’d also be in Siem Reap, had emailed.  She suggested dinner the next day, so I sat down to contemplate a visit to the night market.  Realizing that jet lag had caught me, I had a curry and Angkor beer in the hotel and was asleep by 8pm.

I woke at about 4 am feeling refreshed.  Hopefully that will last me one more day as I have a 4 am visit to Angkor Wat tomorrow, but for now I’m good.

I have a cup of sweet milking coffee in front of me and am about to head out for the day.

My christmas eve.

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