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Climbing Temples in Cambodia

Climbing Temples in Cambodia

… And I’m back in Saigon again, relaxing on a much-needed day off, after an absolutely wonderful trip to Cambodia. To be quite honest, I wasn’t expecting much from this excursion–I wanted to see the temples, take a few pictures, and call it a day. I don’t know what I was thinking. I clearly underestimated the country and its stunningly beautiful environment, striking ancient sites, and ridiculously sweet people. I had such an incredible experience: one that I know I will remember for a long, long time to come.

We left Saigon early Wednesday morning; I grabbed an ca phe sua da (iced coffee with milk) before we got on the bus and (of course) promptly fell asleep ten minutes into the ride. Talk about a caffeine headache. Anyway, six hours and a few passport stamps later, we arrived in Phnom Penh, the capital city of Cambodia. The streets alone reminded me so much of my trip to India two years ago–between the reddish dirt everywhere, the strange script on the restaurant and street signs (Khmer looks so complicated), and the hundreds of tuk-tuks lining the streets, I felt like I was back in Amritsar. It was more different from Vietnam than I had expected; I am so comfortable and adjusted to living in Saigon that it was strange to feel like a tourist again. This city was not exactly my cup of tea, but it was fun to explore and experience regardless. I tried all sorts of funky Cambodian foods–weird pancakes, exotic sauces, kaffir-lime sorbet, and tarantula legs (YES, THAT ACTUALLY HAPPENED).The restaurants we ate these local delicacies at were really fun too–one had a gorgeous pool right next to our table, and we obviously had to take a dip, fully clothed, after dinner! When in Cambodia, I guess. I definitely use that “When in …” excuse too much, but I’m not stopping anytime soon. #yolo

During our two days in Phnom Penh, we learned a ton about the Khmer Rouge and the Cambodian genocide that happened so recently … it was heartbreaking. We visited the S-21 Genocide Museum, an old high school that was basically used as a torture and killing factory during the late 1970s, and the Killing Fields Memorial, located right outside of the city. During our tours, I couldn’t help but compare what I was seeing to my visit to Auschwitz (located just outside of Krakow, Poland) a few years ago. My mom always taught me to find the good and beautiful things in humanity–but dear God, humans can do some really horrible and messed-up things. It’s even more awful to realize that these genocides take place everywhere, at any time: Eastern Europe, Rwanda, Cambodia … even what’s happening now in Iraq and Syria with ISIS. It’s difficult to process and cope with the emotions that come naturally as one walks through these places, yet it is SO important to bear witness to what occurred there. I left the city with a better-educated brain but also a very heavy heart.

Friday afternoon we embarked on a cute little Cambodian Airlines plane and flew to Siem Riep, a  rural tourist town located right next to the ancient city of Angkor, a complex which contains around 300 world-famous temples. We spent that night wandering the cute little downtown area, and did some serious shopping in the market (my friends are all going to be decked out in harem pants when I get home!). I had my first full-body massage in our hotel, a whopping $8 for an hour. Absolutely delightful. I also took a little dip in the rooftop pool–I had the entire place to myself. I felt so at peace with the world and so happy.

My goodness, all of these temple visits have got me feeling some kind of spiritual. All introspective revelations aside, our next day was simply amazing. We all woke up at 4:30 AM  (it was the WORST) and clambered into tuk-tuks bound for Angkor Wat, the largest temple in the ancient city. We hurried past the crowds and through the main gate; hiked the muddy, buggy field; and sat sweating in the balmy air, wondering what the heck we were doing at five o’clock in the morning in the middle of rural Cambodia. But then, the sun rose…and everything was simply perfect. Seeing the oh-so-familiar yellow ball of light float gracefully past the exotic, ancient towers was probably one of the most beautiful and memorable sights in my life thus far. I will never forget that view.

We spent the rest of the morning touring Angkor Wat (much stairs. such pictures. many tourists. wow sweat), followed by a ride to Angkor Thom, a nearby temple resembling a jungle gym with huge, smiling faces carved into each tower. It was super crowded, and by 10 AM we were all exhausted. Luckily, our tour guide got the hint from our fed-up facial expressions and took us back to the hotel, where we all took rewarding cat-naps and ate lunch. At 3:30 PM, we hopped back into our tuk-tuks and rode to my favorite temple of all–Ta Prohm. This moss-covered, tree-root-infested, jungle temple is eerily beautiful, and seems like it appeared right out of an Indiana Jones movie. In fact, certain places in this temple were used for a various scenes from Tomb Raider. So, so cool. I should’ve brought my little brother’s Disneyland Indiana Jones hat … it would’ve been perfect!! That evening, we watched the sunset from the highest point in the Angkor area. I couldn’t help but hum “Sunrise, Sunset” from Fiddler on the Roof to myself. Such an indescribable, absolutely incredible day.

The following Sunday morning, we all slept in (which was well-deserved after the long day before!). That afternoon, we toured a local village, silk farm, and went on a boat ride around a gorgeous lake. Everything was super fun and beautiful, but we were all exhausted … and to be perfectly honest, nothing we saw could compare to those temples from the day before. At 6 PM, we embarked on a late-night Vietnam Airlines flight and arrived back in Saigon. I got back to my room and dramatically collapsed into bed … international travel is just so exhausting and also I am the biggest spoiled brat you’ll ever meet. #lifeisgood

Anyway, we have about three days off and then we are off to Dalat, a small Vietnamese mountain town about six hours from here. We are traveling so much over the next month … what is school and homework again? I completely forgot. 🙂

Stay posted!!

angkor sunrise
angkor sunrise
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