Cambodia: Part Two Angkor Wat

3:40 in the morning and my alarm cuts short the end of my dream; but I don’t mind because I’m about to go experience a real life dream come true!   We’re both a little groggy from lack of sleep and we have a quick deadline that doesn’t leave us much time to get ready – no time even for coffee or breakfast! – but I don’t care at all because nothing can dampen my enthusiasm for getting out to watch the sun rise over the ancient temples of Angkor Wat.  I’m buzzing with a giddy energy, and already envisioning all the epic photos I’ll be able to take.  
The drive from our hotel in Siem Reap to Angkor Wat was about half an hour, and some time during those thirtyish minutes  it started to rain.  The guide made a comment about how nice it was for us to be here in the rainy season, as it meant there would still be water in the ponds. “More much beautiful this way.”    Within three steps of exiting the van the rain intensified and all of us travellers made the instinctual decision to buy the plastic rain ponchos being offered us.  We finally enter the complex and try to get ourselves set up in the best spots for the sunrise photos, mostly by following the crowd of other ponchos and umbrellas.  Apparently we had about 25 minutes before the big moment.  But the rain kept pouring and it was starting to become obvious that we wouldn’t see a bright sunrise through all the rain and clouds.  I had left my umbrella in the room that morning, and the worst part was that I hadn’t forgotten it, I deliberately took it out because I didn’t want to be bothered carrying it all day; that fact added to my mood steadily souring as I tried to shelter my camera with a plastic bag.  Standing in the rain and mud I snapped a few photos but it wasn’t long before I was ready to give up.  Cliche as it is, I kept thinking “man, when it rains it pours!” because my list of little grievances was suddenly flooded.  No Sunrise. No golden photos. Ruining my camera in the rain.  Water dripping down my neck, mud coating my sandals and toes. No coffee or breakfast. Not enough sleep.    I finally bought another umbrella from a vendor because at least that could protect my camera, and didn’t even care that I paid his first price instead of barganing down to a more reasonable price.

Mood of the morning
Angkor Wat in the rain

Our tour group of seven made the unanimous decision to return to our hotel for breakfast in the hopes that the rain would stop during that time, and I’m sooo glad we did.  That was the reset I needed, and by the time we returned I was on my way back to being able to enjoy it all.  The rain did stop, sun came out again, and we were able to explore the three main temple ruins like we had originally planned – Angkor WatAngkor Thom, and Ta Prohm

Throughout the centuries in Cambodia’s history the religion practiced here changed between Hindu and Buddhism depending on who was in power.  It’s left behind an amazing mix of carvings depicting Vishnu and Rama next to statues of Buddha, both hemmed in together by the surrounding dense jungle.  

Hindu and Buddhist
Buddhist monk visiting the temple
Amazing ancient ruins
Monkeys!
Elephants!
The Tomb Raider scene
Ta Prohm temple ruins

The good looking group

Angkot Wat is unlike anything else I’ve ever seen, and exploring through the complex is still a complete dream come true.   If you ever get the chance to go there yourself don’t pass it up – but just be open to having a different experience than what you may have pictured.   I didn’t get the stunning sunrise photo like   seemingly the rest of the Travel Bloggers were able to but in the end I don’t even miss it.  

Better than expected Bangkok

When was the last time an experience was a pleasant surprise for you?  I’m curious about that now as I sit and process my past two days in Bangkok, pleasantly surprised at just how much I’ve enjoyed it here.  Don’t get me wrong, I expected to like it – by nature I tend to go through life with an “everything is awesome!” outlook, but I had also entered Thailand’s main city with the preconceived opinion that it was a busy smoggy city much like any other.  Everyone always says to get out of the city as fast as you can, and tour around the countryside instead.  At the moment I tend to disagree, because had I left immediately I would have missed out on being wowed by the kindness of its citizens. 

Thailand is in official mourning after their King died.  I’m not sure what it would be like here during a regular day, but what I witnessed over and over again was the unique camaraderie that comes from a united population.  All along the crowded sidewalks people would be stationed to give out free bottled water, or meals, snacks, and photos of the king. Thousands of them.  And often an extra effort would be made to let us know we were also welcome to take what was being offered.  Beyond that, there were several times both days when someone passing by would stop to point us in the right direction, translate for us, or even lead us for 10 minutes down the winding roads to our destination. 

Finding commonalities in adoration
Memorials set up all over the city
Hundreds of thousands paying their respects

Many of the usual tourist highlights in the city are closed or adjusted this week, but the ones we did see were stunning.  

We started at Wat Pho, the temple complex of the Reclining Buddha.  

Wat Pho
At Wat Pho (shared photo credit with Tricia)
Wat Pho images of the reclining Buddha
Reclining Buddha’s face
Reclining Buddha’s toes
Wat Pho
Guarding the entrance at Wat Pho
 

As per usual during my travels, much of the day was spent walking.  I love seeing a city by foot and thankfully Tricia’s a good sport about that – we just need to make pit stops for food all the time and street vendors are the perfect solution!  

I tried the octopus

Between all the eating and temple touring we found time to shop.  Bangkok has everything you could possibly want, and more tourist-trap knickknacks than you can imagine so it’s easy to get lost in the markets.  Figuratively and literally.   The good thing about backpacking is how reluctant I am to buy things I don’t really need, since I know it just means I’ll have to huff it around for the next 20 days.  I was feeling quite proud of my shopping self control, until I realized it’s really only the instant reward of lighter bags with the delayed gratification of knowing I can buy it all when I’m back here before my flight home.  One for the win! 

While wandering the shops along Khao San Road, happily hypnotized by all the sensory onslaught around us, we talked ourselves into trying a fish pedicure.  Seemed like a fun way to cap off a day of new experiences.   Aaaaand, we hated it.  Yes, our feet were soft after the little fish ate away all the dead skin but I can achieve the same with a pumice stone and way less ick factor.  I was suddenly reminded of my biggest childhood fear in the summers at the lake: “What if fish come and bite my toes?”

Barely keeping it together (Photos by Tricia)

Early morning of Day Three has us meeting up with our tour group and setting off to Cambodia.    But before we go, here are a couple more shots from Bangkok.

Quiet riverside lounging
Water taxi
Temple

En route 

One of my favourite ways to pass the time is to people watch, especially when cultural differences are at play.  Thankfully, 25 hours of travelling have given me ample opportunity to sit back and observe!  My route took me from Calgary to Vancouver where I met up with Tricia (more on that later!) to Beijing, and finally to Bangkok.  During the 10.5 hour flight across the Pacific I was reminded again that the North American concept of personal space is something I’ll need to say goodbye to for the next three weeks.  I had a window seat and when I indicated to my two seat mates that I needed to get up, they both smiled at me, collected some of their items, and leaned back in their seats.  It took me a moment to realize they expected me to climb over them, since I was expecting them to stand up and move to the aisle to let me pass.  And so I did my best to delicately walk past/over these two strangers without stepping on their feet or touching their legs or having too much of my body in their faces.  No easy feat in economy class.  I was trying to decide which way is more appropriate – should I have faced away from them or toward them as I clambered across their laps??Apparently they were unfazed because when I returned to my seat we repeated the whole hoopla again in reverse.

My friend Tricia was with me, but we weren’t able to get seats together on the flight due to an error I made earlier.  Too bad… I had anticipated using those hours to get her opinion on the various details of my messy life!  Instead I watched a Chinese movie by reading the subtitles and noticed throughout the film that the characters showed affection by teasing each other.  Maybe we’re not that different after all…

Are you wondering what error I would have made to keep us from sitting together?  For a self-proclaimed “travel expert” I sure pulled a boneheaded move; one that almost cost her missing the flight!!  Here’s the scenario that I’m super embarrassed to admit.  If you remember a couple weeks ago, I had both of our passports after bringing them to Ottawa in order to get our entry visas for Vietnam.  The plan was for me to make a trip up to visit her before our departure and I could bring her passport, but due to some recent chaos at home I ran out of time for that.  So, I told her she could just use her drivers license to fly from Edmonton to Vancouver, where I meet her, then I’d hand her her passport for our international flights.   Yeah… that was really bad advice.  She was able to check in for the domestic flight using other ID, but was not allowed to be checked through the connecting flights, meaning her her luggage needed to be picked up at the baggage claim after landing in Vancouver then hurried over to check in for the next flights, all while still making making it past the security line ups and back to the gate in time for boarding.  There was only an hour for all this to happen, and while she was running around dealing with it I spent the whole time worrying and kicking myself for not considering a potential negative outcome prior.   Thankfully, Tricia was able to charm the right people into helping her, and she arrived at the gate with minutes to spare!  But because she was the last person to check in for the flight we couldn’t get seats together.   But as she said after we were both onboard “we made it!  If this is the worst hiccup we face on the trip we’ll be in great shape!” 

Next post from Bangkok Thailand! 

BFFs arrived in Bangkok

Not much personal space