Everyone looks at me funny when I say “bug spray”. Sorry. INSECT REPELLENT. And I won’t miss practically eating DEET with my breakfast rice.
Backpacking the tropics is one big camaraderie of “holy shit all my stuff smells terrible”
Asians don’t coat their food in soybean oil the way Americans do – I can’t read most ingredients on labels but generally haven’t had a problem with my food intolerance issues. Plus eating vegetarian here is incredibly easy AND delicious.
Water comes in small and large sizes, ~16 oz and 1.5 liters. The large usually costs less than 1 USD. I’ve probably spent over $20 on water already. And I’m still dehydrated.
Backpacking Southeast Asia is nothing like backpacking Europe. In Europe you always know where the bus or train station is, but here it seems that I pretty much turn up in any city and have no idea where I am. This was the case for Siem Reap, and after stepping off my bus, before I knew it I was not only in a new city but a tuk tuk driver at the “bus stop” got me to commit to his tour services for the following 36 hours. Being from the New York area it’s usually easy to turn down anything – we are incessantly bombarded with hard sells and it’s something we learn to ignore quickly. Needless to say I really surprised myself when I actually felt bad for the driver after he pulled out a map, started pointing at things and told me it would be $25. I don’t even remember how I finally agreed or what specifically made me unable to say no, but two hours after he originally dropped me off at my hostel he was ready and waiting again – off to Phnom Bakeng he drove me – the perfect hilltop place of all the area temples to watch the sun go down.
The following day my driver (he was named Robbie) was waiting for me at 8am. The sun was already scorchingly hot, so although I would have preferred to go riding bikes around the temples instead of riding in a cart, it was easy to feel how actually miserable it would have been and I was happy that Robbie (or Rabi or Robi or who knows) had hard sold me the previous day at the “bus stop”. I spent the next 6 hours temple-traipsing throughout Angkor Wat, Angkor Thom and the surrounding ruins, marveling both at the incredible architecture and how much I was sweating compared to the locals (sweat? They don’t.)
Some people claim they spend an entire week exploring the temples, but for me two days was enough. Some of the temples have stairs so steep it’s like climbing huge ladders – it’s really quite exhausting. Bruised and broken, I opted to spend the end of my day in Siem Reap in linen elephant-print pants sipping Cambodian drafts on the sandy hostel rooftop.
Fifty cents on a bottle of water, fifty cents for a man to give me a ride on his motorbike
Thursday was my only planned full day in Phnom Penh, so thinking I had much to cram in I left the dorms early and grabbed my own tuk tuk to Killing Fields. I hadn’t known anything about it before researching my trip to Cambodia, but I love a good history lesson so it seemed like the right way to go. WTF is Killing Fields? In one sentence: during the 1970’s around 17,000 people were executed here and buried in mass graves. Sounds like a bit of a downer way to spend the day for sure, but the audio tour was probably the only actual informative and touching one I’ve ever listened to. Pieces of bone and clothing still poke from the earth after heavy rains, and shattered skulls bear witness to the fact that many men, women, and children were bludgeoned to death for the sake of saving bullets. A beautiful white stupa serves as the center memorial to those executed here, containing a glass case with thousands of excavated skulls. It’s a sight.
Not totally knowing what I signed up for, my tuk tuk driver was supposed to take me to “S21”. Upon finding out it was the genocide museum I couldn’t fathom spending an entire day on the matter and instead I asked him to take me to Wat Phmom. Ask and you shall receive, my driver obliged and took me to the city’s highest point. Lonely Planet describes it best: “don’t get too excited, it’s a 27 meter high, tree covered bump” but it does have a stunning temple at the top and wandering gardens. I’ll take beautiful architecture over museums any day.
An hour here in the heat was enough – I went back to the hostel and bathed in Cambodian drafts. At a dollar a piece it’s hard to not choose these beers over water most times. I spent the rest of the evening doing the ‘hostel mingle’ at the rooftop bar with the strangest playlist where recording artists such as Daft Punk, Carly Rae Jepsen, and Blackstreet found themselves side by side. With a 7am call time for the bus to Siem Reap the next day I didn’t make it a late night, I walked to Top Banana for one nightcap (a water) and then to the 24-7 mart for bus snacks, curling up in my bed snuggling rice cakes all before 1am.