Our alarms went off bright and early, well before dawn so that we would have enough time to get over to Angkor Wat and watch the sun rise over the ancient Khmer temples. I've never been a morning person, and long ago gave up on the prospect of ever being one. Sleep is the only inviting activity in the morning and when I hear the alarm I always have to question if it's really worth getting out of bed. Usually the answer is no. As the alarm went off I felt that same cringe of annoyance over being woken up until I remembered where we were. Cambodia.

So what's the deal with these temples that were cool enough to drag me out of bed at five in the morning? Have you ever even heard of Angkor Wat? I know I never had before Semester at Sea, but after seeing them I have to wonder why they aren't up there with the great pyramids of Egypt and Mayan ruins such as Chichen Itza in Mexico as far as world wonders that everyone knows or at least has heard of.

Angkor Wat was originally built as a Hindu temple, but was later converted to one of Buddhism, and is the largest religious monument in the world. The temple was built by the Khmer King Suryavarman II in the early 12th century in what is now Angkor, at the time it was the capital of the Khmer Empire. It would be his state temple and eventual mausoleum. Breaking from tradition, the temple was dedicated to Vishnu, rather then to Shaiva. To this day the temple remains a significant religious center and has become a symbol of Cambodia. (That information brought to you by Wikipedia.)

We stumbled out of bed and downstairs where our tuk tuk driver proudly introduced himself as Tomy, Tomy Tuk Tuk, and then we bounced along the streets of Siem Reap to the outskirts of the city and into the jungle where the temple lay. We had to buy an entrance pass that would allow us to walk around all of the temples, complete with our pretty 5am sleepy faces printed grainily onto stock paper. Tomy dropped us off at the temple entrance and we started walking, following a giant crowd of people silently marching into the darkness, eager with anticipation for what the break of dawn would reveal around us.

Unlike most Khmer temples, Angkor Wat is oriented to the west, rather then to the east. It is unknown why, but because of this odd feature, it is the perfect foreground to watch the sun rise.

We followed the crowd across the impressive moat, unsure how far we were supposed to be venturing into the depths of the temple. The crowd brought us through the outer wall and onto vast open grounds which were still too masked in darkness to be able to distinguish anything. The crowd accumulated at the bank of a pond and finally dawn broke, revealing Angkor Wat in all her glory.

I probably don't need to tell you what a magical moment that was; that I will leave to your imaginations.

As the sun rose we began to explore the grounds and various galleries that made up the central area of the temple. Angkor Wat is constantly being restored and conserved so unlike other significant structures in the world, the temples are an open playground to walk through and explore. 

There were lots of little local kids running and screaming about and I couldn't help but be a little jealous over the fact that this magnificent piece of history was their playground. All I got growing up was the local swimming pool. This place would have rocked as a little kid.

We walked through one of the main galleries where a man dressed in his sunday best was passing out incense. We each took one and were led to a shrine for Buddha and were told to bow three times, seven times in a row. We each took a moment to meditate and let the wonder of this place sink in before we opened our eyes to find the man holding out a donation tray. 
       "Ok you give $5 each." 
There were already a couple of crisp ten dollar bills laid on the tray, likely just for show. The magic of the moment suddenly burst like a bubble. Of course this was just another scam for money. Summer put down a five dollar bill and Eric and I each gave the guy 1000 riel (the equivalent of $0.25). Thank goodness for worthless money. 

Before too long our stomaches began to rumble and we realized we would need breakfast before walking any farther. So we left the central area and walked across the vast grounds where we saw a couple of horses walking around, back through the outer walls and across the massive moat. We found the area where hundreds of tuk tuks were parked and waiting, and began to ask the nearest ones for Tomy Tuk Tuk. We eventually found him and asked if we could go back to the hostel where we would be able to get a free breakfast. He said he would have to charge us extra or we could go to one of the little restaurants set up under a tent there on the outskirts of the temple. We agreed and he brought us to the first tent which was just beginning to open. We sat down and looked at the menu, none of which was recognizable. I'm all about trying the local cuisine and was dying to do so, but maybe not so early in the morning. Breakfast is not a meal you mess with. We told Tomy we wanted to eat someplace else and he took us along to the next tent, which had a small selection of Western breakfasts, all grossly overpriced. I ordered a cheese omelet with toast and what arrived was an omelet folded into a square with a piece of sliced, processed cheese over the top, and a piece of iceberg lettuce on the side as garnish. Oh ya. After that delectable treat we piled back into the tuk tuk and continued on our journey. 

The next temple was Angkor Thom, one I knew nothing about but was introduced to us by Tomy as the Temple of 54 Faces. As we approached the gate, figures lined either side of the road displaying an impressive array of facial expressions. 

This temple ended up being my favorite. Something about all those faces staring you down, their expressions carved in stone to last an eternity. How many generations of people milling about this place had those faces watched, never changing their expressions? The entire place felt alive with mystery.


As we reached a point of exhaustion and were about to go find Tomy Tuk Tuk again, an Asian man with an impressive camera began eagerly waving us over. The rest of his family was posing with the temples in the background, and I instinctively reached for the guy's camera, thinking he wanted to be in the picture. He shook his head 'no' though and ushered the three of us toward the rest of his family. He wanted a picture of his family with the crazy white tourists. It was after that awkward moment that I realized the hundreds and hundreds of tourists exploring these grounds were all Asians. We were the only white people. How odd that Thailand is swarming with backpackers from all over America and Europe and Australia, and one country over our skin color suddenly gave us celebrity status. 

The third and last temple that Tomy Tuk Tuk brought us to was Ta Prohm, the location where Tomb Raider was filmed. Eric had been talking about Tomb Raider nonstop since we'd left Koh Tao and the whole time I had just thought he liked the movie a lot. Turns out it was actually filmed in Cambodia. This temple had been mostly left in the condition it was found in, largely because there are old trees growing out of the tops of the buildings. 

Of course at one point we had to assume Tomb Raider poses (whatever that means, I haven’t actually seen the movie) and as we did so a cheer arose from the crowd of Asians waiting to take the exact same picture. I guess seeing white people pose like people from Hollywood movies is pretty entertaining to Asians. 

By noon we were all templed out. We still needed to book our trip home for the following day and so asked Tomy Tuk Tuk if he would kindly stop at a booking office on our way home. There was no direct passage from Siem Reap to Koh Tao available, so we only booked as far as Bangkok and decided we could figure out the rest of the way home once across the border.

We also found some monkeys sitting along the side of the road and stopped to play. Summer pulled out a package of cookies and gingerly offered one to the nearest monkey, who happily hopped into the tuk tuk and planted itself on the seat next to summer and promptly stole the entire package. A second much larger monkey with endless rolls of skin falling around her body, followed into the tuk tuk and stole the pack of cookies. She proceeded to devour them all. I carefully tried to grab the trash left over but she hissed at me and picked up the package and licked the crumbs off the inside. Then ran off.

Back at the room we decided to walk around and find something for lunch. I did a quick google search of local Cambodian dishes not to miss and we set out in the scorching sun to find food. Nearly every place we found advertising local Khmer cuisine was closed. As we thought about it, there had been religious services going on at all three of the temples we had visited, and many of the locals were out and about with their families and dressed in long sleeved white button down shirts and either pants or long skirts. It must be some sort of holiday. We walked by a Japanese restaurant that was open and I quickly dismissed it. Food plays too large a role in my travel enjoyment to waste what could be my only opportunity to ever try Cambodian food. If you ever entertain the idea of traveling with me, know that there will be a lot of time invested in trying the local food. I'm beginning to realize not everyone shares my enthusiasm, so I'll just throw the disclaimer out there.

We finally found a little local place that was open. We were the only ones there aside from our server and a very friendly lady who I would guess owned the place. We asked her about all the shops being closed and she confirmed our suspicion that it was a holiday.

I ordered something called amok, which is filleted white fish and coconut milk and curry spices all wrapped in a banana leaf and steamed until it achieves a mousse-like texture. It was delicious.

After lunch, Summer went back to the room to lay by the pool and Eric and I went on a mission to find alcohol. We finally found a little convenience store that was open and bought some Whiskey, sprite, and mango juice. Then we went on a mission to find ice. The only lady who had any was selling it by the block, so we motioned to her how big of a brick we wanted and proceeded to watch her pull out a butcher's knife and hack the ice into manageable chunks. The price was something silly like 500 riel. Back in the room we turned the bathroom sink into an ice bucket and mixed together some drinks to bring down to the pool.

We played cards until Summer woke up from her snooze and then began to make games out of assembling the toy train I had bought at 7-Eleven. We began by timing each other to see who could assemble it the quickest, which drew the attention of Tomy Tuk Tuk who was hanging out just outside the hostel. We quickly waved him over and offered him a drink and a turn at assembling the train. He declined the drink but we talked him into having a go with the train. I'd probably be curious too if I saw a bunch of twenty somethings having as much fun with a children's toy as we were. Then we decided to take turns holding our breath and seeing who could assemble the most pieces together underwater on a single breath. We must've looked completely crazy holding each others heads underwater in the corner of the pool. The things you find entertaining as a scuba diver.

We made friends with a guy who was hanging out by himself at the other side of the pool and invited him to come to Pub Street with us. We agreed to meet up half an hour later and then head out to see what the infamous Pub Street was all about.

Finding Pub Street was easy. Follow the white people. It would seem that every country in this area of the world has an infamous street for tourists to go get wasted. My initial reaction to Pub Street was twinged with a freckle of sadness . Something about being in this deeply religious country and having seen the ancient temples, especially on a holiday where everyone was dressed respectfully in long sleeves, and then turning up on this street where white people were on a mission to get drunk like it was their last chance, just seemed a little disrespectful. A couple drinks later though and all that was gone. There's really no good reason to turn down a good party when it's right there in front of you.

We spent the first hours of the night at Angkor What? Bar, a place made of cement walls covered in neon graffiti. Summer made lots of new friends by offering blow jobs, a shot consisting of Bailey's, Kahlua, and whipped cream.

Several hours, two buckets, and a round of tequila shots later and we lost Eric.

The party eventually moved across the street to Temple Bar, a place that had a serious rave vibe. By the early hours of the morning the party was out in the middle of the street, with everyone dancing to some combination of the music being blasted through the speakers of both bars on either side.

Eventually Summer and I made our way home, by which point we had been up for about 24 hours. That's how you do Cambodia in a day.


The trip home was fairly uneventful and happened pretty much the exact reverse as the trip there had. We awoke at 7 in the morning to catch what we thought would be a tuk tuk bringing us to our bus, but it turned out they had brought the entire bus to our hostel to pick us up. We made it to the border around noon, exited Cambodia without too much excitement. There were some beggar children waiting outside the exit line and I sadly had to shake my head at all their little outstretched hands. Give something to one of them and suddenly you will be surrounded by more then you can give to. One little boy pointed at my nearly empty water bottle though so I handed to him and he ran off like he had struck gold.

The line to enter Thailand was long and tedious. There have been many stories about expats' experiences trying to get back into the country on their tourist visas. The government is really cracking down on that sort of thing here so people are having to show that they have at least 20,000 baht cash at the border, show that they have a flight out of the country booked, show proof of a place to stay, and on and on and on. I should be okay since I have a triple entry visa, but at the same time all these stories contradict which rules are being enforced and what we are and aren't allowed to do. This would be my third entry into Thailand so my passport already had a few in and out stamps and various visa extensions. I studied the officials at the five different passport gates and decided that the ugly guy at gate two and the elderly gentleman tapping his pen to get people through gate five as quickly as possible were my two best bets. I would wait for one of them. Gate five ended up being the lucky winner the the man ushered me forward with an exclamation of "Very nice, very nice. Oh visa from Denver, very nice." He gave me my stamps and I was through.

We had another minivan transport us from the border back to Bangkok, this time completely full. At one of the gas stops we made along the way there were several street food vendors set up and I happily went and explored what they had to offer. For 50 baht I got a fresh coconut, a skewer of grilled squid, and some little sweet dumpling things with peanut butter on the inside and sticky rice on the outside. They came with some teeny tiny chilies no longer then a fingernail which added a little extra kick.

We arrived in Bangkok at 7pm and walked into the first booking office we found. They told us that we could catch the 8pm Lomprayah bus/ferry combo back to Koh Tao. What perfect timing. We had just enough time to go find food and restock on Valium. Even though Valium is available over the counter in most of Thailand, apparently it's not available in Bangkok. We went to three different pharmacies who all turned us down. By the third one we asked if they had anything else for sleep and the lady pulled out a box that said "Tranquilizer with antihistamines." That ought to do the trick.

What a strange strange drug. On the bus I promptly passed out but had no idea for quite some time that I was asleep, because in my dreams I was still awake and doing whatever I would have been doing on the bus had I been awake. The ride did fly by in no time at all though.


We arrived in Chumphon early early in the morning. I slept at the ferry station for however long we waited there for our ferry to leave. And then passed out again on the ferry. When we arrived back on Koh Tao the three of us went and had some breakfast and then parted ways, after which I slept through the rest of the afternoon. That's the last time I ask a pharmacy in Thailand for something to sleep.