We had a slow and lazy start to the morning, because you don’t always need to wake up at the crack of dawn while travelling. The rustic orange walls, our beloved air con, massive wooden windows allowing the sunshine to filter through, white sheets, yoga mats squeezed into whatever spaces we could find.. all these simple details had me mesmerized, and moving and feeling as though I were in a dream. Many a moments (not only in Cambodia, but throughout my stay in Asia) stopped me dead in my tracks to contemplate whether I had truly woken up or if I was still in a sleep-induced fantasy.
We eventually dragged ourselves out for lunch at a little pop-up restaurant in front of a Mini Mart. Unfortunately, this particular spot didn’t serve the greatest food and gave me stomach cramps for the rest of the day — not fun, but it was cheap. This was tremendously important for a couple of budget South Africans.
After lunch we took a site-seeing stroll (because why taxi when you can walk?) to the National Museum. I’ve always been a sucker for museums and this one did not disappoint. There was a room stacked from floor to ceiling with statues of Buddha. We learned about Hinduism and Buddhism and the past Kings of Cambodia. We watched a documentary on Hindu gods. We marveled at statues. We were planning on going back to Angkor Wat the next day and we finally had a bit more of a background on the place. I was excited to look for carvings on the temples and actually know what they represented. After the museum we took a slow walk back, exploring side streets and the market stalls along the way.
For dinner we decided to treat ourselves to some pizza. There was this fella that had a pizza oven on the side of the road with a few tiny chairs and tables next to it. A small Margarita pizza set me back $3. Jeepers creepers, it was worth every cent! Not only was the food delicious, but the vibe was incredible. Picture this: sitting on a tiny plastic chair made for toddlers, on the side of a massive chaotic round-about, while your dinner is being prepared by laughing humans. Every dinner should be like that.
The next morning we woke up before the sun, because sometimes you absolutely do have to wake up at the crack of dawn while travelling. We were on our bicycles by 6am. Destination: Angkor Wat. I was extremely nervous to cycle on the roads (can I get an amen if you’ve experienced the magnificent mayhem of Asian roads). Luckily they weren’t as bad as I had expected. About half way to Angkor Wat we stopped on the side of the road for breakfast. The sun was coming up around this time and everything just looked dew-kissed, shiningly, looking-at-the-world-through-new-eyes beautiful.
It took us about 40 minutes to cycle from our hotel to Angkor Wat, and what a wonderful 40 minutes it was. There’s something about riding a bicycle in a foreign place, being one with the flow of this other world, that makes you feel free and powerful and happy to your core. We cycled and explored temples, cycled and explored temples, until early afternoon. And then I was done for the day. Temple fatigue is a thing. Physical exhaustion is too. Cycling in the heat takes it out of you! We bought ourselves a banana and mango smoothie and then headed back to town. We stopped at our little spot – the Red Angkor – for a celebratory draught and a lunch of delicious mixed veggies and chicken.
Saturday was a lazy day. It was too hot for it to be anything else. We attempted to walk around and immediately started sweating buckets. Yep, the air con won on this day.
We made up for our heat-induced laziness by cycling around the town the following day. It was intense — I was petrified the entire time! These weren’t the quieter back roads we had cycled before. These were chaotic, death-defying, every man, tuk-tuk, and bus driver for themselves, main city roads. All of my global warrior, girl-power drained out of me. Poor Jason had to put up with a terrified mess of a girlfriend.
We wanted to explore the local markets, which are very, very different to the tourist ones. It turned out that, even after vast exploration of Asian market places up until this point, we were not quite prepared for the sights, smells and crowds of this local Cambodian market. It was massive, mostly indoors, and was packed to the roof with everything you could ever imagine. This included animal heads, sitting on the floor, flies buzzing around them, blood being washed away with dirty water. Nothing we haven’t seen before, living in South Africa. But it wasn’t the sights that were getting to us – it was the smell. I am a little bit ashamed to admit that we left very quickly.
The next morning we were up before dawn and planned on getting to Angkor Wat in time to watch the sun rise. Things didn’t entirely go as planned. Little did we know at the time that this would become a running theme for the day…