I don’t remember how I ended up in Siem Reap in the first place. It wasn’t in the plan and I don’t remember it ever being on ‘the list’. But here I was, in the middle of the jungle, in the middle of the temples, drinking it all in. Cambodia really took me by surprise. I didn’t quite expect the mystique of it all, the adventure feeling of the jungle, the quiet splendor of lost temples from forgotten times. Nor did I expect the simple kindness of the people, the dignified politeness, the sincere sparkles.
Now, it’s already been established that I am not a touristy person, and that a thousand people in my face is closer to my vision of hell than anything else. So it won’t come as a surprise that Angkor Wat was not my favorite part of the trip.
What I really loved and appreciated, what really spoke to my soul at Angkor was the quiet ruin of it all. The silence of the jungle gaining on what humans had once conquered. The mystic of the trees growing on top of walls and monkeys sleeping where monks once lived. I didn’t feel any of that at Angkor Wat. Thousands of tourists with loud clothes and selfie sticks prevented any kind of feelings beside annoyance. And the temple in itself was one of the more “clean” and well preserved one. No trees there, no jungle wining back its turf. It was old stones and I didn’t see anything special in it. But temples like Ta Prohm really took my breath away. Torturous trees growing through walls, on top of roofs, destroying it all oh so quietly and slowly. Nature takes its time but will always conquered what was hers. And then there were places with more trees than walls, completely conquered by the jungle, very remote, my favorites. You just get a special feeling. Being somewhere unique.
I liked all of the smaller, less impressive temples, where sometimes I was by myself. You just hear the ruffle of the leaves and the creatures moving out of sight. You hear your footsteps in the sounds of the jungle. You climb inside the temple, or the walls, through the windows and you feel quite alone in the world, discovering something all by yourself, with nothing but your tiny backpack and water, your military pants sticking to your skin, sweat dripping down your back, the air hot and moist around you. Delicious adventure and quiet contemplation. I remember sitting in the middle of what used to be a room, completely broken down by the trees, with absolutely no one around and thinking: how can I stop? How can I choose to go home and stay there. And not see all of this. Not explore more.
Now, the second thing I think about when remembering Siem Riep is my tuk tuk driver. The only way to get around the temples was to hire one. He would drop you at the entrance, you would walk around, do your thing, and he would meet you at the exit, ready to take you to the next temple.
My tuk tuk driver was AWESOME. He was so cute and adorable, so happy to pick me up every morning at my hostel. The tuk tuk drivers all had hammocks in their tuk tuk and they would all takes naps while their client were inside the temples. My one big dread was to find him sleeping and having to wake him up … But it never happened. He was always ready right when I came out, driving up to me and waving “Mary, Mary !”. I loved him for it, I didn’t have my glasses and I would have been lost otherwise. He told me that he liked that I took so much time for each temple, people usually went in and out. And on the last day when all the temples were visited, we sat for a while and he told me about his life and his family and his two jobs. He was really sweet, my favorite person there.
Mary is a travel enthusiast and runs her own blog: Our Thousand Lives. When she’s not drinking whiskey and admiring sharks, she’s on an adventure somewhere around the world! Make sure to follow her journey over on her Instagram account @ourthousandlives