Three Days, Seven Temples, One Cambodia

Ta Prohm Temple
As a crazed Survivor fan, I have a weird and slightly improbable goal of visiting every remote location the castaways have ever been "stranded." I know I most likely won't make it to all of them, especially since the show is currently in its 36th season, but a girl can dream. After all, I was able to check one location off during my vacation: Siem Reap, Cambodia.

Sure, I didn't get to hear Jeff Probst yell, "Come on in, guys!" However, I did visit seven incredible temples over the course of three days with my awesome tuk-tuk driver and guide-in-training, Mr. Ponlouk.

I love ancient history, and even though I've spent most of my time studying the material culture of western civilizations, my time exploring its eastern counterparts has been mesmerizing.

When I first arrived in Siem Reap after a nonstop flight from Phuket, I was tired and sad about not having my sister with me anymore. I knew I had enough time to see everything I wanted, so I decided to make it a chill day and stayed in my lovely hotel for the rest of the day. I watched mindless movies, ate room service, swam in the pool, and took two long showers.

Angkor Wat
The next day, I woke up fresh and ready to see as much ancient architecture as I could. I spent a good ten minutes trying to find an appropriate outfit - something that covers my shoulders and cleavage, and pants/skirts that go below my knees. An "inappropriate" outfit, as deemed by the temple guards, means you can enter the temples. This would normally be fine by me were it not for the 1743075 degree Cambodian heat. However, I acquiesced (and sweated profusely for the next two, appropriately dressed, days).

"Good morning!" Mr. Ponlouk greeted me in his mumbled Australian accent. He's of the Khmer people, but he learned English from his Australian brother-in-law, so his accent and pronunciation became entertainment all on its own.

"Good morning!" I replied, excited to begin my journey around Siem Reap. "Where are we starting today?"

Then we were off. On day one of tomb raiding, I explored Pre Rup, Banteay Srei, the Cambodia Landmine Museum, Banteay Samre, and Ta Prohm. The day was hot, but beautiful.

Pre Rup
I climbed narrow, rocky stairs to get to the top of Pre Rup, my favorite place of the morning, and then hiked into the jungle to visit Banteay Srei. The landmine museum was a quick, sobering stop, reminding me of the dark history of the country I was bouncing around. Honestly, I knew nothing about landmines in Cambodia until 12:47 p.m. that day.

After some heavy afternoon reading, I met an adorable temple cat at Banteay Samre who lifted my spirits as I toured the large complex. After a surprisingly western and regrettably late lunch in the middle of the jungle, I finished my day at my favorite place of the afternoon: Ta Prohm, the Tomb Raider Temple.

The trees, the hallways, the entangled vines - everything about Ta Prohm screams "lost in time." I didn't want to leave, and had Ponlouk not been waiting at the entrance in the tuk tuk, I might have tried to sneak and stay the night just to hear what the monkeys and cicadas get up to after dark.

The Landmine Museum
After a long, hot, incredible day, I happily jumped out of my rickety ride and into the hotel pool to relax. Since there weren't many guests when I stayed, I had the pool to myself for over an hour before I decided it was dinner and sleeping time. After all, I had a sunrise appointment with Angkor Wat.

The next morning, I woke up before the sun. I wanted to sleep for longer, but I wanted to see sunrise at the most famous temple in Cambodia more.

Ponlouk was waiting for me bright and early at 6 a.m. "Good morning, baby!" he exclaimed as we ran toward each other and hugged. To say we became fast friends would be an understatement.

We got street food for breakfast, bland noodles, and then headed to the crowded jewel of the country. I watched the sun rise over the top of the Angkor Wat with joy, but excitement got the better of me and I headed for the inside of the complex before the sun had completely crested the iconic towers.

Morning at Angkor Wat
I spent my morning languidly walking around corners, bumping into brightly clothed Buddhas, and admiring impressive reliefs. I mostly ignored the other tourists with their huge cameras who rushed all around me, most of them seeming to be in a big hurry.

Angkor was absolutely stunning, even better than what I imagined when I first saw it on my family's GeoSafari two decades ago. However, it was the Bayon complex that really set my imagination going and transported me back to ancient times.

I took fewer pictures at Bayon, but I spent a longer time there, lost in thought and imagination. It was the Bayon Temple Complex that really solidified for me that ancient civilizations and the material culture they leave for us to find is what I want to spend my time researching.

After Bayon, I ended my temple tour with a visit to Preah Khan, a beautiful, smaller project in the heart of the jungle.

As I got back in Ponlouk's tuk tuk he asked if there was anything else I wanted to see. I thought back to what Sophia had suggested the moment she found out that Cambodia was on my itinerary.

"Could you take me to the Killing Fields?" I asked timidly, afraid he wouldn't want to take me or would be offended that I wanted to go.

He looked at me with something in his eyes I still can't figure out, but agreed to drive me. Once there, he gave me a brief history of what happened before leaving me to wander on my own. I only made it to the entrance, where I read signs and looked at skulls of the innocent before realizing I didn't want to see anymore.

It was a strange feeling being in such a dark place after having greeted the day in such a light one. Regardless of the pit in my stomach, I was glad I'd taken my sister's suggestion and seen even more of Cambodia's history.
Banteay Samre

The entire trip together, I loved Cambodia.

I didn't love the children begging for money or trying to sell me something at each and every temple entrance, their pleas of, "No money for school! No money for food! Please!" really pulled at my heartstrings. I, of course, ignored all the guides, information post workers, and the back of my ticket and bough a stack of postcards from one particularly gut wrenching little girl. They were only $1, so worth it?

I prefer the local food in China, but the abundance of international options, the number of people who spoke English, the fact that USD is accepted everywhere, the inexpensive (and loyal) tuk tuks, and obviously, the incredible temples, made my trip perfect.

The only thing that would make Cambodia better would be if I were there with my sisters, or wearing a Survivor buff.

Jungle Lunches

Heavy Messages