Let me tell you about the time love came and slapped me hard in the face when I was least expecting it. I had arrived in Bangkok not 24 hours earlier, had slept in the most wonderful bed I could have imagined overlooking the city, and was back on another plane headed for Cambodia. I didn’t really know anything about Cambodia, other than that it has a grisly past that prompted people to tell me to “think twice” before I went to a country like Cambodia.
I landed in Siem Reap, and stepped off the plane onto the hot tarmac, blazing in the mid afternoon sun. I grabbed my luggage from the baggage claim, headed through immigration, and found my taxi waiting for me just outside the doors of the small airport, ready to take me to my hotel. As we rolled down the dirt roads with no signs indicating names, directions, or really any information for that matter, I still had no clue what I was doing there. My driver pulled up to my hotel for the next three days, and unloaded my bags. I came around the corner through reception, and saw the beautiful oasis that is the Pavilion d’Orient Boutique Hotel. The grounds were immaculate, and every room offered a direct view of the swimming pool, and the lush greenery that surrounded it.
I was lucky enough to have a private tuk tuk driver my entire stay (learn how I scored this awesome perk in my post, 6 Questions: Siem Reap) and was able to make it to every temple on my itinerary in one day. Temples like Ta Prohm, Bayon, Banteay Srei, and the famous Angkor Wat were all a day’s work for me, and I was able to hear the rich history of each location from a guide who walked me through the structures and ruins. I saw places most people only see in books and on television, and scaled ancient buildings that have seen their fair share of people and events throughout their lifespan. My day guide took pictures of me most people would never be able to find and shoot, and gave me a unique experience while exploring the many faces and forms of Buddha.
I walked down Pub Street and saw the tacky harem pants printed with elephants which are bought by tourists to show all of their friends back home just how adventurous they are. I saw a vendor selling barbequed snake on a stick. I watched Apsara dancers telling stories with their eyes and hand gestures. Dust filled my nose while driving as there were very few paved roads anywhere. I saw people who had next to nothing, who weren’t guaranteed running water in their homes or a safe place for their children to play, but kindness trickled out of every pore from the people of this city. My senses were completely ignited from the sights, sounds, and smells of Siem Reap.
On my last day, I ate my final croissant, drank my last freshly squeezed juice, and departed my hotel. As the circa 2003 Toyota Camry rolled down the red dirt road toward the airport, we passed children bathing in a ditch, families hanging out their laundry to dry, and craftsmen setting up their woodwork to sell on the side of the road, and I couldn’t help but feel changed. I came to this beautifully welcoming country not sure I was even too excited to be visiting, and was leaving with a sense that I somehow saw the world more fully. I knew not to take my life for granted, and that there is so much more to this world than the material possessions I had been lining up on my shelves for years. I felt new, refreshed, and so much more grown. I realized I had fallen deeply in love with Cambodia, and I am still enamored with that country to this day.