After literally spending an entire 12-hour day on a bus with Mekong Express, I had made it from Saigon, Vietnam to Siem Reap, Cambodia. I have to say, although the bus had air conditioning, free snacks and water, played movies and helped everyone with their visas when we got to the border (and only cost 11USD), 12 hours is still a long time to spend on a bus.
However, I had no time to be bus-lagged (I don’t think that should be an actual thing because I didn’t cross any time zones, but it still seems to happen quite often), I had the Angkor Temples to look forward the next day!
When I said “the next day”, I use the term very lightly, as we had planned to get to Angkor Wat in time to see the sun rise (5:30am). After dragging myself out of bed (and opening a coffee can I was start enough to buy the night before, knowing I’d be out before anywhere was open), onto a tuk tuk (sponsored by a local knife store) and into a giant crowd of tourists eager to see the sun rise, a system of passing clouds decided to join the crowd and ended up blocking out the sun’s first rays. However, a passing herd of horses didn’t seem to think they were missing out on anything and proceeded to strike a few poses if front of the temples.
Built in the 12th century as a series of Hindu temples and mausoleums, it was later converted to a Buddhist complex when the Khmer rulers changed religion. Today, it’s the largest religious complex in the world, the main feature of the Cambodian flag, and the inspiration behind Angkor Beer.
Once we had to fully admit that the sunrise just wasn’t going to happen, it was back in the tuk tuk (which, despite being parked in a large lot, was easy to find, thanks to the giant advertisement for knives on the back) and onto the Bayon Temples. The last temples to be built in Angkor, Bayon temples are famous for the intricate faces carved into its towers BUT their impossibly narrow and steep stairs are just as noteworthy – and quite a workout!
After walking around the temples for a while, I got spied by a small Cambodian boy who began pretending to shoot at me. Not wanting to get killed by a kid (I still had more temples to see, I couldn’t die yet), I quickly started firing back, and we quickly turned the religious temples into a battlefield. After realizing we were pretty evenly matched, we decided to agree upon a peace treaty, and he took my friend and I on a tour, up an (impossibly narrow and steep) flight of stairs to a hidden lookout area.
After we took our photos, the boy expressed that he wanted a tip for his services. While Cambodian riel and American dollars are both legal currency in the country, the only small bills I had were in riel and when I tried to offer them to the boy, he simply pouted at me, asking for American. While the Riel isn’t the strongest currency (the exchange rate is 4000 riel to 1USD), it seemed strange that the boy would rather take nothing than riel. I’m guessing it was just another case of kids relying on tourists for income and facing acculturation in the process, something that seems to be an unfortunate trend in developing nations.