I enjoyed a full morning off of tutoring on Monday by running errands, training for Nepal, and laying out by the pool. The highlight came at lunch time when I enjoyed some real tasting Tex-Mex! I commonly crave Mexican food and more often than not, I’m let down by the quality here in Asia. Is this how Asians feel when eating Chinese food in America?! Sunrise Tacos Grill actually served bottomless chips and salsa (10 different kinds to choose from!!!) and a delicious tasting burrito! The chips and salsa options were so good (my favorite being the fresh pineapple salsa), I crushed three baskets of chips and took my burrito home for dinner.
Tuesday morning started off with three hours of tutoring and then checking out of my apartment. I had some time to kill between when I had to be out of my apartment and when I could check into the hotel room that Tina, Flynn, and I shared so I headed back to the Mexican restaurant and downed another extensive amount of chips and salsa. I tutored that evening in our hotel room by using my phone as a mobile hotspot and met up for drinks with Tina and Flynn after.
On Wednesday, I was woken up at 7am by Flynn and Tina willingly getting ready for a run. Curtains open, sun streaming in, excitedly chatting about their route to run the streets of Bangkok. Remind me again why I’m friends with these two?! After failing to fall back asleep, I headed out to the corner to do my laundry. Yes, their laundromats are outside on the sidewalk.
Later that morning, the three of us met up with Nikki, another girl from Denver. She arrived through the night to begin her year long ’round-the-world-trip. The four of us hopped on a tourist ferry and cruised down the Chao Phraya River to the Flower Market and the famous Reclining Buddah. I thought I was templed out before getting to the Reclining Buddah, but man, I was blown away by the sheer size of it! It was easily 30 yards long, by 30 feet high. So impressive.
We capped our day off by getting massages. This one put Tiger Balm on our backs instead of oil or lotion. It felt like Icy Hot, which was really nice, and smelled even better than Icy Hot, which I didn’t think was possible. Tina caught her flight home that night and Flynn and I turned in early as we had to be out of the hotel by 5:30am to catch our bus to Cambodia.
After my varying experiences of long-haul bus trips in Malaysia, I had prepared myself for the worst. Our bus ticket said it would take 12 hours, so I assumed it would be at least 14 hours. We stocked up on snacks and drinks because we weren’t sure how often we would stop. We were pleasantly surprised when a) they fed us breakfast and lunch, b) our seats reclined back 75 degrees and had a foot rest, and c) we arrived in Siem Reap in only eight hours.
Crossing the Thailand-Cambodia border, now THAT was an experience. We were given a crash course into how to cross the border by our bus driver. “First, exit stamp from Thailand, walk, Cambodia visa, then Cambodia stamp. Meet back on bus by hotel.” Um… ok? Sounds simple enough. Five minutes later, we hear, “Quick, everybody off!” We literally hopped off the bus as it was still moving. We followed the crowd of people through the Thailand immigration. Easy, peasy. Then we walked outside, followed the sidewalk towards a sign saying Kingdom of Cambodia, and then chaos ensued. Guys on motorbikes asking if we needed rides. Buses and vans to our right getting inspected. Other people from our bus had gone off in all directions. So where do you think we go now? I think he said something about a palace? Maybe that big building? We asked one of the motorbike guys where to go and he pointed us down another sidewalk filled with street vendors. “Oh! There’s the hotel we’re supposed to meet at. And there’s our bus!” As we crossed the street and approached our bus, we realized we hadn’t gotten our Cambodian visa or stamp, yet we had somehow already crossed over into Cambodia. Our bus driver kindly showed us back to the Visa on Arrival office (still not sure how other people found it) and then guided us to the random cement building where our visa was stamped. How did we just do that? It’s harder to get into a local farmers’ market in Colorado than to enter the country of Cambodia.
Upon arrival in Siem Reap, our tuk tuk driver was waiting to take us to our hostel. After checking in to our private room (it sure is nice to travel with a friend and not be in dorm rooms!), we found bikes to rent for a measly $2/day, grabbed a beer on Pub Street (hello $.50 happy hour!), and were in bed by 9:30pm.
Flynn and I were bright-eyed and bushy-tailed when we woke up to our 5am alarm on Friday. Besides the Annapurna Circuit, seeing Angkor Wat was the next highest thing on Flynn’s bucket list for this trip. Years earlier, she had visited Borobudur in Indonesia and Bagan, Myanmar which combined with Angkor Wat is the trifecta for holiest places in Buddhism. We put on our headlamps, hopped on our bicycles, and pedaled our way north to the entrance. Again, just when I thought I was all templed out, out came the Angkor Wat complex in all its glorious beauty, numerous temples, and large land mass.
Our first temple of the day was the actual Angkor Wat. It is one of the few major tourist attractions that was 100% worth the money in my opinion. My expectations were high and it far exceeded them. From the intricate details to the sheer volume and height, I was thoroughly impressed. After some breakfast with Angkor Wat in the background, we temple hopped the Grand Circuit for the next ten hours and covered 40 miles on our bicycles…. a feat which I have never done before.
Even though I was sore and exhausted, I headed to BlackLab Coffee, a co-working space, to tutor for the evening. My original plan was to tutor inside our private room at the hostel, but a) the hostel wifi didn’t have a fast enough connection, and b) my local SIM card didn’t support a mobile hotspot. For those unfamiliar with a co-working space, they come in all shapes and sizes. You either have to pay upon entry or order food/drink to use their internet. There are tables, outlets, and chairs everywhere and everyone is on their laptop working with their headphones on while in a big open space. Some co-working spaces are very quiet while others encourage brainstorming sessions to help generate creativity and share ideas. Even though BlackLab was quiet, I still paid extra for a private room as Cambly requires a quiet background and nobody else passing behind you on your video feed. Plus, I didn’t want to be that one annoying person that everyone would be able to hear the constant conversations with my students.
We started Saturday morning off the same as the previous morning… 5am alarm, biked up to Angkor Wat, but this time we were actually able to catch the sunrise behind Angkor Wat. Other travelers have compared this experience to watching the sunrise at Machu Picchu. And again, it was worth the hype! The sunset was a majestic orange which pictures just do not do it justice. After another breakfast with Angkor Wat in the background, we temple hopped through the Small Circuit for seven hours and covered 28 miles on our bicycles.
That evening, I headed back to BlackLab Coffee for a few more hours of tutoring before I take the next six weeks. Before my first student, I ordered a mango smoothie and gulped it down. It was just the right amount of cold, mango, and sweetness. Promptly an hour later, my stomach started to feel queasy. That’s odd. It progressively got worse and then in the middle of tutoring a six-year-old whose parents weren’t in the room with her, I felt it… the rising up from my stomach to my throat, my mouth salivating, no, no, no, no! “Grace, I’m sorry, I will be right back, go get your parents and tell them I’m going to be sick!” I said quickly as I ripped my headphones out of my ear, pushed open my door, and sprinted to the bathroom just in time to vomit up my mango smoothie. Phew! I feel much better now! Wonder what was in that thing…? I returned to Grace and explained to her parents what happened, but said I could finish the lesson as I was feeling way better. I finished her lesson and got through a short 10 minute lesson before I was throwing up in the bathroom again. Mango smoothies do not taste good the second and third time around.
I couldn’t see an end in sight so I cancelled the rest of my classes that evening and headed back to the hostel where I spent the next three hours violently purging every amount of liquid out of my body. I even went so far as to have an FPS, what Adam commonly refers to as a fetal position shower…. where it takes every ounce of effort in your body just to lay over the floor while the shower runs over you.
While Sunday came around with no more purging, my stomach was still very queasy, my back, neck, and core were sore, and I was beyond exhausted so I didn’t leave my bed.
Needless to say, I had my first encounter with food poisoning. I’m not sure if I got it from the mango smoothie (not sure what kind of water source was used to make the ice) or from the sweet and sour chicken I ate earlier that day, but thank God, we were in a private room.
My initial impression of Cambodia in general and Siem Reap is awesome! I really like when I enter a place country or city and immediately know it’s where I want to be. Being able to say that even after having food poisoning… yeah, I’m going to like it here!