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The learning curve of the solo tour

CAMBODIA | Sunday, 28 March 2010 | Views [486]

The faces at Bayon

The faces at Bayon

The Temples of Angkor---Day 1

What can I say about Angkor Wat that has not already been said? I like riding my rental bike around the monument. That may be a new one. Seriously, the area is wonderfully level. The blacktop is in good shape. I am glad to see that the $40 I had to pay for a three-day pass is going towards road maintenance and grounds keeping. I criticize the Cambodians for not following the rules of the road, but I will say that they are patient with those who choose to pedal a bicycle, which is not true of a lot of American drivers. The Cambodian driver will just make up the lost time by running a red light.

I have to admit that I was not well-prepared for my tour today. I must be suffering from some form of travelers’ burn out because my enthusiasm over the last several days has been seriously lacking. I spent the first half-hour trying to get my bearings and avoiding the crowds. Since I arrived early in the morning, I was lucky enough to stumble upon Bayon before the masses arrived. From a distance it looks like a cluster of towers, but as you get nearer, the outlines of the faces take shape. You think that there are just one or two of them to begin with, but when you enter the maze of towers, you realize that there are dozens of faces benevolently looking down at you. I was so pleasantly surprised because I hadn’t realized that this temple was so close by and accessible. Really, I thought that I was just going to get to see Angkor Wat and a few small surrounding structures. This discovery reignited my enthusiasm for visiting the temple ruins.

Today felt like orientation day as I learned the do’s and don’ts of touring the temples at Angkor. Do get their early---beat the heat and the crowds. Don’t start with Angkor Wat in the morning, with the exception of that backlit sunrise shot, it is best observed in the afternoon. Do ride a bike. The distances are too far to cover on foot. Don’t listen to the hawkers when they say, “you can park your bike here.” When I returned for my bike, I had a swarm of them on me. It was mostly children saying in a well-rehearsed, pathetic tone, “buy my bracelets ten for a dollar.” I could write pages on that 10-minute segment when I retrieved my bicycle, perhaps I will, but it would be way to cynical for publication. Learning all of this on top of becoming acquainted with the layout of the temples made for an exhausting morning. I could have come through Cambodia on a tour and let someone else plan out my Angkor visit, but I am glad that I did it solo. The learning curve can be difficult to deal with, but it makes the entire experience stick with me more.

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The sad truth is I like my $8/night room, but I don’t want to stay there because I feel like I have been tricked. Besides, I think that my room is only worth $7 TOPS! The beautiful thing about Siem Reap is if you feel as though you have made a mistake in choice of guesthouses, there are at least four more competitors within a quarter-mile radius. AT LEAST! My new room is as hot as hell, but it is clean and only $6/night. After changing guesthouses, I headed to the market area for lunch. I haven’t quite got this section of town figured out, but I am on my bike and again, the drivers are patient with me. I was looking for the Socheata II restaurant. I found the Socheata restaurant and I hoped that the first one was as good as or better than the sequel. I wasn’t disappointed, with the food, that is. I was desperate for some fresh fruits and vegetables so I ordered a cabbage salad and a pomelo salad. The cabbage salad was terrific. It had a very simple recipe and the dressing had a sweet and sour flavor to it. The pomelo salad had the same dressing, but the raw onion that they used overpowered the citrus fruit just a bit. The sour note of the meal came from the wedding reception going on across the street. I wonder….does the terrifically bad karaoke come before or after they cut the cake? The restaurant manager personally apologized when she saw me flinching during some of the klinkers. My table was just off of the sidewalk and some young entrepreneurs tried to sell me postcards during my meal. I had already purchased postcards that morning, so I felt justified in declining. One boy stood just beyond my table with a large plastic bag. I was wondering what he wanted when I saw another boy across the street fish a few empty plastic bottles out of a trash bin. I looked at the water bottle on my table that had about a half a cup in it. He eyed me as I finished off the contents, then I handed it to him. I turned to the waiter to ask for my check. When I turned back around the boy had disappeared.

At 5:00pm I pedaled back to Angkor Wat to watch the west gate turn to gold in the setting sun, but I got there too late. I spoke briefly with a tour guide who was waiting for his group to finish their temple exploration. He told me that the best time to view it during Spring was about 5:00pm. I took my guidebook too literally when it said “sunset”. Sunset today was at 6:00pm so I thought I had enough time. That learning curve will get you every time. I am so glad that I invested in the three-day pass.

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