I woke up with no way of knowing that the day would include running barefoot through the Cambodian jungle, a bloody unconscious man, impressive thunder and a rainbow, naked people in a pool and an elephant. This day was 22 hours long. We were greeted by the dean, who informed us that he had been “awakened at 3.am. by screaming, naked students cavorting in the hotel pool.” Brilliant. Needless to say, although none of the guilty parties were on our trip, we will be getting dock time for the slightest infraction.
We drove to Angkor Wat for the sunrise after getting our Angkor Wat photo passports. The sunrise was incredible in that awesome morning light over the stunning ruins. It was yet another one of those moments where you are just completely overwhelmed by seeing something you’ve dreamed of seeing for most of your life. Before I could read, I loved to look at National Geographic magazines, which I actually think are better if you can’t read. My young eyes had to interpret the pictures and attempt to understand what was going on in them. The mystery of the strange places I saw in the glossy photos embedded the desire to travel deep within me. Now my life is a little like a National Geographic—Angkor Wat was a cover photo day.
Bayon Temple, our first of the day, had huge head carvings, like something straight out of Indiana Jones. We walked across the elephant terrace to reboard sweltering Angkor Wat local buses. Next, was my personal favorite temple where they filmed Tomb Raider. It deserved an entire day. It has cool, huge roots coming out of the its ruins, taking them over. I wandered around on my own, exploring caved-in rooms and dead-end chambers. Do you remember that show Legends of the Hidden Temple where kids had to try to go through this crazy temple maze? Well it was just like that, with oppressive heat.
We needed an ATM visit for lunch. Interesting fact: ATMs in Cambodia only distribute U.S. dollars. I went to the grocery for bandages for my now ridiculously painful and awful-looking burned leg. It began to pour after lunch. The heavens opened up and just dumped on us. We were determined to continue our tour of Angkor while waiting for it to clear. From a high point, we saw gorgeous carvings on the main temple and walked to the super steep temple summit. The view from the top was worth it. We had to rush a little, though, because we had to be at our elephant ground “2 or 3 kilometers” away from the temple complex by 4:30.
It became clear as we tried to get down the steep temple steps crowded by balking Asian senior citizens rightly afraid of plunging to their deaths that we weren’t going to make it on time, so I took off my shoes and started to run in my new white dress through the mud, over uneven ancient stones, leaping across the rainy season puddles. We finally exited the ruins and ran along the road dotted with tuk tuks and motorcycles. That’s how a crazed American girl with an umbrella, bloodied leg, sweaty dress and cut feet ended up bolting around Angkor Wat under a rainbow. Yes. A rainbow over Angkor Wat. I’m seriously so lucky.
We got there in time to buy an elephant ride, which wound up being wobbly, rolling horribly from side to side. But, it was fun. We could see Angkor Wat below as we climbed through the jungle foliage. Our elephant driver had this awesome talent of putting a leaf in his mouth and playing a song with it somehow. We climbed more crazy-steep stairs to the top of the oldest temple in the area to watch the sunset. It was beautiful, and the clouds around were perfectly stunning. One cloud looked just like an elephant.
We walked down the muddy hill in the dark and haggled for a tuk tuk back to the ship. I love tuk tuks. I wish they had them in the U.S. As we sped along with a pleasant breeze—I kid you not—there was lightning over Angkor Wat. Could the day be any more perfect? I love lightning.
We picked back up with the organized group tour at the hotel in time for dinner, with five minutes to change—I was muddy, sweaty, bloody, 100 percent DEET-perfumed with a calf banged up from the wooden elephant saddle. We went to another super nice Vietnamese restaurant for dinner. After eating, the tour operator dropped us off at the night market where we loaded up on inexpensive trinkets. There were massage parlors everywhere and fish pedicures–a fish pedicure is where the fish eat the skin off of your feet. I wanted to try one, but a certain open wound on my leg made that seem ill-advised.
We went across the street to a dance place where an Egyptian guy came up and started talking about showing me around the pyramids. When we decided to leave, we came out on the street to find people gathered around a man face down, bleeding. Motorcycle accident. Good grief! We had to hurry to get back onboard in time.