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    Tropical Storm Tour: Cambodia Part 12

    Tuesday, July 14, 2015
    Siem Reap, Cambodia

    Welcome to Angkor in Siem Reap, Cambodia.
    Welcome to Angkor in Siem Reap, Cambodia.

    Chau Say Thevoda, Angkor in Siem Reap, Cambodia.
    Chau Say Thevoda, Angkor in Siem Reap, Cambodia.

    When I walked up to the Bunnath Guesthouse to rent a mountain bike again today, Alex, a grizzled 60-year-old old hippie from California with missing and chipped-up teeth, started asking me about the rooms there, as he had just arrived. When I told him I was staying at the Golden Takeo, not Bunnath, he started grilling me about that, firing off question after detailed question: “How much does it cost per night? Is there air con? Are there a lot of trees on the property?” The weirdest thing about that last question was I had just read an article the day before about how residents in neighborhoods with a lot of trees enjoy better mental and physical health than those who live in areas with few or no trees. What a strange coincidence!

    A coconut vendor at Thommanon, Angkor in Siem Reap, Cambodia.
    A coconut vendor at Thommanon, Angkor in Siem Reap, Cambodia.

    For close to an hour, we chatted away about traveling. Alex had just arrived in Siem Reap from Ubud, Bali, where my trip will end, which was another funny coincidence. He said his favorite place was Tibet, because he loves being in the mountains where it’s much cooler, and that he has spent years there. I wonder why he just didn’t go there? Talking a blue streak a million miles per minute, Alex went off on tangent after tangent until I couldn’t take it anymore. It was after 11:00 am and I had to make my way up to the Angkor complex, as it closes at 5:30 pm. So, I only had a few hours to explore several temples.

    A steep staircase at Ta Keo, Angkor in Siem Reap, Cambodia.
    A steep staircase at Ta Keo, Angkor in Siem Reap, Cambodia.

    A few miles north, after I had already proceeded through the entry gate, I realized I forgot my map. Dang! So, I stopped at Angkor Wat and asked some fellow travelers if I could look at theirs. One of them had the bright idea that I could just take a photo of their map. Why didn’t I think of that? So, in the glare of the sun, I pedaled on over toward Ta Keo. On the way, I stopped at two smaller temples, where I encountered some young girls walking around selling postcards and small souvenirs out of little baskets. When I told one of them I had already bought a postcard set, they looked really crestfallen. I felt bad, so a bit later, I bought a small fridge magnet containing the smiling Buddha face of Bayon for $1.00. That girl was happy, but the other one was mad that I didn’t also buy something from her. Sometimes, you just can’t win.

    Delicious curry vegetables and rice at a food stall near Ta Keo, Angkor in Siem Reap, Cambodia.
    Delicious curry vegetables and rice at a food stall near Ta Keo, Angkor in Siem Reap, Cambodia.

    Across the street at another temple, more persistent hawkers hit me up. I bought a coconut from one of them, which was a first for me. She chopped off the top, stuck a straw in it, and handed it over. It tasted pretty good, but unfortunately, it was not cold, which would have made it much better. Then I asked her if I could eat the shell, so she chopped it in half and scooped out the white interior for me to gobble. As I got up to leave, the clothing vendors were all over me. I asked them how many times per day someone buys something, and one of them said maybe three or four, but some days none, because their stalls were in front of small, out of the way temples. I felt bad and bought a traditional Cambodian scarf to wrap around my neck for sun protection. She started out at $6.00, but I talked her down to $3.50.

    Some gnarly tree roots at Ta Prohm, Angkor in Siem Reap, Cambodia.
    Some gnarly tree roots at Ta Prohm, Angkor in Siem Reap, Cambodia.

    A short ride later, I finally reached Ta Keo. It was fun climbing up the super steep staircases–and a good workout, too. At the tip top of the third level, there was a small, dark chamber containing a Buddha image surrounded by stone walls that looked amazingly weathered and ancient. It was one of those places that was hard to leave because it looked so beautiful. There was a guard in there who was super friendly and gave sticks of incense to people so they could offer it to the Buddha for good luck. Then he asked for a donation. As I exited Ta Keo, I had a blast dropping into and out of a mellow dirt ditch on my mountain bike.

    Beautiful carvings at Ta Prohm, Angkor in Siem Reap, Cambodia.
    Beautiful carvings at Ta Prohm, Angkor in Siem Reap, Cambodia.

    After a few runs, some more hawkers right there on the road beckoned me into their food stalls. I was hungry, so I sat down at one. One of the girls remembered me from the day before, when I had got totally soaked in the rainstorm and sought shelter there. I ordered a bowl of curry vegetables and rice, and it was delicious–probably the best I’d had since May Kaidee’s in Bangkok. It was supposed to be $7.00, but she offered it to me for $3.50. When I went to pay later with a $10.00 bill, another girl only gave me $3.00 change. When I told her the other girl said I could have it for $3.50, she gave me another $3.00. She was really nice and smiley when I left. At least a family of tourists was eating there, too, which made me feel better for the girls who work there.

    A tourist horde swarms a tree at Ta Prohm, Angkor in Siem Reap, Cambodia.
    A tourist horde swarms a tree at Ta Prohm, Angkor in Siem Reap, Cambodia.

    My next stop was at Ta Prohm, the famous temple ruins that are being consumed by the jungle. Luckily, it was sunny for the first hour I was there, so I got some good photos and video of all of the aggressive plant life that was busy slowly dismantling the whole temple complex. A little while later, I finally discovered a walled-in area that I had missed on my first day. I knew about it because when I was looking up some info on Ta Prohm the next day, I saw some photos of a couple of impressive trees that did not look familiar at all. One of them was really tall and skinny, boasting a spectacular cascade of tangled roots spilling out vertically down all over the corroded temple stones. The other one featured far fewer but much thicker roots that spread out horizontally like gigantic boa constrictors squeezing the life out of the wall.

    A tunnel vision at Ta Prohm, Angkor in Siem Reap, Cambodia.
    A tunnel vision at Ta Prohm, Angkor in Siem Reap, Cambodia.

    Right when I started trying to shoot a panning video shot of it in between the milling masses of tourists, a few raindrops started sprinkling on the ground. Luckily, I succeeded in capturing the photos and video I wanted, because soon enough, the usual and predictable afternoon rain shower was well underway. Fortunately, there were plenty of hallways inside the temples to house all of us refugees who sought a dry place to wait out the precipitation. The only catch was the roofs leaked, so there were quite a few drops to avoid inside, as well. I waited in there for over an hour and managed to stay mostly dry in between all of the drips within the dank, cave-like atmosphere.

    A picturesque scene at Ta Prohm, Angkor in Siem Reap, Cambodia.
    A picturesque scene at Ta Prohm, Angkor in Siem Reap, Cambodia.

    Finally, I figured the rain would not let up anytime soon, so I donned a super thin plastic rain jacket–kind of like a garbage bag with a hood and sleeves–and ventured outside. Amazingly, I managed to find side ledges outside of the large, carved bannisters to walk on to avoid the flooded main sidewalk, so I made it out to my bike with the inside of my boots still dry. But since the plastic only went down to my knees, my boots eventually got soaked anyway, as the rain never let up. On the way into town, I had a blast weaving my way through numerous traffic hordes and around huge, deep lakes that had formed here and there on the roads.

    Another photogenic scene at Ta Prohm, Angkor in Siem Reap, Cambodia.
    Another photogenic scene at Ta Prohm, Angkor in Siem Reap, Cambodia.

    After I arrived at the Bunnath Guesthouse, my legs were really tired. I tore off my thoroughly soaked boots and wrung out all of the water from my socks, which probably could have filled a small jug. Then I sat around for a while to relax and chat with Mr. Bun Nath himself. He lived in Virginia near Washington DC for 10 years, so he speaks really good English. He said his guesthouse overall loses money, but his relatives in the U.S. send him funds every month to help out. As I was getting ready to leave, I asked Bun if he knew where I could buy some AA batteries, and he said he had a set of brand new ones. When I went to pay him, he refused to accept my money! I tried three times, but he insisted I take them for free. I have no idea why, but I do know that Mr. Bun Nath is pure gold.

    A tree consumes a wall at Ta Prohm, Angkor in Siem Reap, Cambodia.
    A tree consumes a wall at Ta Prohm, Angkor in Siem Reap, Cambodia.

    Words and photos ©2015 Arcane Candy.

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