Last weekend my 43rd birthday coincided with the Cambodian national water festival AND the super moon! This holiday marks the end of the rains and the beginning of fishing season. Phnom Penh is flooded with over a million visitors from the provinces and the city transforms into a festival of celebration. The Tonle Sap river plays host to hundreds of long boats zipping down the waterway. With both Snakes and the Bushbaby free from work and school, we decided to pack our overnight bags and head up the river instead, away from the crowds and visit Siem Reap.
We left before dawn on Thursday. The drive took us around 5 hours. Had it not been for google maps and their suspect directions, we’d have made it even sooner. (Note to self and others tasked with navigation while driving in Cambodia: if map suggests turning down a two track path, there’s most likely a much better route. Thankful we have 4-wheel drive and a sense of humor and adventure.)
There is a huge variety of hotels and guesthouses to choose from, catering to every single budget. I chose a lower-mid range (Tanei Resort, near the big circus tent) since we were going to be staying for five nights. It was one of the many new developments on the outskirts of the central city. A fabulous pool with a shallow end for kids, spacious, clean rooms and a private outdoor rain shower were highlights that drew me in. The food was fine, the instant coffee less so, but none of that mattered with the wealth of options available in town.
The week before, I had reserved a spot for us on the Siem Reap Food Tour. (A separate post which is forthcoming.) It’s run by a couple who got a mention in a 36 hours NYT article a while back for their fantastic and super informative tour of the markets and a surrounding village. They were happy to cater to the fact that we had our Bushbaby along and switched things up as necessary. If you are interested in food, culture and the delicious ways in which they inform one another, steeping in one big ancient pot, this tour is worth every penny.
Although the tour operators offered us tons of suggestions and dining advice, we had no problems finding great food and interesting shopping. It was fun to wind through the markets- which I found to be stocked differently than ones we’ve visited in Phnom Penh- nicer choices of fabrics for the ubiquitous though necessary breezy dresses and much better cuts. Colette was thrilled to find a talented henna-master Nepalese lady nestled into a stall of the night market. She couldn’t wait to return to school this week to show it off.
We rose early each day with the neighborhood roosters and set off for the temples. Visiting Bayon and Ta Prohm one morning and Angkor another. The midday heat makes visiting temples in the afternoon a real test of one’s constitution. With the gorgeous pool back at the hotel beckoning and the knowledge that we will be returning multiple times in the coming years, it made it easy to honor that voice in our heads that kept insisting that this was actually meant to be a “vacation”. No need for a self-imposed death march. Back to the pool, let’s order up some frosty drinks!
In the wee wee hours of my birthday morning, I left solo to catch the sun rising over Angkor. It was fun to be up and chugging through the silvery cool air of morning. Once I arrived at the temple those moments of peace and solitude were gone. There were hundreds of others eager to sop up that same experience. Tripod photographers had staked out all the best vantage points so I snapped a few shots and carried on exploring. I put my camera away for a good part of the morning, reminding myself to be present and sometimes expand my perspective beyond the Nikon’s viewfinder or an Instagram composition. With all of the frustration and grief in our world right now, it felt good to get lost in these ancient corridors, at liberty to stop and meditate when the mood struck. It was a solid start to my new year. I was so ready for the last one to end.