My Big Mistake

Bayon Temple - note the scale by looking at the two women in the lower right corner.

 

My Big Mistake (I'll get to that...)

Sunday morning after breakfast, I gathered my camera pack and ran down the stairs to the lobby where Sni awaited, wearing his usual smile. I was grateful for Sni's English, limited as it was. It was much better than my few words of Khmer! It didn't hinder us much from communicating, and I enjoyed my time with this sweet young man.

He brought me to each temple and sent me on my way while he hung out with the other tuk-tuk drivers until I came back. At some of the temples, I had to find my way out the other side to a prearranged meeting spot. Each time, I hoped I understood where he meant, because I had no way of contacting him if I got lost. I didn't worry about it, though, and it worked out fine. Sni always stood and waved when he caught sight of me.

My young tuk-tuk driver

Sni

 

A Word About Temple Climbing

Angkor Wat is one of the most amazing and beautiful places I've visited. I'd highly recommend it. But, before you go, get in shape!

I'm so glad fitness is part of my regular routine or I would have missed out on a lot.

To fully enjoy the visit, you've got to climb some steep, long, uneven, and sometimes downright scary staircases. You don't want to miss the view topside!

And it is most likely hotter and more humid than anything you've ever experienced. You'll also be facing significant time-zone changes. Better to be in shape.

I had read about the weather, and thought it wouldn't be that much different from a Georgia summer at its worst. 

I was wrong! (But that wasn't my big mistake).

When I was on the high school swim team, we knew we'd had an especially hard workout if we threw up. 

That's about how I felt after the third set of temple stairs on Sunday - my second day of climbing temples. (Though I didn't throw up).

I got to the top of the stairs and backed away from the edge as I looked down, because I felt a bit lightheaded. I was so. damn. hot! I found a little shady spot and sat down and drank some water.

I carried a bottle of water with me everywhere. I wore hiking boots (good choice) and workout clothes with a light cotton long-sleeved shirt to protect from the sun and to maintain modesty (very important when visiting the temples). 

 

 

View looking down a steep set of Temple Stairs in Angkor Wat city

Different set of stairs from the one above. At the top of this staircase was when I started to feel a little lightheaded!

 

Oh...and I was carrying about 10 pounds of camera equipment on my back. 

You're required to show your ticket at the entrance to every temple. Maybe it should have been a clue when the temple guard looked at me with concern on his face.

"You hot, lady? You okay? Be careful."

I laughed.

"Aren't you hot?" I asked.

He just smiled and laughed. The Khmer don't sweat.

I wasn't laughing after climbing to the top. But, after finding my little shady spot and taking that rest and water break, I took a look around and got some photos. After that, I felt fine to tackle the stairs down.

I watched a Khmer guard wearing a large backpack walk down the stairs as if he was walking down a small flight of modern steps. Impressive. He never looked down and never paused. He was down in about 30 seconds.

The stairs are full of dents, dings and broken spots. They are steep and worn. My foot didn't always fit on the step. I did not make it down in 30 seconds!

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                           

As I exited one of the temples on Sunday, there were some Khmer women selling fresh pineapples - artfully cut into four pieces and placed on skewers. I was so hot and thirsty. My water was lukewarm and unappealing. I hadn't had any problems eating whatever I wanted on the trip. The pineapples were straight out of the cooler, and I couldn't resist.

And that was my big mistake (I think!)

I sat down on a rock and ate an entire pineapple - sweet, delicious, sticky, yummy - juice running down my chin as I sat in the shade soaking in every moment. It was quiet. There were few people. I listened to the sounds of the jungle. I felt small in the world, and it felt good.

After my pineapple, I walked to meet Sni, climbed in the tuk-tuk and we were off to the last temple of the day. Sni had assured me that this temple had some elevation, thus sunset would be great for photographs and a good view. We had timed it perfectly.

The sky was clouding up and the sun was soon to set. We passed by another temple, but we didn't have time to visit. I Iooked to my right and was awed at the huge size of a statue of Buddha. I could see people streaming toward the feet of the statue and heard drums beating in the distance.

Though it wasn't sunset yet, the gathering clouds gave the light a dusky, eerie feel underneath the canopy of trees.

It was surreal - I sat unmoving as we passed through, marveling at what I was witnessing. I didn't take a single photo of that moment, but it will forever be impressed upon my memory.

As I got to the base of the temple and was preparing to show my ticket and make the 15-minute hike to the top, there was a massive clap of thunder followed by lightening. The guard looked at me and shook his head.

"Dangerous," he said.

The skies opened up.

People were running down the path. I was completely soaked in the 20-second walk back to Sni in the tuk-tuk.

Thankfully, my camera bag has it's own rain poncho.

My one disappointment of the trip was missing sunset and the view from this last temple.

I knew it was a bit of a risk going in early October, the transition out of the rainy season. Missing that last temple was the price I paid. But, overall, it was well worth it to escape the high-season crowds.

You're Still Wondering

But, I know you're still wondering about my big mistake.

I'll leave out the details of getting back to the hotel and another evening in Siem Reap eating delicious Indian food.

Monday morning, we were back on the bus to Phnom Penh. I felt uneasy, like something was off - a little headache, tiny stomachache. I kept telling myself it was motion sickness, because the bus driver was making lots of stops and starts.

I was relieved when 5-1/2 hours later Phnom Penh came into sight. By the time I got off the bus and found my suitcase, Tarek had obtained a tuk-tuk.

My insides were getting ready to stage a rebellion.

Soon we were pulling up in front of the apartment. Tarek was in a hurry and dropped me downstairs at the curb and headed back to his place. I felt weak, shaky, and frantic lugging my suitcase up the three flights of stairs and...

I'll spare you the gorey details, and simply say I barely made it in the door. I was horrifically ill in every way imaginable. Don't imagine it. If you've never experienced it, you never want to.

At first I thought it was the eggs I had for breakfast that morning. They were from the chickens behind the hotel, and I had mine over-easy, but they were so runny I was grossed out and didn't finish them. Salmonella?

The more I thought about it, the more it seemed the pineapple was the likely culprit, because the water out at the temples probably wasn't the best - my big mistake.

Oh Lord, My Big Mistake

I was in agony with stomach cramps. Whatever it was, thank heavens for my doctor. He'd given me some antibiotics before the trip, "Just in case," and described the symptoms for which I should use them.

"Ewwww....Hope I don't experience that," I said to him.

Oh, geez. I sure enough did.

My head was pounding, and I had a fever and couldn't lie down for more than 10 minutes without getting up and running to the bathroom. I was massively dehydrated and weak.

As soon as I got to a point that I thought I could keep a pill down, I took the first of the antibiotic.

I laid in bed giving myself positive affirmations, "I'm not going to die in Cambodia, I'm not going to die in Cambodia..."  Seriously, I felt bad enough that the thought did cross my mind.

I don't remember hearing Praveen come in from work.

I woke early Tuesday and mourned the fact that this was my last day in Cambodia, and I wouldn't get to enjoy it.

I was weak, shaky, and dehydrated and afraid to put anything in my stomach other than a little bit of tea or water. I certainly couldn't leave the apartment.

The good news was, clearly the worst was over.

I did some laundry, which was a bit of a deal, since there was no dryer. Things don't dry quickly there in the humidity, so I had my stuff draped all over the apartment.

Tarek stopped by for a while in the afternoon to chat and say good-bye. My flight from Phnom Penh wasn't until midnight. Tarek called one of his regular drivers and asked him to pick me up around 9 pm, since most of the tuk-tuk drivers went home around 8.

I made sure I was all packed and then went back to sleep for a while.

Praveen came home, and we visited. He helped me get my bags down the stairs to meet the tuk-tuk at 9, and we said our goody-byes. The evening was hot and sticky.

I was so shaky. I wasn't looking forward to the next two days of travel.

I had a memorable last tuk-tuk ride to the airport, which gave me a much-needed boost of adrenaline.

My driver appeared to be in a hurry, and we had more than the usual amount of near-misses, including almost taking out a biker. As I looked around, realization dawned that this was a rough part of town, and it appeared my driver wanted to spend the least amount of time possible in the area.

We made it to the airport in one piece.

I mentally steeled myself for the hours of flying and airport time to come.

I was sad to be leaving this beautiful place with its lovely people.

I was relieved to get word that I was cleared for the Air Asiana flight to Seoul, and I was blessed to have a row to myself so I could lie down. I slept the whole five hours to Seoul.

I was so out of it, I misplaced my boarding pass stub, which, for some unknown reason, cost me about an hour of sitting in security answering questions before they cleared me through to the gates - not pleasant.

Incheon Airport in Seoul is amazing. On the way to Cambodia, I hadn't explored that much, but now I had an 11-hour layover. With my stand-by status and no paper ticket, and still weak and shaky, I didn't want to risk leaving the airport.

I found the upper mezzanine and walked around until finding the hidden gem - showers! And they're beautiful, clean, private, and free (basically - I left a tip).

The tuk-tuk ride to the airport in Phnom Penh had left me grimy. Add to that a five-hour flight, and a shower sounded better than food. I pulled my luggage and backpack into the little bathroom and got myself a nice hot shower.

Feeling a little better, I found a lounge chair and dozed on and off for several hours.

I finally went to my gate, which was in the other terminal, and waited to get cleared to Seattle. Seoul - Seattle - and got the last available seat out on the flight to Atlanta - woohoo!

An amazing trip. I'd go again in a heartbeat.

Just don't forget the antibiotics!

And, a big shout-out to my friend Tarek for providing me with a place to stay and a lot of great advice while I was there.

 

*Shortly after returning from my trip, I was touched to read this article. What a wonderful young man and what a great thing he is doing. As Westerners, we take things like soap and antibiotics for granted. We shouldn't.

You can find some of the photos from this post here.

I can't wait for the trip to Ecuador in May! Email me for details if you're interested: susan@susanjphotography.com