After Tommy and I recovered from spider eating, we continued on to Siem Reap, where we stayed at the Freedom Hotel with our fellow trainees. The hotel was a pleasant surprise after a long, hot journey on bumpy Cambodian roads. The rooms were clean and spatious, the outdoor pool looked inviting and the lobby was full of comfy-looking couches and chairs. I slept as hard as I’ve slept since I’ve arrived in Cambodia.
On Saturday morning, we woke up early to visit some of the Angkor temples. Angkor Wat is the name of the largest temple but is often used to refer to a series of ancient temples in the area built between the 9th and 15th centuries. At that time, the Angkor region of Cambodia was the seat of the powerful Khmer empire. The most popular temple, Angkor Wat, is Cambodia’s premier tourist attraction, said to be the largest religious monument in the world. It was built by King Suryavarman II in the 12th century and, after falling into ruins for centuries, has now been restored to some of its former glory. It really is beautiful.
We visited several temple ruin sights on the way to the main attraction of Angkor Wat, including the Bayon Temple, known for its several huge stone faces:
And Ta Prohm, the “Tomb Raider Temple” for any of you Angelina Jolie fans. Ta Prohm is especially notable because of all the giant trees growing out of the stone everywhere you look:
Angkor Wat itself was gorgeous, a perfectly symmetrical, massive stone complex surrounded by a large moat and accessible only by walking across a wide causeway. Monkeys darted here and there across the walls and through the grass. Stone pillars and archways towered over our heads. It was like a dream. A rain shower added a hazy element to the scene for about a half hour in the afternoon, and when it cleared, the stone towers reflected back to us clearly in the pools of water, doubling the beauty.
Up until now, this has been a pretty pleasant story, right?: Touring famous temples with a nice group of people on a beautiful Saturday, crawling among the rocks, exploring ancient ruins of a fascinating civilization.
That’s because I haven’t been completely honest.
Here is the true story:
In fact, I am pretty sure I almost died of losing half my body weight in sweat. I had heard about the heat in Southeast Asia. I had read about the heat. I tried to prepare myself for the heat. But I am from North Dakota and WE DO NOT HAVE THIS KIND OF HEAT! The real problem is, I am the sweatiest person I know even in North Dakota. So put this North Dakota gal into the heart of hot and humid Cambodia, amongst heat-radiating stones, and make her hike up and down all day, and you will see sweaty like you’ve never seen before. The stones create something like a giant oven, slowly baking the human tourists from the inside out. Plus, women are supposed to wear long pants and cover their shoulders in order to be allowed into the temples, so wearing shorts and a tank top was not an option. I drank at least three liters of water, but it wasn’t enough.
Can a person die from sweating too much?
Halfway through the day, I couldn’t stand the soaked hiking clothes I was wearing any longer, so I stopped by a tent selling clothing and bought a white airy shirt and breathable-looking elephant-printed pants for four dollars apiece. I convinced the Khmer woman who sold them to me to hold up a blanket so I could change behind it. It would have been much simpler if my original clothing wasn’t plastered to my skin. Eventually, however, I struggled into my new clothing and felt, oh so much better. For about a half hour, until I also sweat through my new clothes. It was worth it though, just for that half hour of sweet, sweet relief.
Also, I now have elephant pants.
The rain shower that showed up in the afternoon would have been disappointing, except I was no more soaked after the rain shower than I was before the rain shower. It just gave me an excuse for why I am sopping wet in everyone’s pictures. I am not exaggerating, you guys.
That said, however, the trip to Angkor Wat was worthwhile, and something I will remember as long as I live. The temples were truly an amazing, amazing relic of a fascinating ancient culture. Human capacity never ceases to amaze me, and it only increases with every trip I take to a new part of the world. The temples’ amazingness was only rivaled by one thing: the cold shower I took afterward.
If you’re looking for me, I’ll be chugging water in Southeast Asia.