May 6, 2013

A Different Kind of Birthday

I'm back in the Philippines. Back in my acrylic stained desk thinking of where to begin the series of blog posts about my 7 week trip in Saigon, Siem Reap and Siam. I'd like to think of it as a trip similar to what Elizabeth Gilbert did to find pleasure, spiritual connection and balance when she went to Italy, India and Indonesia. I feel refreshed. Maybe it's fitting then to start this with my birthday trip in Cambodia. 

It started off with a thirteen hour bus ride from Vietnam going to the heart of Khmer Empire (circa 9th to 13th Century), to Angkor Wat. Survival tip: pop one capsule of Benadryl and you're good to go for long bus rides.

I arrived at around 8pm and was surprised when I saw a Cambodian raising a placard with my misspelled name. It was provided by the bus company (payment not included) so he took me to my hostel and insisted that I take him as my Tuktuk (tricycle in style) for my Angkor Wat tour two days from then.

I rented a bicycle the next day and had a tour around the city. Bought some souvenirs (wrong move as you'll see later), ate some traditional food, and at around 5:00pm, cycled for 7 kilometers to buy an entrance ticket to Angkor Wat. Validity of my pass was from that afternoon up to the next full day.

At 5:30am the next day, my Tuktuk driver picked me up from my hotel to watch the famed sunrise against the silhouette of Angkor's temples. Since it rained the night before, the view wasn't as spectacular as advertised by the brochure. Nevertheless, there was something very enigmatic about the place: two old monks meditating, a lone white horse grazing and the stillness of the place begging to tell it's harrowing story to its busy observers.

Angkor Wat, Bayon, Angkor Thom, Ta Prohm. After around 8 hours of wandering around the ruins - getting lost within the stone skeletons of a once great empire - I asked the Tuktuk driver to take me back to the hotel. I was tired and a bit dehydrated.

I internally freaked out - still poised under pressure - when I learned that the hotel doesn't accept credit cards. I checked my wallet and figured that I have enough money to pay for my room, but not enough to buy food! Solution: I walked for 1.5kms (verified via google maps) to the nearest gas station to buy my birthday dinner.

I was able to return to the hotel just in time to watch the sunset. I drained a can of beer and floated over the pool while watching a flock of birds flying across the orange tainted sky, with the rest of the world drowned as half of my head is submerged in water.

I've had a lot of memorable birthdays - from staying up for the sunset in one of the best beaches in the world, to spending an afternoon in an almost deserted islands. But for now, this will be the most unforgettable. I've made some new friends, had some realizations. Refreshed and inspired, I took a bus at 6:00am to Saigon the next day to continue my Eat, Pray, Love adventure.

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