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Published: July 28th 2018
While in Siem Reap I have been staying at the Onederz Hostel. The combination of the hostel and the city have made everything such an easy introduction to Cambodia. It is a large hostel and the lobby is full of backpackers of all ages milling about. It is kind of fun to see their joy and sense of discovery. However, over the years I have done the backpacker social thing so many times that the thrill of it has worn off for me. It is nice to find some kindred spirits especially at the end of a long day, but more and more the only social thing that interests me is getting out, meeting and getting to know the locals. Pub Street, the center of town, is such a tourist centric madcap area that the only thing that feels remotely Cambodian are the little massage girls who pop out at you from all angles. The first night I was here I had two of them throw themselves directly in front of me, but I didn’t stop walking so they just let themselves be gleefully pushed along in my wake. It was bizarre.
After going on tours during my first days
in Siem Reap I was eager to chillout and wander around by myself for a day. I figured I would finally pamper myself with a morning massage. However, since that icy night in January where I slipped and crunched my rib any kind of complex full body massage would have to be avoided. So, a foot massage it would have to be.
I wandered around the center of Siem Reap looking for a suitable establishment. I did not want to go to one of those places where they try to accost you out front as you are walking by, nor did I want to go to one of those places that had a dozen other foreigners sitting around getting foot massages while watching western movies. And I definitely did not want to stick my feet in a fish tank and have little fish nibble at my toes. After a little exploring I found a place with just a few Cambodians sitting outside engaged in quiet conversation and no customers inside that I could see. I asked about a foot massage. They said no problem and a girl told me to follow her.
As soon we got inside she
tried to upsell me to a full body massage. I politely declined, motioned to my hurt rib, and said that the foot massage would be just fine. I took a seat in what was a long row of very comfortable soft lounge chairs. It turned out to be a foot and calf massage. It was very relaxing and after chatting for a bit I found myself drifting off into a contented semi-sleep. After the hour was up the girl leaned forward and said how about an hour more, maybe full body massage. She was friendly and at that point another hour of contented dozing did not sound half bad. I was quite worried about my still healing rib. However, I was in Cambodia so I against my better judgement I agreed.
To my surprise and pleasure everything was going well. The massage began with me lying on my stomach. The massage bed was soft and my rib felt protected. The leg massage she started off with was good and relaxing and once again I found myself drifting off to sleep. Shortly after however things went a bit pear shaped as she quite swiftly hopped up on the bed herself
and sat down on top of me to have better access to my back and shoulder. “Oh God!” I thought this is going to be a disaster. I nervously waited for the inevitable pain to commence, but to my amazement it didn’t as she softly massaged my back and shoulders. There was no way I was drifting off to sleep this time though. I needed to remain vigilant.
However, when she was finished with that section things took a turn for the worse. Her hands managed to find the exact spot of my injury and she put all of her full weight on it directly as she levered herself back on to the floor. Crackle, Pop, Pop. Agony. A wave of intense pain pulsed through the very section of rib I was trying to protect and now had been made exponentially worse. I waited for the rest of the massage to finish while trying to breathe once again and cursing my stupidity. I would like to say I will a learn a lesson from this...
After a small lunch, I found a tuk tuk driver and arranged to be driven back to Angkor Wat for a second visit.
I had a seven-day pass don’t forget. It was the first time on the trip that I arranged my own transport, so that was a nice notch under my belt. I hopped in the vehicle and was off. It was a different feeling this time around as I could actually see where I was going and, being an open-air vehicle, I was able to feel and smell the cool breezes as we zoomed through an area of forest just outside Siem Reap on the way to the Angkor Wat.
At the entrance I made plans to meet the tuk tuk driver in a few hours and headed into the temple complex. Once again, I strode across the huge wide floating bridge. The sun was shining and the whole thing felt like an entirely new experience. I emerged out of the first gateway and beheld the expansive temple space spreading out before me. This time around the temple actually seemed to be more in its natural element while being bathed in shimmering afternoon sunshine and heat. Rather than sunrise, it seemed to me that this time of day was when most of the life of the temple would have been
lived out centuries ago.
What I wanted to do was to wander off and find a space of my own to better contemplate the magnificent wonder. The place I picked was a patch of dry grass in front of the iconic structure. I didn’t see any stay off the grass signs, but I didn’t see a single other person sitting there either.
I reclined back and listened to some old Cambodian royal court music and just blissed out on the whole experience. I was there in that one spot for a long stretch of time. Eventually, however I glanced over and saw a very large monkey walking quite purposely in a line towards my position. Maybe I was sitting along the path of his regular afternoon stroll? Maybe he wanted to stop by and say hello? Maybe he wanted to have a good chew of my cheek? I had no interest in finding out so I moved along.
Going back to Angkor Wat a second time turned out to be a great decision. Not only because I was able to witness a different time of day, but also by wandering around on my own I was able
to get a better sense of the ancient rhythms of the complex. I was able to go at my own pace and explore to my heart’s delight. Near the end of my wanderings I came to the back entrance of Angkor Wat. There I was able to feel like a “Tomb Raider” as I climbed in and around whole structures all alone, just me and the Khmer ancients.
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