Is this real? I think to myself. Is this actually happening right now?
I'm speeding down an unpaved highway in the Cambodian countryside without a helmet, at 60km, sitting behind "Sam" my motorbike driver, holding on for dear life with one hand and eating a fried banana that he gave to me with the other. All the while, dirt and dust being kicked up from passing vehicles is hitting me in the face.
When I look up the trees lining the road give way to clear blue skies full of fluffy white clouds. Aside from the aforementioned dust, the view is stunning. We pass makeshift gas stations, which just have 1litre glass fanta bottles full of petro. We pass homes, with children and livestock roaming freely. We pass the greenest fields and trees I have ever seen.
This is the kind of stuff I read about on travel blogs and watched on travel programming, now I'm freaking experiencing it in real life!
Prior to coming to Cambodia, I've never even ridden in a tuktuk, and now here I am riding a motorbike (pictured above) 42km south of the capital to Phnom Chisor. Most of the reviews on TripAdvisor suggest against taking even a tuktuk for the journey due to the bumpy dusty ride.
I realize how stupid it is to ride without a helmet, however Cambodian law only requires the driver to have one, and on the streets I have yet to see a single passenger wearing one.
Originally I was going to take a tuktuk but "Sam" pseudo-convinces me that motorbike is faster and better. I'm hesitant but agree.
When we first take off from the city, along winding muddy side-streets and back alleys, I have butterflies in my stomach and ridiculous questions spring up. What if I get kidnapped? What if I'm abandoned in the middle of no where? What if we crash and I need to be scrapped off the road?
I remind myself that I need to turn off my Western mentality, I KNOW better than to let preconceptions cloud my judgement about a country before experiencing it. I have to trust that my driver is going to get me safely to where I need to go, or have a terrible time and never let my guard down here. Once we hit the main road, I take in views of the country. I realize just how amazing it was. The wind cooling me down in the 36 degree weather as we blow by scenery that looks like it leap off of the page of National Geographic.
I fell in love with Cambodia as soon as I let all my fears and hang-ups go.
At our main destination, I was rewarded with the temple in complete solitude. Not a single other soul was there. After paying the $2 admission, you have free reign of the temple. I definitely had a few moments of pretending to be Lara Croft and climbing up onto various landings and crawling through a few doorways.
The temple is on a mountain, you get an AMAZING view of the countryside at the top. Photos do this no justice. It was just breathtaking.
After I spend an hour walking around and sketching, we take off again. I'm glad "Sam" got me a mask before we left the city, one because when I wasn't eating that fried banana he bought for me, it is keeping the dust out of my lungs, and two because I can't wipe a ridiculously happy grin off my face the entire ride.
We stop at Tonle Bati on the way back to the city so I can see Ta Prohm, again I am the lone person there.
There are lots of children begging here which can be hard to ignore. Everything I've read online says it is better to not give them money because they are kept out of school by parents to beg. Creating a reliance on tourists is not a sustainable way of life for their future. (Judging by their clothing and cell phone, they aren't going hungry)
As mentioned in my last post, drawing has had an amazing effect on my trip. Only 1-2 children asked me for money once and then once they see me drawing they stop. One little boy just came by ever 5 minutes to watch. He kept himself and me company by singing songs in Khmer. When I finish I wave goodbye to the kids and they wished me good luck.
"Sam" is waiting at a food stall for me and tells me "there has been no one like you before" when I join. He gestures for me to show my sketchbook to the 3-4 other people sitting at the stall and tells me, "if you live here, you make good money." I could have never guessed that drawing would be the instrument that connects me with locals everywhere I go.
In summary, both these sights were well worth the trip, which is an adventure in its own, from Phnom Penh. The journey was only possible because I was travelling solo.
This trip has really made me realize that if you push yourself and your limits and you end up discovering that you are capable of things beyond your wildest imagination. You might even end up loving something that scared you once.