It was raining lightly when the plane landed at the Siem Reap International Airport. Without any checked-in baggage, I immediately headed to the exit. My eyes wandered through the papers screaming with printed names. I saw my name near the right end of the horizontal line of tuktuk drivers.
Too much excitement gave me broken sleep and high energy level to not mind the hot breeze that enveloped me upon getting out of the room. The 40-kph speed of the tuktuk to my first tour stopover did not bother me. I took time to have a glimpse of Cambodian life. I cannot see from their eyes the negative pressure of having foreigners in their place. Everybody seems happy. The smooth run of the tuktuk made me enjoyed the view of ricefields and roadside restaurants. I felt their struggle and hardwork from the goods on display for sale – artworks, steamed rice on bamboo stems, light pants, shirts, food items.
The traffic on Cambodian street is not long. Tuktuks with tourists, based on my counting, easily outnumbered the private cars and buses. The drivers are courteous to the other drivers. My driver is probably the best among them because he wore his helmet, even when the sun was at the peak of its course. He maintained his speed throughout the tour and didn’t initiate any form of rudeness. He was never late.
When we reached the first temple – Ta Prohm – in my schedule, it was still closed. While waiting for it to be opened, kids selling fridge magnets, fans, postcards and whatnots bugged us. Soon, they moved to the tuktuk where two Filipinas were sitting. The kids offered their items in pesos. They were desperate to sell their items, even going to the low price of 5 pieces of fridge magnets for 100pesos.
Tourists started to line-up at the entrance of the temple. It was not the peak season of tourists but since it’s the number one tourist attraction in the world, many are still in Siem Reap during the low season. And Ta Prohm is one of the biggest crowd drawer because of the spots good for picture-taking. It has become popular also with the help of the movie Tomb Raider. The roots that seemingly eat portions of the temple have become one of the signature photos of Cambodia. According to my driver, during peak season, a very long line of people is formed on every corner where there is a root resting on one of the towers or roof of the temple. When I was informed about that, I instructed him to be early so as to avoid the crowd. Luckily, I was third on the line.
Everybody needs to walk from the entrance arch to the temple. I switched on my speedy legs and music app in my phone. So while Charlie Puth is singing, I walked and silently sang “One Call Away.” I reached the first tree standing tall on top of the bricks and stones. With the help of a fellow tourist, I positioned myself on the manmade wooden stage and posed for a souvenir photo. I later learned that every corner is a great spot for a photo. Even the outside wall has carvings perfect as backdrop.
The next temple is a bit far. So I lazily sat on the cushioned tuktuk seat. Since my driver is your typical good Cambodian, his speed never exceeded the limit. While enjoying the gentle brush of wind on my face, a tuktuk with two blonde Eves overtook. My sight was magnetised by the sight of the one seated facing the direction where the tuktuk was coming from. I smiled. To my amazement, she smiled back and waved her hands. So I had no choice but to do the same. We were going to the same direction – to the Banteay Srei or commonly known as the Lady Temple.
My driver parked next to the tuktuk of the two gorgeous ladies. I was a bit startled to see the lady taller than me, may be an inch or two. I was there, standing.. and staring at her. I never noticed her walking towards my direction. And a soft “Hi.” brought me back to reality. No words came out from my lips. So she asked again, “Are you excited to see the temple?” she asked with an accent, maybe Spanish.
My heart was beating fast and I didn’t know what to do. But I must thank whoever possessed me, I regained my sanity and replied, “Yes. I would like to see the carvings.”
“Let’s go.” Her friend suggested.
We walked under the scorching rays of the sun. She did look like an angel walking on the face of the earth. With a slight gust, her dress swayed. The view of her blonde hair touching her face and lips was a perfect clip for any romance film.
Before this trip, I have read about the temples. When she started asking if I know the importance of the carvings or the temple or the cultural significance of the temple, I plainly said that I have read some guidebooks prior to my arrival but I really did not keep the information in my head.
She commenced giving me an impromptu lecture on the history of the temple and its intricate carvings. We did not mind the sun. We did not mind the sweat flowing from our bodies. At the main temple, we asked her friend to take a snapshot of us. We decided to try boating at the other end of the temple. Her friend opted not to go with us.
So in that day, I was able to meet a strong woman who shares the same passion in backpacking. Yes, next year, she’ll be spending six months in the Philippines. With me.