When I woke up on that Friday morning in Phnom Penh, I didn’t know how I ended up falling sleep. I remember being excited the night prior and remember clutching the bed with my hands to make sure that I felt the bed, therefore feeling my physical body to ensure that everything was real. And when it sunk in that things were, in fact, real, I smiled in the dark because the next morning meant that I would finally see Angkor Wat. When morning came, I was greeted with yet another sunny day. I had to take a brief plane ride on Cambodia Air to Siem Reap, and when I landed the sky was more clear as well as more blue than in Phnom Penh. A great day to take pictures, I thought. My tour guide picked me up and his name was Nara, a smiling and happy Cambodian. I was blessed that he would be my personal guide for the next two days.
As Nara drove toward my hotel, I immediately felt good about Siem Reap as it was much cleaner and more beautiful than Phnom Penh. More importantly, the air was much cleaner and much easier to breathe in! There was a European feel, and I was quite surprised. The colors and the air about the city reminded me of Cusco, Peru, and I was just immediately happy. Really, really happy. When I entered the Golden Temple Residence Hotel, the pool and the beautiful lobby made me smile even more, and they seated me and offered a welcome drink with some snacks after pampering me with a chilled hand towel. The high ceilings, the view of the pool, the decor in general along with the ridiculously happy, smiling staff made me feel like I was royalty or some kind of goddess. The story of the fortuitous accident that allowed me to stay at the brand new luxurious property is too long of a story to tell here. But the fact that Nara knew the General Manager of the hotel (they haven’t seen each other for awhile and didn’t know where they were working) was a good blessing for me. My room was upgraded to a corner room with a balcony, and when I opened the door I saw gorgeous flower petals on the luxurious white sheets. The bathroom was huge with more flower petals floating in the sink. Add a daily breakfast, a takeway lunch for when visiting Angkor Wat, a full dinner by the pool with a show, AND a spa treatment, and you can imagine my level of elation. The room was so beautiful that sitting in the air conditioned bed and just relaxing seemed heavenly…but a better heaven was awaiting me. I had to rush back to Nara who was waiting for me in the lobby so he could take me to Angkor Wat. OMG!
The drive toward Angkor Wat was truly, like heaven. I was reminded of Machu Picchu as the journey toward these two places were a massive undertaking. The flight times to get to a different continent, the extra trains, planes, buses, and cars to get to the bucket list site, as well as years of dreaming and lusting about the places never seem real when they are actually, finally happening. So the path to Angkor Wat heaven is met with a green forest path with the tall trees making a shaded path, and there are even monkeys along the way. I didn’t expect to see them, and although they surprised and intrigued me, I was glad I was inside the car and not outside where they could get to me. There was a tuk tuk in front of us and I was almost jealous as it seemed more authentic to drive toward the entrance that way, but again, I think I would have been afraid of the monkeys in an open air vehicle.
After entering the main gate of Angkor Thom we parked the car across from the iconic structure that I have seen years ago, and again, it did not seem real. The dirt was reddish in color like in Morocco, and I was surprised and made a comment to Nara. The tuk tuks were parked in the dirt across from the iconic temple, and the beauty and serenity took my breath away. I had to take a picture, of course. When we walked toward the entrance of the masterpiece, I was surprised that it wasn’t mobbed by tourists. It was quiet, I thought, and seeing a few orange clad monks made me feel so calm, serene, and happy. Nara understood my obsession for photos so he acted like my personal photographer, waiting patiently while I did my yoga dancer’s pose as well as my typical double peace sign gesture. But he GOT me. He knew it wasn’t just a peace sign. He knew it was for VICTORY as he even blurted it out. Yes, VICTORY! I have arrived at my bucket list destination and I was about to enter the UNESCO heaven if only I could stop taking pictures…