My flight from Zhongguo, China took about three hours to get to Siem Reap, Cambodia. This would be the starting point of my tour of the kingdom of Cambodia. I had spent a week in cold, snowy China and was now on my way to warm, tropical Cambodia. As the plan descended and got closer to the airport, I gasped. The airport looked like no airport I have seen before. I commented to my seatmate that I felt like I was arriving in Vegas. This was a bit of a disservice to Seam Reap, although it did seem near magical to arrive at a place full of palm trees, where the airport building looked like a little villa. I got out of the airplane and was greeted by warm air, statues and chirping birds. The wait for my checked in bag was short, and I went through immigration fairly quickly.
Outside the airport, I was met by a guy holding a sign with my name on it. He led me to a scooter driven tuktuk, a vehicle where a scooter pulls a carriage where the passenger sits. I need hardly say that I was delighted, although I felt a bit sorry for the guy who had to lug my two heavy suitcases onto the tuktuk and then get the scooter off of its center stand. As we took off from the airport, I saw a girl riding a scooter while talking on a cellphone held in her left hand. Welcome to Cambodia! Women on scooters and bicycles everywhere was something I’d see quite frequently over the next few days.
Everything I saw seemed new and exciting. Different clothes, different faces, billboards and road signs in Khmer, palm trees and other tropical flora, warm, humid air. We stopped briefly for gas where the attendant helped us fill up. When we got ready to leave, he looked me in the eyes and said â€“ â€œHave safe travels. I hope you have a good time in my country.â€ I burst into a grin. In all my travels, this was the first time that I had been welcomed into any country in such a warm and friendly way.
The tuktuk driver moved on, and as we rode down darkening streets, two wheeled scooter and mopeds kept whizzing past us on both directions. We eventually came upon an intersection where the left arrow pointed to the famous Angkor Wat, while the continue arrow pointed to Seam Reap. Sadly, we continued. Through a turn of circumstances, my flight to Cambodia had been delayed by a day, and I would be unable to see the famous temples like I had planned.
The tuktuk turned right onto a rougher road riddled with pothole and gravel. Before long we turned into the courtyard of the Central Boutique Hotel where I had been booked for the night. The hotel grounds resembled a botanical garden, filled with all kinds of tropical plants and flower. The two swimming pools looked very tempting, but I was too exhausted and I needed to get together with the group to discuss logistics for the next day. I proceeded to check in, and ran into Nicole, the gal from Australia with whom I had been exchanging emails for the past couple of months, trying to plan out this trip. She was accompanied by the two other guys who would be doing the tour with us, Chris and Brett, both Australians, our tour guide Chia, and Pich, the guy who would ride sweep, who didn’t look much older than fifteen. We got together for dinner and chatted a bit. The logistics turned out to be – “Show up here at 7:30AM tomorrow.” *groan* How I wish I’d had at least one rest day.
But first – beer!