When the dust settles in Siem Reap

Siem Reap’s – quite literally meaning ‘Siamese Defeated – name is a (smug) testament to its history of conflict that Cambodia has always been embroiled in one way or another. And it isn’t a place that the travel companion (TC) and I actually envisioned visiting at all.

But the idea the Angkor Wat Complex simply grew too big to contain. Knowing that the year end week-long holidays offered the opportunity to do just that, we booked our tickets still feeling uncertain, and that was that.

If November – April is Cambodia’s driest and coolest period, the day we arrived proved the contrary. The sweltering heat and humidity meant the insects were out in force, as were the sweaty people whose facial glows were made worse by the garish night lights.

Escaping the heat and getting into the hotel’s air-conditioned rooms was a luxury all on its own, and its location on a side street supposedly meant that we were further away from the noise downtown. But an incessantly-chattering lizard, noisy neighbours who stomped their way around at 3 a.m. and the screaming Cambodian children playing early in the morning meant that sleep was scarce.

TC and I were grumpy arses because of the infuriating airport queues, the flight delay and questionable standard of the room we had in a hotel that was supposedly rated very highly by others.

All things considered, I do tend to arrive at my destination feeling worn-down, worn-out and plain unwashed, then wonder how people make merry while I see everything else through the dusty lenses of a tired tourist trying to keep it together.

The centre of Siem Reap turned out to be several night markets, a bewildering string of push-cart stalls, swirling with the dust of a hundred tuk-tuks and the footsteps of too many tourists stumbling their way through the uneven roads. A town on steroids, so to speak, when things pass you at warp speed, and all you want to do is take a bath, find something to eat and head to bed.

It was a typical first day, after all.

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