It was a day just like any other day that had gone by except that I woke up later than usual because I was on leave from work. I’ve spent the past days on meditation at a forest monastery and other me-time which comprised mostly of cleaning and organising my room whilst also doing some internal cleansing. I have four more days left before I go back to work and I had no idea what to do with those remaining days. It was during those bored moments that my impulsiveness struck again because the next thing I know, I was in a train going to Aranyaprathet where I’d cross the border to Cambodia.
The decision to travel to Siem Reap didn’t involve so much fuss. I just got up from bed, scroll on my Facebook newsfeed, and exclaimed “I’m going to Cambodia!” I didn’t see any Cambodia-related posts on Facebook. I just thought Cambodia is the nearest I could travel given that I only have four days to spend. All I did was check what time the train leaves from Bangkok to Aranyaprathet, packed and headed to the station. I was literally backpacking contrary to most of my travels which involved dragging a stroller to the airport, a pre-arranged pick-up and a booking to some five-star hotels. The change was a breath of fresh air. I was ecstatic!
It was the first time I travelled without doing any research. I didn’t know where I’d stay, how do I actually get to Siem Reap or how much it would all cost me. I just sat at the train and enjoyed the scenery. I’ve always loved long train rides. It gives me the chance to just live in the moment and soaked it all in, the scenery, the sounds, the smell of places we passed by.
We arrived in Aranyaprathet at about 5PM. I asked someone how to get to the border but I was having a hard time getting a ride. I was also concerned that evening was approaching and I didn’t know if there are places for me to stay for the night on the other side of the border. I decided to spend the night in Aranyaprathet instead. I found a place which only cost THB200 (approx. USD 6) though they didn’t have air-conditioning but at least there was an electric fan. I dropped by backpack, took a shower and went for a walk around town to explore and find dinner. I liked it in the province with its slow-paced lifestyle in stark contrast with Bangkok.
I was going to take the bus to Siem Reap but I met two travellers, an Italian guy and Argentinian lady, who were also going there so we hired a cab instead and paid 20 US dollars each. Since I didn’t know yet where I’d stay, I got off with them and walked through the streets to find accommodations too cheap that you’d never find them on the internet. I found one at the end of the street from where my two companions were staying –their place has been booked up—and got a room to myself for only $10 a night.
I rented a bike that cost only $1 a day and spent the afternoon and evening exploring Siem Reap with it. I was extremely scared whenever I went on a busy street because I’ve never ridden a bike in a long time. But I was determined to overcome my fear so I went on. When I got tired of roaming around, I found a cozy place to drink and people-watch before I headed to the evening market.
The next day I explored Angkor Wat Complex by bike and spent only $1 as compared to the $10 tuktuk. If you’ve ever been around Angkor Wat Complex, you’d know how crazy it is to bike your way around with all the muscle pains afterwards because it is so huge! Still, I had so much fun exploring it by bike because I could enjoy the scenery better and it made me feel more attuned with nature. The second time I went was with colleagues, we had our tour guide provided by the Parliament and a comfortable ride but the experience was nothing compared to the fun I had with my bike.
I’ve always been fascinated with ruins and the nostalgic feeling I get when around them. And by nostalgic I meant that feeling of deeper connection with the past, the wisdom that ruins exude and the amazement at the sight of a masterpiece. I was particularly thrilled to visit the spot where they shoot the film Tomb Raider in Ta Prohm.
My most adventurous experience though happened on the way back. It started raining and there was no sign of it ever stopping. I was concerned because I have my passport and DSRL camera in my backpack but if I would wait for the rain to stop, it may not stop until dusk. I placed my passport inside the camera bag and wrapped the bag with the scarf and placed it at the bottom of my backpack. I then stacked the chips and souvenirs on top, hoping heavens that the bottom part will remain dry. I pedaled and stopped to rest then pedaled my way back for almost two hours before I reached my accommodation.
I was exhausted. I can no longer feel my legs. But I was extremely happy. For some reason, the experience felt extremely liberating. My passport was safe. My camera got a little wet. The rest of my bag was wet but I didn’t care. I was happy and I never felt as alive in a long time. I took a long warm bath and took some rest before I headed out to have dinner and hopped in the bus that left Siem Reap at midnight and brought me back to Bangkok before lunch the next day.
One of the best things about traveling unprepared is that you are forced to talk to people. I was thrilled at the idea of letting things unfold without giving much thought into its preparations but I was more thrilled to be interacting with people. Humanity is indeed full of kindness if you open your eyes to it and especially when you are a stranger at the receiving end of another stranger’s benevolence.
My spontaneous Siem Reap trip was one of my most unforgettable experiences. I didn’t spend time planning it so there were no unfulfilled expectations, no overthinking or what have you. It was all spontaneous and because of that, it was filled with surprises.