Today is the last of our three-day entry ticket to the Temples of Angkor. We're biking in later than normal, hoping to see Angkor Wat without the crowds. Since most tourists come here for sunrise or sunset, we're told it should be quiet under the harsh afternoon sun.
We travel past the now familiar ticket booth, and ride a few more kilometers to reach the great moat around Angkor Wat. For the last two visits, we've skipped it, but today is the day for the grand hoo-ha of temples. On the way, we pass a laughing girl riding her bicycle, with a young boy in tears running behind her, trying to catch up.
Tyler hits the breaks, and pauses for a moment, watching the scene. His brows furrow together as he shakes his head, muttering something about "older sisters…" Then, with his mind clearly fixed on some objective, he whips his bike around and shouts "I'll be right back!"
I break into a huge smile as I watch Tyler pull up beside the boy and point towards the unloaded rear rack of his bicycle. The boy immediately stops crying and looks up, confused. A grin covers his face when the realization sets in. Without hesitation, he leaps onto the back, already adept at the art of sharing bicycles, like all Cambodian children.
Then, both of them beaming, Tyler and his charge scream off in pursuit of the girl. Legs spinning furiously, he speeds away, giving chase as fast as he can (which is pretty dang fast when our bikes aren't loaded). Together, they blast down the shoulder, overtaking a scooter and two other cyclists on the way.
In the distance, I can see the girl heading towards a collection of food stalls. Other little kids (they are everywhere in Cambodia), presumably the boy's friends, are playing out front. Sitting triumphantly on the back of a foreigner's speeding bicycle, gaining distance on his sister, he shouts something at them, waving as if to say "HEY! HEY! LOOK AT MEEEE!"
When they see their friend, they adopt looks of shock and delight, and then jump up and down, screaming and cheering him on with fists pumping. Tyler deposits the little dude at the food stall he has pointed out, much to the shock of his elder sister, and the pride of the little boy. Underdog aided, Tyler smiles and waves goodbye, then cycles back to where I am, beaming and proud.
I love my husband.
Angkor Wat is so highly regarded as the place to see here, that we've purposefully saved it for last, not-so-secretly assuming it would be let-down. We've seen enough tourist traps to know what sort of place we won't enjoy visiting. It has all the earmarks: high entry fees, lots of tourist traffic, hawkers trying sell guided tours, cordoned off areas, etc.
But, in an attempt to do our civic duty and visit the places we're supposed to, we head to the grandest temple of them all, trying to keep an open mind. Maybe it is a self-fulfilling prophecy, but of course, we find it to be the least interesting site of all.
Angkor Wat is a sprawling place, and with all the crowds it is hard to feel any kind of intimate connection with the site. There just isn't much soul to it. Or maybe we're just uncultured.
Here he is contemplating scaling this steep, unbelievably shallow staircase.
Of course he climbs it, and snaps a view from the top:
Meanwhile, I pretend like I don't know him while he gets chastised by some guards.
So, we saw everything we wanted to see already, and thoroughly enjoyed it. We marveled at the faces of Bayon as the sun came up through the thick morning clouds, we saw Ta Prohm and the insane octopus-like tree roots consuming it, we spent much time at lesser-temples, napping in the shade of their ruins, and we rode out to a Bantaey Srei, enjoying the scenery on the way.
After three days, and something like twenty four hours of sightseeing combined, we feel like we've done the area justice. Checking it off our list, we are happy to leave Angkor Wat and its thousands of tourists behind.
And yet, walking back towards our bikes, we are dragging our feet in the dirt, feeling a little delinquent. Maybe we should give it another chance? Come back for sunset? Our concerns are discarded when Tyler's eyes twinkle, and he makes the suggestion that is music to my ears: Wanna bike over to see Sun at Stall Number Seven for an iced coffee?
That is exactly what I want to do.