Icarus goes to Cambodia

Furiously backblogging as I try and put down record of my adventures before I leave Laos soon (15 days from now- where does time go?!). This trip to Cambodia was in early December. 

I glanced down at my watch. 9:25. Shit.

“We f*cked the pooch!” Courtney let out her favorite lament. Our flight was leaving in 20 minutes and we had yet to check in, having spent the last 25 minutes being bounced between indifferent security guards that finally directed us to the AirAsia counter. The counter had shut down early and the stonefaced man behind the counter insisted, despite his presence and uniform, that he wasn’t working and shamed us for not arriving earlier. He claimed the counter had closed at 9 and threatened to go check the security tapes because he thought we were lying about getting to the airport at that time.

Save the lecture, I know. It was foolish of us in the first place to get to the airport at 9 pm for a 9:45 flight, and at the end of the day this was our fault, especially because we had spent the last hour or so joking about how solidly our timing had worked out all day. But in our defense, for every other in-Asia flight we’d taken prior (and every other since), that would have been plenty early. And in our defense, the man behind the counter needn’t be so obstinately unsympathetic and just plain rude. Frustrated, we ambled away from the counter. There were three other guys that were in the same situation as us, but didn’t seem interested in trying to problem-solve together. Anyways, there were no other flights that night and AirAsia was in no way going to refund any of our now useless tickets.

Some small miracle allowed me to connect to a random open WiFi network if I stood just so next to a specific column, so we quickly messaged one of the only other people we knew in the country – Thouni. Thouni is a superstar and was the reason we were in Cambodia to begin with. The first day we met her, she decided we’d volunteer with her and this trip was the result of this partnership. She was organizing a bike race in Siem Reap and offered to let us ride for free if we volunteered at registration and found our way to Cambodia. Angkor Wat was on my list of must-sees and Courtney was eager to return to Cambodia after having been there on a study tour two years ago, so we jumped at the chance for our first international escapade (visa trips notwithstanding). We had found our way there, but were having trouble finding our way back.

Always calm in crisis, Thouni instructed us to come to her hotel, seeing as it was too late to try and leave any other way. We hopped in a remark (Cambodia’s more elegant version of a tuk-tuk) and found ourselves at a cute boutique hotel, owned by Thouni’s friend’s mother. Thouni had hookups all over town and was consistently super helpful. We sat down in the lobby and Thouni and Tony – her college friend that was also in town for the race – came out and commiserated with us. The hotel owner gave us orange juice while they prepared our room. Courtney knocked hers over. It was that kind of a night.

Minutes later, we paced around our beautifully furnished room, frantically Googling our options. The most obvious was to rebook our flights, but that would be over $200 each and the trip had been pricey to begin with. So despite the ease of going for the most direct route, we searched for an alternative. Thanks to the beautiful people of the internet, we decided on the following: we would take a taxi to the Thai-Cambodian border, cross by foot, and take the afternoon train from there to Bangkok. This plan involved only rebooking our flights from Bangkok, which were only around $50. Fighting off our anxiety, we managed to go to bed.

Sleep worked its usual magic and we awoke early the next morning, still anxious but with much sunnier dispositions. We were pleased to find a delicious breakfast included and even more pleased when the owner gave us a huge discount on the room since we were friends of Thouni. This was especially a relief because in the flurry of events, we had forgotten to even ask how much the room cost before we were already in bed. Re-energized and glad to start the day out on such a positive note, we vowed to spend the rest of the day being grateful rather than beating ourselves up over this mistake. We started a gratitude list to celebrate all of the positive results of missing our flight, no matter how small. It was looking like getting home wouldn’t be too much of a hassle and was starting to sound kind of fun.

After all, it had been a great trip so far. We had spent two days working at registration for the race, handing out packets and T-shirts, and eating lunch at the cute vegan cafe around the corner. The cafe owner was a chef that wasn’t actually vegan, but was running this restaurant as a challenge. It had just opened a few days prior and didn’t have any take out containers, so when we were running late but really wanted to try the raw avocado lime cheesecake, the owner happily handed over a ceramic bowl and told us to return it later. (The place closed at 5, so we ended up toting the bowl to another restaurant for dinner, much to the confusion of the wait staff that kept trying to take away the dirty dishes, as one does.) We spent those evenings with delicious dinners and people-watching over cocktails on Pub Street, the brightly lit street full of bars and, therefore, tourists.

The day of the race we made our way to Angkor Wat at the early hour of 5 am. We were riding bikes that Courtney’s friend Suy Vet had lent us. Courtney met Suy Vet during her last trip to Cambodia and he was an avid biker and extremely friendly. The race wrapped around the whole temple complex and we casually rode the 30 kilometers in the cool morning air amongst the hundreds of other bikers, enjoying views of the temples as we passed by. The race was to support Village Focus International, a group that fights human trafficking. THANK YOU very much to everyone that helped me fundraise $412 for the cause. That afternoon we met up with Max, a guy I had befriended a few days ago at the airport and the three of us went to Tonle Sap lake, the largest freshwater lake in Southeast Asia. Our guide was amiable and dropped us off at a large building in the middle of the lake to watch the sunset. The next hour was punctuated by Chinese tourists coming to take pictures with us, amused initially by Max’s height and then by the diversity of a tall white guy, a white girl with curly hair, and a brown girl. It was bizarre but supremely amusing. The night brought an after party for the race and we assembled a veritable troupe of friends to barhop, dance, help a super drunk Cambodian girl that hit her head in the bathroom, and night swim.

The next day was (in theory) our last day and we planned to make the most of it. We grabbed brunch with Thouni and Tony at the most incredible crunchy granola cafe that I still drool thinking about. Tony joined Courtney and I for a half day of running around temples to see the highlights of Angkor Wat. He was a hilarious addition to the group and we’d alternate between horror and laughter as he asked security guards where the elevators in the temples were and told vendors that he couldn’t buy their clothes because he only shopped at The Gap. We met up with Thouni for some amazing Indian food. She took us to a friend’s shoe shop and got us a discount on the sweet Nikes we bought. Thrilled that we still had time before our flight, we hopped into a nearby massage parlor for a cheap half hour massage. Unfortunately, that was the moment we flew too close to the sun. The massage was not only mediocre but cost us time we should have spent heading to the airport. I knew our flight was “around 10,” but didn’t check the exact time because most other airports in SE Asia are so cavalier. We spent the remark ride confidently congratulating ourselves on fitting in so much in our last day. Which would have been well and good had we reached 15 minutes earlier…. but, such is life.

So riding the good energy of the trip thus far, we turned our error into an adventure, making notes of the little things we were grateful for along the way. It ended up being a fantastic day. The border crossing was easy and the train ride to Bangkok offered gorgeous views of the Thai countryside, including one of the most stunning sunsets I’ve ever seen. Changing our outlook on the situation allowed us to enjoy the experience rather than being frustrated at ourselves. It ended up being really cheap too – the 2-hour taxi was around $35 total and the 6-hour train ride was a mere ~$1.50! All in all, this change of plans was a fun detour and didn’t erase the enjoyment of the rest of the trip and the jerk behind the AirAsia counter didn’t undo all of the positive interactions we’d had with people. Flying too close to the sun to squeeze in that massage wasn’t the disaster it had initially seemed. Icarus fell, but first he flew. And just as Oscar Wilde commented, “Never regret thy fall, / O Icarus of the fearless flight. / For the greatest tragedy of them all / Is never to feel the burning light.”

Pooja & Courtney’s Gratitude List: 

  • The iced coffee @ Bavyra Hotel is delicious
  • The owner of Bavyra is a sweetheart
  • Thouni hooked us up again
  • I had a brilliant book idea.
  • I feel skinny!
  • We get to wear our new shoes.
  • Kickass shampoo & conditioner @ Bavyra
  • We get to quote Oscar Wilde
  • True Coffee
  • The train to Bangkok
    • Nice people
    • Dat sunset doe!
    • Papaya salad & peanuts
    • Easy border crossing
  • More time with each other 💛
  • I finished Missoula
  •  Sushi! 💛💛💛
    • for once, my food came first (barely)


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