Solo Backpacking: Cambodia (1/2)

(On my way to the hostel..)

Tuktuk: Lady bang bang for you tonight?
Me: No thanks.
Tuktuk: You want to smoke ganja
Me: No!
Tuktuk: cocaine?
Me: NO!
Tuktuk: heroin? ice?
Me: I didn’t came here for that. So please stop offering.
Tuktuk: Ohh I know..I show you city tour?

conclusion: some tuktuk drivers believe city tours are less likely to be chosen by travelers over getting stoned! wow

03When you’re traveling around Southeast Asia, it’s quite normal to get the feeling that—either your tuk-tuk driver has plans to mug you off or he’s gonna bring you somewhere absolutely amazing. It was a bumpy ride to my hostel and I’m sweating like a pig but the fact that red dust cling to my skin and staining my plain white shirt was enough reason for me to suck in my nasty complaints!

Ahhh Cambodia..I dreamed about you, saw you in Tomb Raider and history books, watched you in travel documentaries, and blabbered about you countless times. You’re a part of this romantic/tragic narcissistic notion of the type of place I wanted to see and experience. Who would’ve thought I’d see you and experience you in times I least expected? I always knew that I’d experience you in this lifetime but not this young and especially not alone.

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I felt alone and at the same time happy at the plane ride I’ve anticipated my whole life. So I plugged in my earphone and listened to the song I love thinking that will somehow ease the pang of loneliness I feel but turned out otherwise. I knew that moment when the song was at its zenith, as the band singing it were, too, and I was peeking at the airplane window, towards an unfamiliar city lights record herself thru my eyes, I was meant to be there. Despite almost not making it. Despite being there by a slim, sheer, dumb chance, I was meant to be there. And I was meant to be there as I was—blissfully alone. And ecstatic. And feeling so damn free.

Rewind to four months ago. I booked the ticket to Siem Reap without the knowledge and permission of my parents like I always did in my local trips. So when the time came that I had to let them know about it and ask for their permission, they instantly turned into a broken record that only blurts out capital ‘N-O’. Of course that’s the initial reaction of parents who are non-believers of solo backpacking.

I began to lose hope and thought of not making it. I made up my mind that I just wasted the money I use to buy the plane ticket and that Im not gonna have that experience… for now.

But what convinced them later to allow me and support me was some sort of magic that’s beyond words. It happened, just how all good things in life usually do—unexpectedly.

As soon as I stepped outside of the plane, and as the warm puff of Cambodian air let her presence be felt, I began to have goosebumps. Thinking that I finally realized this dream of mine to experience a place alone. That I finally followed my guts, stepped out of my comfort zone and embraced the great unknown.

We humans never really stopped evolving. I know tables have completely turned the moment I decided to do a solo backpacking trip. Because before just the thought of traveling alone in a country I know nothing about gives me instant mental diarrhea. I used despise the idea of it like math, monggo for dinner, Binay and monday mornings. I see no point why one should do that. But our my dreams and desires constantly change. And these constant changes made me the person, I believe, I currently am—wanderlust.

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The next thing I know, I was riding the tuktuk and talking to Oum with a big, stupid grin on my face. Oum will be my tuktuk driver to the temples from my hostel for my entire stay in Siem Reap. He was suggested by a friend who was also here three full moons back. Oum picked me up at the airport and helped me look for a cheap but decent hotel room—with electricity—for my first night. Yes, there was no electricity in the whole city when I arrived. We rounded the city for a good 40 minutes to find a hotel with a generator. “Tomorrow the electricity in the city will be back..” he said while carrying my 50L backpack to my hotel room “..you can finally transfer to your hostel”. He always had this weird habit of smiling then laughing after every sentence he said, even if it’s not funny at all. Which is kinda infectious in a good way.

When he was about to leave I asked him if how much is the cost of the airport pick up. He shook his head in disagreement, indirectly saying no, while tying his shoe. Before I say a word and object he looked up at me and said “You are my client and I do that to all my clients” and then—you guessed it right—he smiled and burst into laughter. I can’t help but do the same damn thing.

I’ve been trying to get a good sleep, at least a good sleep by my standards, but to no avail. My first night outside the Philippines since the travel bug bit me wasn’t as good as I expected it to be. There’s this inexplicable hollowness I feel inside. Something that won’t stop bugging me. I knew it. I felt alone. I felt terribly alone. At one point, I regretted this trip.

But I just let it all suck in and let myself have this human experience. I let myself learn my way around loneliness and make a map of it and sit with it.

After all, the timing of the universe is impeccable. You are always, always at the right place at the right time. You just have to trust it. We’re exactly where we’re supposed to be.

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Modernization is inevitable, just like puberty. And even though its already kicking in this place, Im so glad that majority of Siem Reap today—being a popular tourist destination—still remains a rural old town, with French style houses and shabby diners. Of course you wouldn’t want to see a zip line from one temple to the other or heavy traffic jam or skyscrapers for God’s love. With its laid-back pace and good-time vibe, Siem Reap feels like a happy grin barely hidden by a shy hand.

I’ve got eight days to do temple hopping and my plan was to visit the Angkor Wat and watch the sunrise on the first day then the other nearby temples. But I wasn’t able to do that until the fifth day. I don’t know what’s with me or with the Angkor Beer I can’t stand up when my clock alarms at four in the morning. I feel guilty that I made Oum wait for me outside my hostel for three hours for four consecutive mornings. I always find him sleeping soundly at the chair made by a pile of wood near the hostel gate. I will wake him up then say sorry for waking up late..again. “Stay away from the PUB Street..” he said “if you want to see the sunrise in Angkor Wat.” I thought he was mad, had he not smile then laugh at my soporific face.

Speaking of PUB Street, he was right. This is where I spend my lonely nights in Siem Reap. It is tucked somewhere in the not-so-calm street in the Old Market Area, far from the ancient god-forsaken temples. Just a couple of blocks from Angkor Night Market and a few steps away from my hostel. It is where the party happens during the night until the sun shines, seven days a week. It became a nightly ritual for me and I guess my hostel is the one to blame!

Every night, I will try a new cafe/restaurant but would always end up either in Angkor What? or Temple Bar, both seem to be on a even-steven affair for the award for who’s got the louder speakers.

This is where I will be sitting down in cafe—blissfully alone, whiling away the time, watch the lights glimmer on backpackers, and think of the day that passed. This is where I try to keep myself busy by writing random stuffs or a postcard to loved ones,  get a dollar foot massage by the street or eat a banana pancake, which is a popular street fare on this side of the world. This is where I stopped depending for my happiness from another. This is where—for the first time in my life—I enjoyed my own company!

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And then I will sit at the al fresco part of the Angkor What Bar, then let the loud music and Anchor Beer (pronounced an-tsor) drown me. Since I am alone, I will be seated with other backpackers; from loud group of dudettes with distinctive british accent to sheepish malaysian backpackers. We will talk about the places we’ve been and misadventures we’ve had on the road—you know, the usual travelers talk—despite the super loud music, making us scream each word we threw.

One night, just to shake things up, I danced on the street with other traveler from all walks of life. The backpacker crowd was much more fun. We dragged willing victims in the middle. Everyone’s moving at a dizzying pace as the hints of white on our clothes glowed under the black light. It was so liberating to let loose in a place where no one knew who you are and no one would give a damn about what you do.


“There’s so much more to life than finding someone who will want you, or being sad over someone who doesn’t. There’s a lot of wonderful time to be spent discovering yourself without hoping someone will fall in love with you along the way, and it doesn’t need to be painful or empty. You need to fill yourself up with love. Not anyone else. Become a whole being on your own. Go on adventures, fall asleep in the woods with friends, wander around the city at night, sit in a coffee shop on your own, write on bathroom stalls, leave notes in library books, dress up for yourself, give to others, smile a lot. Do all things with love, but don’t romanticize life like you can’t survive without it. Live for yourself and be happy on your own. It isn’t any less beautiful, I promise.”Emery Allen


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to be continued

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