We started early, to get a jumpstart on our sightseeing before the most brutal heat of the day arrived. As it turned out, this was a futile effort.
In Cambodia in August, it’s never not humid. Walking out of our cool hotel room into the sultry morning, our sunglasses and the lenses on our cameras immediately fogged over. It didn’t feel hot, exactly, at least not yet. Excited about the adventures ahead of us, at 8am we climbed into a motorized rickshaw with our guide and set off for the temples of Angkor Wat.
Out of the sun’s glare, and with the breeze from the fast-moving rickshaw, it was merely “pleasantly warm” as we arrived at the first temple, Ta Prohm. This turned out to be my favorite Angkor temple of the day. I think it was the magical effect of the giant trees overtaking the ancient stonework, crumbling stones and clinging roots creating a mysterious jungle world straight out of the movies.
Or it may have been because that was the last time I felt human for the rest of the day.
Within minutes of getting out of our rickshaw, I noticed I was sweating. Not just a few drips of sweat, but a full-on sheen, as if the water inside my body was desperate to escape and was determined to use every available pore to do so.
Ta Prohm was captivating enough that it was easy to ignore the sweat and carry on. It became more difficult when we moved on to the largest of the temples, the eponymous Angkor Wat. Here, the jungle had been tamed and cut back from the temple to reveal all of its magnificent minute details – and to leave the entire complex in the full sun. The beating heat started to make itself known.
After lunch, a delightfully peaceful meal in the shade next to a large lily pond, we continued on to the marvelous Angkor Thom and the Terrance of the Elephants (which, as its name suggests, is carved with elephants). By this point, it was midafternoon, and my every step felt heavier and slower. Back in our rickshaw, our kind and enthusiastic guide suggested we stop at a market on our way back to our hotel. “No, please,” I said weakly. My mind may have been willing, but my body was done.
Back at our hotel, we gratefully headed straight to the pool. Immersing myself in water seemed like the only way to stop the exodus of fluids from my cells.
On the plus side, despite the many bottles of water I drank over the course of 7 hours, I never once needed a bathroom break.
I don’t tell this tale to discourage you from visiting Angkor Wat; to the contrary, I highly recommend it to everyone. As proof of how much I enjoyed it, consider this: Despite the heat, humidity, sweat and exhaustion, I would go back in a heartbeat. Some places are so unique, so special, that they simply must be experienced in person – even if you leave 20% of your body weight behind in the dust.