If ever you’re feeling a little lonely, arriving somewhere new for the third time in under a week, watching couples and groups of friends descend on a town with the vigour and voyeur that only backpackers can, here’s what you do.
You buy a three-day pass for Angkor Wat and rent a single-speed bicycle (not because it’s cool and you’re a hipster, but because it’s the only thing available for $1) and pedal the hour to the temples. You spend hours meandering through the most phenomenal ruins you’ve ever seen and take breaks to read the little blurbs out of the pretty guide book you bought. You throw on your poncho to brave the tropical midday rain and you’re rewarded by having the haunting and awe-inspiring Bapuon temple all to yourself, save the hot Italian guys who had a similar idea. And that’s fine. They were gorgeous.
You sit for dinner, by yourself, at a local food stand and drink a big beer and devour beef lok lak. You sit proudly and confidently, suggesting to the folks nearby that you’re so cool you don’t even need human interaction beyond that with the kids who sell you more woven bracelets than you can count.
So you act real nonchalant when the folks at the next table pay their bill and swing by to ask if you’d like to join them for a drink that evening. Yeah, maybe, where will you be? Secretly you’re pleased as punch that someone else noticed you, and you make up your mind to join them.
You have too many drinks with two sweet souls from New Orleans and spend the next day discovering more of Angkor together, hungover. You ride side by side on bicycles and erupt into giggles about nothing in particular because you’re so damn tired. You sit down for a long lunch and talk, hopes and annoyances and gossip spilling into the air in a fashion fit for fast friendships. These are the friendships you make while traveling and they compensate for the general idiocy of the other tourists you meet with whom you don’t click. Whoops, did I say that out loud?
You stay a day longer than you planned in this lovely town just because you can, and this reminds you that yes, indeed, traveling alone is good because you get to make your own decisions.
You wake up at 5am to drag your aching, tired bodies back to Angkor for the sunrise. Unfortunately there’s too much cloud cover. You go back to bed. You have dinner with your pals, talk politics, meet an American chef living in Siem Reap and have a couple beers on an empty rooftop patio of a rock bar just off the main drag.
Then you get up early and head out to Kratie, Cambodia, on yet another bus.