Last November I arrived in Siem Reap, Cambodia, to visit the temples of Angkor Wat, the "City of Temples". I had just finished studying yoga in Thailand and only had seven days to spare before continuing my travels onto Hong Kong. The one-hour flight departing from Bangkok had sounded far more appealing than a 10-20 hour truck ride. I had heard one too many stories involving crammed vans, flailing children, flat tires, knee-deep mud and last-minute transfers onto trucks with bananas and chickens. Admittedly, motion sickness combined with claustrophobia is an issue for me, and during this leg of my journey "Bangkok Belly" parasites were enough of a challenge.
Flying into Siem Reap is like soaring over a big bowl of black bean and broccoli soup. Muddy water from Tonlé Sap Lake, particularly after monsoon season, engorges most of the land and trees surrounding the city and its sacred temples. The thought of a very heavy aircraft landing adjacent to such swampy ground was particularly daunting from my fish-bowl/window seat view. But upon our safe landing, hotel pushers eagerly lined the airport tarmac holding large signs with the names of various hotels.
One of the few obscure facts about Siem Reap that I armed myself with while in Canada was that Angelina Jolie, while filming Tomb Raider , stayed at a hotel called The Red Piano. So when my eye caught The Red Piano sign floating amidst the sea of hotel signs, the Vanity Fair Woman in me marched immediately towards the young man holding it. I thought I might be onto a great travel story, particularly for the girls back home: "So there I was, finding relief from the midday sun, drinking vodka and cran under the shadow of a ceiling fan at a hotel called The Red Piano, and who sits down next to me – Angelina Jolie on vacation with her publicist and Cambodian-adopted son. After several hours of heart to heart laughter and pinky swearing, I managed to convince Ange to collaborate her money and beauty with my… whatever, and the product of our happenstance meeting and shared compassion for the world inspired us to found the Save the Universe campaign…."
To my dismay, it was later revealed that Angelina hadn’t been around town for quite some time and had stopped only once at The Red Piano a few years ago, in between shoots and just for a ham sandwich. There’s a photo of her on the wall with the owner and that’s where the story ends.
My travel partner, Marissa, and I hired Mam, a 30-something Cambodian resident originally from Phenom Phen, as our guide. Renting a motorbike or bicycle to tour from wat (temple) to wat is the sweetest way to go. Gliding along the bumpy roads under the early-morning sun and whirl of cicadas is golden. But if you do rent or hop on the back of a motor taxi, make sure the driver or rental business provides a helmet for you. Motorcycle accidents are as common in South-East Asia as three year olds falling off their tricycles along the Valley Trail.