Driving through Siem Reap on the back of a tuk-tuk, I want so to see and describe this city because I’ve never seen South East Asia before. I want to do more, to understand development, to, in my millennial special snowflake naivete, find some small way to fix what’s bad and keep what’s good. But at least, as a start, to witness.

The sights that seem the same in every Southeast Asian city, maybe every developing city. The muddy roads, puddles by the side filled with rain. The chickens/ducks/water buffalo/scraggly cows wandering next to the road. The tuk-tuks, the songthaews, the motorbikes. The communist style concrete buildings, porcelain tile floors, dimly lit, where you look in and don’t know if you’re seeing a hostel, someone’s living room, a shop, or some combination of all 3. The dimly lit stores, rows of dusty goods. Street stalls selling cigarettes, alcohol and petrol. Racks of clothing, seemingly for sale, in the sun in front of dark garages. The spirit houses and shrines. The restaurants consisting of tents and tables, the good ones packed with people on plastic chairs. The food, maybe the best food you’ve had in your life. The plants, growing on the roofs of small tin shacks.

And the signs of increasing development mixed in. Trucks and scaffolding. Fancy hotels. A new mall where Cambodians can buy Western designer clothes “made in Cambodia” and eat at the latest Lucky Burger franchise. Bridgestone tires and Samsung stores. The new arts district, with its packed italian restaurant, around the corner from the hospital with trash piled in the streets. It’s one thing to read about how people on on $1 a day, another to be there and see it. And on top of this, the impossible complexity of being a Westerner here.

I want to witness, to document, but then I can’t do it anymore. I hit my breaking point two days into Cambodia when I get a really bad case of food poisoning. I spend the night in the bathroom, wondering what will happen if I have to go to the hospital I saw earlier and if I’d have to go there in a tuk-tuk. The next day I can’t move or eat or drink anything. We learn that there are ok medical clinics, but that still doesn’t feel like much of a comfort. I spend the following day still in bed,but manage to eat a whole banana and a few french fries.

The next day I try to go back to Angkor Wat with Jane, make it about as far as the entrance, then give up and wait in the one air-conditioned coffee shop in Angkor, nursing some seltzer. I’m still too sick to care about seeing anything. I spend the rest of our morning tour sweating profusely and praying it will end soon. I spend the afternoon back in bed.

I don’t know if it’s the food poisoning, but my willpower is gone. While in bed I think about how I just want to be home surfing. How for the past five weeks one of us has had some minor stomach ailment almost half the time. How we’ve spent so many days in hotels or movie theaters, too hot to do anything. Or stuck in places where there isn’t anything to do. The drab, depressing hotels in Bangkok and Ho Chi Minh City and Laos. The constant honking and yelling in Vietnam. The aggressive vendors everywhere. The oblivious, entitled backpackers slurping iced coffees and taking selfies in their elephant pants at the Vietnam War Museum. The sad feral dogs sleeping in the street. The sense that my wife didn’t like many of these cities and, if I’m being honest, it was challenging for me too. It’s one thing to witness, another to enjoy.

Southeast Asia certainly did have things I loved. The street food in Bangkok and the mountain temple in Chiang Mai. The butterflies in Chiang Dao and the geckos everywhere. Swimming in waterfalls in Luang Prabang and cruising in Halong Bay. The first time I wandered through Hanoi’s old quarter. Even watching the Conjuring in Hanoi. The beauty of paradise cave. The long drives listening to music and thinking and writing. And of course, Angkor. Maybe the most spectacular place I’ve ever been.

At the end, though, I just can’t do it anymore. I still want to witness, still want to do something, but we decide to leave.

Note: I wrote this a few months ago. Looking back on it now, would I go back? Definitely.