Three mornings in a row I beat the rooster after he woke me up around 4:32 on the first day. That's not the only thing that reminds me of Sukawati, or Bali for that matter; the Greatest common divisor of Siem Reap and is that they are both small rural poor communities overwhelmed by tourism.
With the limited timeframe of my visit to Cambodia, I opted to focus on visiting Ankor Wat and its surrounding temples and ruins. Some might be able to only afford one day ticket, but it's well worth getting a 3-day if you wanna experience these wonders, which I did. I also suggest going to Angkor National Museum, maybe even before visiting any of these sites. The exhibit itself is huge and rich with the information about Khmer history and culture in general, you might not even need those tour guides. My humble homestay was only a couple of miles away and came with a free bike rental that allowed my to explore the entirety of Angkor Archaeological Park, about 8-10 square miles in 3 consecutive days, in the excruciating heat and the merciless sun.
It often seems futile to use words and pictures to describe the massiveness, breathtaking beauty and the overall awesomeness of these sites. Beyond the architectural accomplishment of Khmer of centuries past, the astonishing strength of nature reclaiming its domain also is awe-inspiring to say the very least. To this day, I remain speechless.
what Just as beautiful and inspiring are the people of Siem Reap; much like the rest of Southeast Asia but probably much poorer, and younger as a whole. Even a quick read of the wikipedia page would give you how complex and tragic their history has been, and one can't help but seeing irony in how the pride of the entire nation and the people as the name suggests ("Siem Reap" means "the triumph over Siam") is also what seems to be caging the very people in the blackhole of overtourism. Meanwhile they discourage visitors from buying trinkets from children (so they would choose education over child labor) but the overwhelming reality is that they need that quick money just to survive.
I actually met the now-viral-star who speaks 10 languages. He spoke maybe at 2 or 3 languages at this point, and quite aggressive with his sales. It was him who threw me the line above as I was walking through the gate of Ta Prohm; You buy, you friend. You no buy, you tourist. Even before meeting him, I knew that being a tourist in these regions is a tricky business. Every purchase you make or refuse, the consequences are much more grave for the ones that don't get to leave. And every time I try to stick to what UNICEF or any organizations tell me, it breaks my heart. Seeing him go further than the rest of his contemporaries gives me a sigh of relief, but with even heavier sigh of helplessness.
One tuk-tuk driver approached to me by the entrance to Ankor Thom, asking if I had a power bank. This emo Cambodian Jack Black of a youngster spoke excellent English, quite friendly and was a bit of a ladies' man. Entertained and exhausted from 2 days of bike-riding, I decided to give him some business for his rate was quite reasonable. He turned out to be kinda charming and less than professional, but when he showed me the side of Cambodian tourism, on Pub Street, that is undistinguishable from what I've seen in every other place; locals catering to privileged visitors by adopting to their capitalist, self-centered, instant-gratification-seeking ways, I just had to palm my face. On the same token, this could be MY tourist mind demanding exoticism. Why even bother traveling what I'd get in every corner of the world are "Shape of You" and/or "All About That Bass"? Within minutes I tell him to bail, then he proceeds to ask if I wanted a "girly massage." I, irritated, put a smile on my face and tell him to get me home. He seems disappointed, offered a ride to the airport next morning and did not show up.
I could have shrugged all of these off and moved on, but I then remembered him saying how he wanted to quit catering to tourists, move to the states, get a job doing anything to fund his study. Might've been the case of "stripping to pay for college," or might've been that he was just being inconsistence in his logic by denying my hiring him. However, he could've ripped me off by giving me a ridiculous quote. He could've come pick me up the next morning for extra cash. I doubt that he enjoys this life. I bet that he knows the importance of education. He came off just like any of us, feeling stuck in a familiar routine and not quite able to realize his ambition.
I try to be a friend, but all I could be was just another tourist.
Soundchaser/two-time Independent Music Awards finalist. Currently travelblogging at #beatvagabond and working on new material.