After a rooster woke me up around 4:32 on the first day, I managed to beat him three mornings in a row. That's not the only thing about this place that reminds me of Sukawati, or Bali as a whole; the one that stings the most is that they are both small, rural, poor communities that are overwhelmed by tourism.
With the limited time I allocated for 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 want an emersive experience. I also suggest going to Angkor National Museum, maybe even before visiting any of the sites. The exhibit itself is so 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 me 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.
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 which means "the triumph over Siam" is also what seems to be putting its very people in the cage 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 those quick dollars (yes they accept US currencies) 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 was quite aggressive with his sales. It was him who threw me this line 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 not always fun. 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.
One tuk-tuk driver approached 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 by him and exhausted from 2 days of bike-riding, I decided to give him some business. He turned out to be more charming than professional, but he did me a solid by showing the side of Cambodian tourism that is indistinguishable from every other place; locals catering to privileged visitors by adopting to their capitalist, self-centered, instant-gratification-seeking ways. 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 but did not show up.
I could have shrugged all of these off and moved on, but then I 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," but 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 probably was just like any of us, feeling stuck in a familiar routine and not quite able to realize his ambition.
I tried to be a friend, but all I could be was just another tourist.
Soundchaser/two-time Independent Music Awards finalist. New EP "Six Songs from Insomnia" is out on all major streaming platforms.