A few days ago I took a 12 hour bus from the South East stretch of the coast of Thailand (across from Koh Chang where I’d spent a week with my family) across the border to Siem Reap, Cambodia. Siem Reap is several miles from Angkor Wat, the famous ruins of the Cambodian Empire. This has been a sight I’d always had interest in seeing, but hadn’t seen until near partly for fear that the area has been too developed by the effects of tourism.
Over the last 10 years, since the re-stabilization of this country after the Khmer Rouge regime, tourism has become a major industry of this country. It doesn’t seem to me like my fears of over development in this region were out of line with the reality of this place. The temples are incredible, but the environment as a whole is entirely underwhelming to me. The country is riddled with poverty, as can clearly be seen on the 6 hour drive through Cambodian country side from Pot Pet, the seedy, soulless border town which is filled with casino’s exclusively for foreigner use (Cambodians cannot, by law, gamble in their own casinos). Upon arrival in Siem Reap the costs of living, for tourists, quadruple. Lunch yesterday was $18, dinner $24. The food is mediocre, not spicy unlike Thai food, and many people speak English to accommodate the perpetual influx of tourists.
When you set foot on the sight of Angkor Wat you’ll stand in long lines of tourists, almost all European, who each take about 10 photos a minute. They should just include a cd-rom with digital photos along with the entrance fee. On your way out you’ll be accosted by dozens of dirty peasant children who’ve been trained to say a collection of key phrases to catch your attention, sympathy, and then wallet, in that order. Things like “Hello where are you from?” and “buy water batteries t-shirt bracelet please”. The way the all repeat the exact same phrases verbatim makes them sound like parrots.
I’m here with my father though and he’s having a great time. I’m glad that he enjoys it, too. I’m looking forward to my flight back to Bangkok on Friday; I’ve already had enough of this place. I’m sure there are beautiful, more genuine parts of Cambodia, but this place feels like the spiritual equivalent of Disneyland to me.