The temples of Angkor are awesome. I think I have made it very clear that I loved visiting Angkor and it’s surrounding areas. That being said, Angkor and Siem Reap are quite a culture shock if you are used to laid-back, off-the-beaten path Southeast Asia travel. Throughout my first day biking around Angkor, I was actually angry and stressed. It’s a lot to handle! Why can Angkor be so annoying???
1. So. Many. Tourists: The Angkor Temple Complex was visited by 2 million people last year. 2 million. That number continues to rise each year. These tourists are not just your normal budget-conscious backpacker. They are all sorts of tourists: Backpackers, families, Chinese tour groups, high rollers. Everyone comes out to see Angkor Wat. It can get a little irritating trying to navigate the wonders of Angkor with hundreds of fellow tourists. Also, good luck trying to get pictures in any of the really picturesque spots without anyone else in the picture. It’s way to crowded for that. Even in the low season.
2. The tourism is unsustainable: The people who preserve the temples at Angkor are deathly afraid of Cambodia’s tourism boom. Why? The temples that have survived hundreds of years already but now at risk of becoming destroyed because of the massive amounts of tourists. They (we) slowly erode the sandstone by walking over everything. Also, the massive amount of tourists has put a large strain on the fresh water available in Siem Reap. The huge demand of fresh water lowers the water table and reduces the physical support of the temple bases. It’s sad to think that these temples might be destroyed because of us.
3. The vendors: Vendors at Angkor are the worst I have EVER seen. Granted, I’ve only been traveling around Southeast Asia for 4 months or so, but still… it is crazy. Eager vendors are lined up outside of every major temple. As soon as you arrive, you witness a relentless barrage of “you want cold drink, sah” and “you want souvenir? Good price for you.” The kids begging for food and money are even worse than the adults trying to sell you stuff. The kids aren’t begging for themselves-they are begging for their lazy parents who are sitting around the corner. It’s exhausting.
4. The tuk tuk drivers: Tuk tuk drivers are somewhat of a staple of Southeast Asia travel. They are everywhere. When you walk down the street, seemingly every man on the corner asks you if you need a ride. In terms of the sheer amount of tuk tuk drivers, Siem Reap was worse than any other city I’ve visited so far. Not only are tuk tuk drivers ALL OVER THE PLACE, the prices are astronomical in Siem Reap. Because they know that tourists will pay the money to see the temples of Angkor, the prices are anything but fair.
Despite all of this, the temples at Angkor are worth a visit. Be prepared to brave massive amounts of tourists, haggle over EVERYTHING, and reject about 100 tuk tuk drivers per day. In addition to all of this, be prepared to practice responsible tourism and respect the sites. Hopefully they will be around for a while.