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4 things that can get a bit annoying at the Angkor Temple Complex

So many tourists!

So many tourists!

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.

A Cambodian woman selling souvenirs outside of one of the temples

A Cambodian woman selling souvenirs outside of one of the temples

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.

An eager tuk tuk driver waving me down

An eager tuk tuk driver waving me down

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.

Some carvings inside Angkor Wat.  Hopefully they will be in good condition for years to come

Some carvings inside Angkor Wat. Hopefully they will be in good condition for years to come

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2 Comments

  • Dan says:

    Jeff – I have been reading & loving your blog since the beginning & it’s 99.9% awesome, except for the comments in this article about the perceived fairness of tuk tuk costs near Siem Reap/Angkor Wat complex. Most of the drivers are charging what the market as a whole will bear–and apparently some are even willing to compromise for frugal & dedicated deal-seeking trekkers such as yourself–but I think what they are doing is completely logical. Tuk tuk driving is not a charity; it is not UNICEF; it’s a way to support a family & requires relentless hustle, so please give those guys a break if they see foreigners descending en masse on their country as a chance to cash in–I’d be doing the same thing in their shoes. Despite this minor critique, your blog is excellent & I look forward to hearing about all the other adventures you have in store. [Notice how I employed the praise sandwich - classic!] Keep up the fantastic writing!

    • Jeff says:

      Dan-thanks for the comment. I’m not questioning the logic of the tuk tuk drivers but rather commenting on the extreme price of transportation for tourists vs locals. Just as people complain about “airport prices,” the same goes for the prices of transportation in or around Siem Reap. Because you are stuck in Siem Reap, prices are very high. It doesn’t help that you can’t rent motorbikes inside the city. This forces people to get a tuk tuk or driver (unless you want to bike everywhere).It makes sense that there are high prices-tons of tourists visit Angkor and are willing to pay top dollar. Lastly, a lot of tuk tuk drivers had very decent high-paying jobs before they started driving tuk tuks (government, translators, college professors) but they started driving tuk tuks because it pays about the same as their good jobs. I find this disconcerning that such a low intensity/easy job can pay as well (or close to as well) as the jobs that they had before they quit. Thanks again for the comment-it’s good to here other opinions on this sort of stuff. Sometimes during solo travel you start to form very one-sided opinions so it’s great to hear other sides!

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