I ventured into the complex of Angkor Wat immediately after sunrise to avoid the lunch crowd that would soon be invading the grounds like wildfire. I’ve read countless blog posts about the experiences others have had while visiting Angkor Wat. Several wouldn’t be complete without the mentioning of other tourists, and then proceed to show photos they so cleverly took of a group of Asians all wearing neon green tracksuits.
Anyone visiting and exploring Angkor Wat is a tourist, neon green tracksuit or not. Everyone is essentially there for the same reason – to explore the biggest religious site in the world, survived by war, invasion, and hundreds upon hundreds of years of age.
Just because I am not standing obnoxiously in everyone’s way holding an iPad up high doesn’t necessarily mean I am any better. Sure, it can get inconsiderate and annoying as #$%#, and I may mutter to myself, “Get out of my way, you dingbat,” but I am still there, too, and I never would choose to let the fact that tourists are present to impact my whole experience.
As a traveler it should be no shock when you witness . . . other travelers. When it comes to travel, of course tourists are everywhere, even more so at wonders of the world, (and especially when there is a direct flight from Seoul to Siem Reap). If I was that bothered and annoyed like others claim to be, I’d be one of those travelers (of which I know few) who simply don’t care to visit the world’s greatest of wonders.
Am I going to cringe when I see some reconstruction being done on the site? Complain if I see some scaffolding taking place? Well, it isn’t shown in the picture perfect photos you can find on Google image, but this site is thousands of years old. Why have any expectation that this place is going to be absolutely rid of any flaws? I feel that there are much bigger observations and feelings to take away from when visiting Angkor Wat.
In my opinion, despite all the hype and despite all the crowds, Angkor Wat remains a place beyond belief. I left Cambodia feeling inspired and also heartbroken by the atrocities the country has faced in very recent history. Those who visit should look beyond the obvious flaws and instead focus on what is really significant – the amount of manpower needed to complete the wonder of Angkor Wat, the way the country has fought to survive even though it is still so damaged spiritually and emotionally, (and yes, physically too, for the cynics who like to point out that there is a fallen temple or two).
Some of the temples have been restored to their former glory, while others have been left untouched to display their natural decay. This reconstruction is the perfect way to symbolize Cambodia after the Khmer Rouge regime. I admire the country’s ability to rise above their recent war, welcoming locals and smiling and waving genuinely to me as I walk the streets. Parts of the country have been restored, physically and emotionally, but so much is left as it was, too damaged to salvage.
The sheer sight of Angkor Wat at dawn brings with it the sense of the distant past. A world thought long gone, but in reality, simply standing right in front of us.