Thursday, July 22, 2010

Angkor Wat & the Shadow of Tourism

Angkor Wat in the morning looks like this. It is the pinnacle of Khmer society as it represents the time period in which the Khmers basically controlled most of what would be labeled as South East Asia.  The history of Angkor Wat is sort of a reflection of what was going on with Cambodia. It is taking time to finally revisit the ancient past and to forget the turmoils of the Khmer Rouge.

The history of Angkor Wat can be found here.  The history of Cambodia can be found here.  Yeah, yeah, it's Wikipedia, but you can't be choosy when you have spotty Internet.

I basically have a lot more pics, but I will have to update the entries as I go along.  Due to the spotty internet, it has been difficult to keep updates as frequently as I would prefer.

We were woken up very early to see the sunrise over the temple.  It is rather surreal to see an ancient temple's silhouette against a rising blue sky.  For some, this is a very spiritual experience.  For me, I'm sort of mixed.

Ancient sites and historical places are now becoming tourist traps.  Now, I know that for Cambodia, the entire Angkor Wat operation is a necessary evil.  You have to allow people to experience the grandeur and spectacle of an ancient site that for the most part has remained largely intact.  There is obvious damage to the buildings.  Given these factors, you wonder how great the complex was during the height of the Khmer Empire.

Cambodia has rivers.  Cambodia has rice fields.  Cambodia has spirit houses.  Cambodia has temples.  What Cambodia can use to help out it's economy is to utilize its historical places for the development of its tourist industry.

My feeling about the tourist industry is mixed.  As I watch and observe tourists going through locations, I have this creepy feeling of Orientalism that sends a chill down my spinal cord.  Is it about exoticism?  Is it about understanding the Cambodian spiritual aspect?  What is it?  Inherently, I have found that if you dig deeper, the more disturbing life becomes.  Yes, the Angkor Wat Complex offers much to the economy of Cambodia, but is there a cost?

Concurrently with this journey to go to a "spiritual" place, there are other tourists going to Cambodia for the wrong reasons.  The sex tourism industry is very evident.  We were booked into a hotel called, NagaWorld, while in Phnom Penh.  It is owned by Malaysians.  Upon a general review of the website, what is immediately obvious is the Chinese orientation of the hotel.  It caters towards the Chinese, Vietnamese, Japanese and Westerners.  There is a casino at the bottom floor.  It looks and feels like Vegas, complete with women selling their assets to the highest bidder.  There is something inherently wrong with this.      

Ultimately, these are questions that are hard to answer.  Tourism remains a core element of a nation's economy.  Without tourism, many of the inhabitants of Siem Reap may not be doing so well.  But I still can't get this pessimistic feeling of viewing tourism through the Orientalist eye.  

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