Angkorian traffic woes

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First published 1st May, 2005

Any recent visitor to the famed temple complex of Angkor Wat must find themselves wondering how many eons ago all those wistful pictures of a deserted causeway bar a solitary dashing monk were ever taken. Today the typical sounds of dawn have been replaced by thumping boots, whirring cameras and hawkers flogging film. Entrances are crammed with tripods and their menacing owners who staked out their territory by the western gopura at 04:00am and aren't moving for anyone. Others take in the atmosphere from their plastic chairs at the western edge of the northern pond -- buzz, whirr, click, snap, buzz, whirr, click, snap -- and the sun hasn't even come up yet.

The days of wandering through any of the "big ticket" sites at Angkor where the only other person you'll see is a guard and a kid flogging postcards have long gone. Of course, you could always set out at 11am in May, but for the sane among us that has never really been an option. You could always spend your time at the minor (though often equally rewarding) sites, but with all predictions saying visitor rates will continue to explode, people and more importantly traffic management are serious issues Apsara needs to consider -- for the preservation of both the monuments and the visitor experience.

Self help You can always re-arrange your itinerary to try to avoid the tourist plagues, who all spend dawn at Angkor Wat, followed by the Bayon and a skip by the Elephant Terrace, with their afternoon session comprising Ta Phrom followed by another late afternoon look at Angkor before climbing up Bakheng.

Bakheng crowds await sunsetAdmittedly Angkor Wat at dawn is breathtaking, though other dawn spots can be equally good. For example, Bakong in the Roulos group, Sra Srang, the Eastern Mebon or even Bakheng are all lovely. After sunrise, Bayon is problematic partly because it's a compact monument everyone wants to see, but if you see it in the early morning, before about 7am, you can dodge a lot of those late-sleeping tour-bus hordes. Otherwise see it in the afternoon.

Mid-morning, wander through the backblocks of the Royal Palace enclosure or Preah Khan, while in the afternoon, leave Ta Phrom till late and visit Ta Nei or Preah Khan beforehand. At sunset ditch the Bakheng and instead go to Pre Rup or Ta Keo, or view Angkor from the eastern side.

The Pass
That the multi-day pass needed to be used on sucessive days was ridiculous and in a rare display of commonsense, the consecutive nature of the pass was abolished in mid 2009. Now a three-day pass is valid for any three days within a week, while a seven day pass is valid for any seven days within thirty.

The infrastructure
Plans are underway for the re-routing of roads through the park, primarily to try and spread out the traffic and to allow monuments to be approached in the right direction -- for instance, Bayon from the east rather than the south. This will also result in all traffic no longer needng to pass by the western entrance to Angkor Wat -- a welcome improvement. Further improvements could include the banning of all minibus and larger traffic through the southern gate of Angkor Thom. This is one of the most congested parts of the entire site, with waits of up to 15 minutes in high season to get through. Minibuses should be forced to use the northern and southern gates -- or better still, banned altogether.

Children selling bracelets at Pre Rup before sunsetDrastic measures
Sometimes you have to be cruel to be kind. Angkor's infrastructure is creaking and a solution we'd like to suggest would be the banning of all tourist-related motorised traffic completely. This could be replaced by a network of electric trams, with each tram carrying, say, a maximum of 50 people. They could leave every 15 minutes or so from the ticket office and ticket holders could get on and off them as they pleased thoughout the park. If you didn't want to use the tram, you could still cycle yourself. The tram could run a route something like: Ticket office - Angkor Wat - Angkor Thom - Preah Khan - Ta Som - Eastern Mebon - Pre Rup - Sras Srang - Banteay Kdei - Ta Phrom - Ta Keo - Angkor Thom - Angkor Wat - Ticket office. And they would NOT have guides with loud-speakers.

Under our plan, motos would also be banned, but cyclos permitted. Motodops would be encouraged to register and be trained as guides -- paid a living wage by Apsara by using a portion of the admission cost -- and they'd be available in a queue system at all key monuments to show tourists around and give them background information. This would alleviate one of the biggest problems: tourists wandering around not really having any idea what they are seeing. Guides would be rotated around the monuments on a daily basis both to improve their knowledge of the monuments and to have a more equitable system for them.

Of course the above would not affect outlying monuments such as Phnom Kulen, Banteay Srei and the Roulos Group, but rather only the the inner, most heavily-trafficked areas.

Traffic building up at the South Gate of Angkor Thom. Waits of over 15 minutes are not unusual

As visitors to the park continue to increase, the capacity of the trams could also slowly be raised, without corresponding damage to the environment, locals' livelihoods and the visitor's experience.

About the author:
Stuart McDonald co-founded with Samantha Brown in 2004. He has lived in Thailand, Cambodia and Indonesia, where he worked as an under-paid, under-skilled language teacher, an embassy staffer, a newspaper web-site developer, freelancing and various other stuff. His favourite read is The Art of Travel by Alain de Botton.

Read 3 comment(s)

  • Not sure when this was written but would appreciate updates. I move from Bangkok to Siem Reap Nov. 1 2011
    Thanks Vincent

    Posted by Vincent on 30th October, 2011

  • There were some talk about banning larger vehicles earlier this year; but so far this has not happened. The Tour operators do have a big influence here. To be forced to use an electric tram system will destroy any flexibility for transportation within the area. Minivans of 8 to 12 seats are an ideal size for small group travel; as each van would be the equivalent of two or 3 cars in a vehicle only a little bigger than a Camry Car.
    There was an attempt to use Korean electric golf carts to take people around 5 years ago with the local drivers having to pay to park while their customers were taken around. there were serious protests by drivers who were losing trade to the Korean Co running the carts.
    I do await the routing of the roads to reduce congestion as the long delays are a major inconvenience.

    Posted by peaceofangkor on 26th November, 2011

  • ...why wouldn't you go at 11 am in May? Because of the heat?

    Posted by Bryce on 29th January, 2012

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