THE BUILD-UP Angkor boasts some of the most jaw-dropping Buddhist monuments in Southeast Asia. The dozens of spectacular temples here are crowned by the peerless Angkor Wat – the site’s largest monument – in a memorably atmospheric setting among gnarled jungles and glass-like paddy fields.
THE REALITY Unfortunately, there’s no escaping the crowds here. The days when Angkor was a remote and challenging destination are sadly long gone.
The temples are now firmly on the international sightseeing circuit, making it hard to appreciate their majestic architecture and profound religious significance in anything approaching peace and quiet.
THE ALTERNATIVE Escape the crowded temples of Angkor and head to the equally spectacular but far less touristy Borobudur, Indonesia – one of the true wonders of the ancient Buddhist world.
Extracted from The Road Less Travelled: 1,000 Amazing Places Off the Tourist Trail with a foreword by Bill Bryson. Published on Sep 1 (Dorling Kindersley, £25).
#1 sayadian has been a member since 15/1/2008. Posts: 1,557
This story: https://www.travelfish.org/feature/13 touching on this very topic.
Yes, Angkor has major people management issues -- but to hark back to when it was "remote and challenging destination" equates to the tail-end of the Khmer Rouge period -- sure the weren't many crowds then -- for obvious reasons.
I agree though that Borobudur is an absolute cracker of a sight. We were there for dawn and shared the site with maybe a dozen others -- that was it. It's setting is particularly magical. But, as the tourists are returning to Indonesia in greater numbers now, it's getting busier again.
Sounds like an interesting idea for a book though -- does he cover many sites in SE Asia -- he never seemed to write much about here, I assumed it wasn't his cup of tea.
I followed the link in your post, Somtam. You might want to consider it updating it in terms of being able to use the 3-day pass on non-consectutive days (as per this post: https://www.travelfish.org/board/post/travelnews/5784_cambodia--angkor-wat-tickets-to-be-extended)
Funny you mention Borobudor... I have just been considering changing some of my upcoming travel plans to go back to there on my upcoming trip. It's been 20 years since I've last been there... I remember it as being a truly awesome sight!
Scenes from'Lord Jim' were filmed there in 1965 so maybe he is referring to this period.
I suppose I am one of those travellers who hate crowds.One of the reasons I didn't enjoy Hoian in vietnam even though it is a beautiful town.
and why I prefer Preah Vihar to Angkor
#4 sayadian has been a member since 15/1/2008. Posts: 1,557
bizzylizzy -- updated -- thanks.
sayadian -- I agree with your distaste for the crowds. To an extent, you can minimise the numbers by visiting the various sites out of sync, but yeah, if you want to see the sunrise at Angkor, it will be busy -- even in wet season.
PV is indeed a magnificent site -- the first time I visited it (mid 90s from the Thai side), there was still the wreckage of a military helicopter on site (not sure if it crashed or was shot down) which somehow added to the site.
Beng Mealea is another fabulous site.
Angkor is stunning but I must say the hordes marred the experience for me too. I was there at the end of January 5/6 years ago and shudder to think how busy it must be in peak season nowadays. If I ever go back it will be definitely be in low season, September/October maybe. I found lunchtime was one of the best times to visit the more popular temples ... the majority of people go away to eat and escape the midday sun...but it's not the best time to take photos of course.
Although Siem Reap is more impressive architecturally, I actually much preferred Bagan because the lack of crowds and silence allow you to sense the atmosphere of olden times. Hundreds and hundreds of different temples for as far as the eye can see... You can't possibly explore them all but you can rent a bike and wander around them on your own without anyone bothering you. It's so peaceful in comparison there...no problem getting a shot of a temple without busloads of tourists swarming everywhere and no kids selling postcards and coca cola.
To me, Bagan felt magical and Ankor Wat felt more like a theme park.
To an extent, you can minimise the numbers by visiting the various sites out of sync
To my way of thinking, that's THE FIRST KEY in the code.
The THE SECOND KEY is to start at sunup. But, don't start where everyone else seeks to watch sunrise, go to a 'low level' attendance site.
The THE THIRD KEY is go way way away or have a coffee (etc) while the crowds go on their escorted tours (eg. 9:30-11:30, and 1:30-4:00).
There's also a paradox in the Road Less Travelled book title: The reason places are visited is because they are perceived as having something worth seeing/experiencing.
To consider I could visit something as spectacularly grand as Angkor without crowds is sort of like hoping to visit Disneyland without crowds. Both are monuments to human endeavour, and ought be respected as places of interest (and hence crowds). Notwithstanding this view, for me, being at a monument without crowds is an amazing experience.
The first 'people-less' experience for my wife and I was at Prasat Mueang Tam at 9am ('officially' opens at 10am). The imagination runs riot when attending without another 'intruder'. Only after an hour and a half, and when leaving, did another person enter the area. Our next stop, Phanom Rung, with people made us feel sort of violated. The second was at Banteay Srei just after dawn, and the third Kbal Spean a little later.
In some respects, having that 'alone' experience is sufficient to imaginate when in the more crowded places.
Although very naughty, you can also slip into the park at night. I did this years ago and checking out Bayon under the light of a full moon remains one of my most memorable experiences of Cambodia.
This is against the law though and you will be in lots of trouble if you are caught, so I'm not suggesting you go do it. Honest.
This is off a Times Online story? Full spiel is here
Definitely agree with Stonehenge!
So what would you list as the top five over-rated sites/destinations that you have seen in SE Asia?
Off the top of my head:
1) Damnoen Saduak Floating Market
2) Tiger temple, Kanchanaburi
3) Ko Phi Phi
4) Nha Trang
5) Vang Vieng
I reserve the right to reconsider when I think of others ;-)
The writing has been on the wall for Angkor since Cambodia re-opened its borders to tourism. Angkor was to be the country's premier attraction, and that is exactly how it has been developed. Cambodia wants people to come, and they don't want it to be difficult. As long as people can arrive in throngs, authorities aren't going to give a rat's hind-end about anything else.
Heck, even handrails have been installed on some of the temples, transforming them into viewing platforms for anyone who wants to risk their necks clambering around on them (Banteay Srei being an exception.) Taking into consideration that these structures are architectural, artistic and engineering masterpieces, the amount of respect they receive from those who oversee them, and those who come to see and who claim to respect them, is disgraceful.
Should (or can) Kindersley's argument/logic be applied to Wat Phra Kaew in Bangkok? Or Wat Pho? I've been to both loads of times and during some visits it has been difficult to move for all the people, but their significance and meaning is not diluted. Those who come to worship see beyond and through such things. Only tourists seem to be put-out.
Let's not forget that when Angkor was a truly challenging destination, one had to negotiate fields of landmines to reach it. What is Kindersley talking about? Perhaps his idea of challenging destinations are those that involve hot, bumpy rides in the back of a truck? How challenging!
Even in Bagan now one must tolerate dozens of hot air balloons, and a spanking new (and ugly) observation tower ... and a golf course. It HAS become a "theme park" for temples which, like Angkor, is exactly what the generals have wanted since 1988 when UNESCO was kicked out.
With a handful of exceptions (eg. Ananda), Bagan's temples and monuments were rebuilt, as many of Sukhothai's were, in a rush with the goal being to get the tourism money flowing inwards as quickly as possible. Bagan has been "reconstructed" by people with absolutely no experience or training in repairing historical monuments. I saw monuments being re-built by kids, without proper equipment and with no skills other than the ability to work a cement mixer and pile bricks on top of each other.
I will use Richard Paddock's words to explain this better ... "Their work has nothing to do with actually restoring one of the world's most important Buddhist sites. Instead, using modern red bricks and mortar, they are building a new temple on top of the old. They work from a single page of drawings supplied by the government. Three simple sketches provide the design for a generic brick structure and a fanciful archway. No one knows, or seems to care, what the original temple looked like. (Richard C. Paddock, Los Angeles Times, September 10, 2006)
Angkor gets crowded. So what! If the fact that the place is on the "international sightseeing circuit" makes it "hard to appreciate their majestic architecture and profound religious significance in anything approaching peace and quiet", then perhaps he had unrealistic expectations in the first place and disappointment was inevitable?
For what it's worth, I was alone for sunrise at The Bayon, but with a crowd on Borobudur. Go figure.
"Even in Bagan now one must tolerate dozens of hot air balloons, and a spanking new (and ugly) observation tower ... and a golf course."
That doesn't sound anything like the Bagan I remember ... I spent a week cycling around and hardly saw another soul there ... though maybe there was a balloon one evening. It's true that the interiors of many of the temples had been massacred with cheap bathroom tile renovations though. (Generals making merit from what I could gather from the "benefactor" signs)
It's unbelievable that things can change so much in a few years. :-(
Sounds like it's high time to go and see Borobudur before it's too late.
Here's a link that shows the tower. A friend sent me a photo when he was there. Unfortunately for him it had been completed JUST before he arrived. The golf course was still under construction.
Nothing like this when I was there, either.
The golf course is not too far from the Gubyaukgyi Temple, and about 1km from Nyaung U Thande. The thing is, the place has been developed the same way that Angkor has. Spiritual meaning? Architectural brilliance? Engineering genius? Who cares?!
Unfortunately, we do, but there's little we can do about it. Though we can go and appreciate these places for what they were, what they continue to be, and for the fact that some of them are still standing after all they've been through even if they aren't quite what they were originally.
Visited the temples for three days in late June and whereas it was definitely one of the five highlights of my three month South East Asia trip the hassle at every single site from children and teenagers - often aggressive and obnoxious - was totally and utterly wearying and certainly took a huge amount away from the experience.
#15 TS77 has been a member since 5/9/2009. Posts: 4