Martin’s two cents on Angkor
I had very high expectations of Angkor – for me the temple area was comparable to a big boy’s adventure playground dream come true – temples lost in the jungle, covered by thick foliage, remainders of a lost civilization, the sound of exotic birds in the trees, and Angelina Jolie running around somewhere (well maybe not the latter). What I found was a cultivated, yet almost barren park, that was too touristy, too commercialized and albeit impressive, overall somewhat disappointing.
I realized two things: Firstly, it is very peculiar how much the “quality of a sight” is dependent on what you expect. If you want to go to Angkor to see “lost temples” that not many people have seen before, then rethink your choice of destination and maybe try a temple in Bangladesh. What you will find in Siem Reap is a temple park tailored to visitors of all age groups from young families to seniors, that bears impressive ruins, comfortably connected by streets, with hawker stands at all major sights and at least one tour group that will make you remember the Man U hymn: “You will never walk alone”.
The second thing was that for many destinations I am already “too late” to find them fairly “untouched” by tourism. Independent travel has been very popular for the last 15 years and organized tour groups are expanding to new destinations that are often first discovered by independent travelers. While Khao San was “cool” something like 15 years ago, by now it is not much more than a street Japanese tour groups visit as a part of their regular itinerary in Bangkok to see some Western backpackers, who probably seem quite freaky to older Japanese.
Perhaps the only way to avoid that is to push the boundaries. I would expect countries like Bangladesh (which is next on our itinerary), the “Stans”, Mongolia and all current conflict zones to be destinations that are very interesting and still hold a little of the je ne sais quoi (Michelle is rooting for a trip to Afghanistan and Iraq as soon as they are a bit more stable!). Fast forward 20-30 years I wonder whether there will be any such spots at all! So the bottom line is: Travel now, rather than later if you want to “discover” countries in a more untouched state and people who have not yet become jaded by commercial tourism. (Of course Michelle polished the language in this post!)