We had a brief stopover in Siem Reap at the end of our 2015 travels. Wow, what a difference a couple of years makes. This time the town was very crowded with tourists and the temple sites were, in my modest opinion, getting beyond their peak visitor numbers. Convoys of tour buses ensure that these often quite compact sites now deliver an experience similar to what you expect when exiting a national stadium after the biggest game if the year. In order to try and beat this crush, we decided to arise early and at least get the first part of any visit underway before the mob arrived. However, ‘the mob’ are also early birds, probably cajouled into action by their tour leaders to ensure that they get ahead of all of the other bus tours.
The most heartening aspect of viewing the ‘lost Khmer’ relics was the evidence before our eyes that nature very quickly takes back what was taken from her in the first place. Beng Melea temple was a great example of a city that was reclaimed by the jungle once the then civic authorities ceased usual maintenance of the municipality. Maybe there is hope for the planet, we just need to let the cycle of inevitable ’empire collapse’ take it’s course. Ours certainly seems to have plenty of self-destructing ingredients in the mix at present.
Mass tourism is a microism of what ultimately leads to the collapse of our empires / civilisations. We over-exploit our natural resources or man made wonders until they are depleted, destroyed or driven to extinction. Mass tourism kills the ‘goose that laid it’s golden egg” not to mention killing it for everyone else. While uncontrolled exploitation of the planet’s resources will also lead to collapse. I suspect that what happens is that these tourist hotspots ultimately become a ‘hard sell’ becuase of the over crowding and are hopefully spared the ‘destruction’ fate. Alternatively, as we are seeing in some cities around the World, protests by local residents are forcing authorities to take action (fees, taxes, etc) that effectively limits mass tourism operators (exploiters).
We try to avoid these hot spots but sometimes you feel compelled to take a peek and then remember why you were so reluctant to visit.
Enjoy the images of this amazing site that has been largely left as it was found. Well worth the quite long drive from Siem Reap but go early – when we arrived there was only one bus, by the time we were half way through our visit the sound of the approaching’ herd was deafening and we were eventually relieved to escape. The travel guides referred to it as being “off the beaten track” – obviously an old guide – must have been written a couple of years ago.