Irreverent Tourists

When visiting any new place or meeting people, it’s important to be aware of the background context and the local etiquette. As a guest, you want to show the proper respect for your host and the place you’re visiting, especially those that are historical in nature. Sometimes there are tourists who are ignorant or very arrogant when they’re interacting with the locals or visiting important places, that they leave bad impression and become poor representation of the country they came from.

When we visited Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum in Phnom Penh, Cambodia, we observed some of these irreverent tourists. As we were getting ready to tour the grounds, we saw a big tourist group arriving. The group was led by a tour guide who provided information to his group in a language that Kristi and I recognized.. Indonesian. Kristi and I decided to stand near the group huddle to listen to the guide talking while we’re taking photos of the surrounding areas.

From the information given by the tour guide and the comments that some of the tourists made, it was pretty clear to us that many in this tour group did not know about Tuol Sleng and its significance. One of the tourists even loudly made a sarcastic, ignorant comment about how smart the Cambodians were for charging money and making profits from such a rundown ‘tourist attraction.’ Several others were talking and laughing loudly, oblivious to the posted sign with an image asking the visitors to be reverent given the context of what had happened at the place we’re visiting. Some others would go into the rooms that were the interrogation and torture rooms, talked loudly, and had photos taken with smiles as if they were standing in front of something scenic.

Kristi and I didn’t say anything and we slowly moved away from this group as we didn’t want to be associated with them. It’s sad, but that day I felt embarrassed to be an Indonesian after seeing the behavior of these tourists.

The photo below was taken at the grounds of Tuol Sleng not far from where the tourist group was gathering and being very obnoxious. The sign was in Khmer, but anyone could see from the picture that they asked visitors to be reverent to honor those who perished at this place.

No smile sign

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