When visiting Angkor Wat, one thing you’re sure to notice is that you’re not alone; there are thousands of other tourists from all over the world coming to see the same sights in the area. So if you’re imagining having the place for yourself and take photos like what you might have seen in guidebooks, well, good luck…
The increase in tourism in the area in the recent years is definitely welcomed economically for a country like Cambodia that is in the process of recovering from years of civil war. But I thought it’s interesting to observe this first hand, and to hear the thoughts from a local Cambodian like our guide Vanna.
It’s pretty easy to notice the official tour guides in Cambodia as they are required to wear a uniform (tan-colored, long-sleeve shirt). What’s interesting is when you listen closely to the tour guides talking to to their guests, you might actually hear these Cambodian tour guides speaking fluently in many foreign languages. Vanna was very fluent in English; he even volunteered as an English teacher during his time off from guiding. During our tour around Angkor Wat, we also overheard other Cambodian tour guides talking in German, French, Japanese, and Chinese to their respective guests. Vanna said each tour guide pretty much decides what language he/she wants to master, and then they would look to guide tour groups that speak that language. English, French, and German were pretty popular languages for most visitors from Western countries, but apparently in the recent years there were quite an increase of tourists coming from other Asian countries like Japan, China, and Korea.
I asked Vanna if he had any particular group of people that he preferred or liked guiding. He said generally the Europeans and Americans were pretty nice. The Japanese were generally quite generous. He didn’t like the Koreans because typically they came in big groups with their own Korean tour guide, and his words were translated into Korean by the guide and most of them wouldn’t listen anyway.
Another thing I noticed was there were many little kids and locals trying to sell snacks, drinks, and bootlegged guidebooks to the tourists. During a hot day, sometimes those bottled waters might be nice even though they might be overpriced. And I’ve read that the bootlegged guidebooks, though might be a bit poor in print quality, might be a good, informative reference to have especially if you’re exploring on your own. What’s impressive though was to hear even some of the kids that must have been the age of 5 to 10 years old being able to promote their goods in fluent foreign language like English, and they could have conversation with the tourists when asked about what they have to sell.
One thing I also thought was the interesting contrast between the tourists who have come from far away to see such a magnificent sight, perhaps for that one time in their lifetime, and the locals who live nearby and have seen Angkor Wat on daily basis. It’s no longer a special place, and I suppose when you’re trying to make ends meet, the last thing you think about is learning about the history of the temple…
The photo below was taken as we walked through one of the galleries at the temple. You could see the tourist groups, each listening to a tour guide wearing tan long-sleeve shirt.