Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Cambodia Chronicles Four: Playing Tourist

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

So what’s Cambodia like? That’s the question most of my friends asked me when I came back from my vacation. I could have played tourist, effusive in praise for everything and everyone in the country, but the cynical, misanthropic me refused to completely play that part and ignore what’s beneath the surface.

(Phnom Penh)

Playing tourists, we did all the embarrassing clichés - we did what was expected of us, and we tried to see all of the attractions as much as we could. As we traveled from one place to another, I could have focused on the country’s magnificent landscape, breathtaking temples and colonial charm and pretended not to notice its ugly side. The luxurious hotels that catered to the millions of tourists that flock to the Angkor temples, the casinos in Phnom Penh, the foreign crowd drinking the night away along Siem Reap’s Pub Street – all of these stood in stark contrast to those small villages that relied on sugar palm trees as means of subsistence. Children peddling postcards and souvenirs abound in most tourist areas. It amused and amazed me how they could speak multiple languages and have memorized facts about different countries, but shouldn’t they be in school learning about other things, instead?

(casinos in Phnom Penh)

(palm tree plantation in Siem Reap)

Cambodia’s thriving tourist industry—whose recovery from the Khmer regime is truly astounding—does not mask, but even highlight, the signs of poverty that continue to weigh down the country. Although it emphasizes the gap between those who have and those who don’t, tourism fuels the Cambodian economy. To quote David, our tour guide: "For every tourist that comes to Cambodia, three Cambodians get employed."


witsandnuts said...

When I'm traveling, I love being a non-tourist on the first and last days. Especially at night, I try to explore the side which are not usually found from the internet.

Kayni said...

Sounds like Cambodia is in recovery. I doubt there'll be a time that the gap can be lessened between the rich and the poor.

artemis said...

.. to be frank, Cambodia is actually not that different from Philippine situation... maybe there's a bit of difference (quantitatively) but situation is almost the same as when you see people in the slums, children not in school but begging or selling stuff, or being prostituted.. Ironically, I myself wouldn't know of these things happening around here if not for foreign friends pointing it out (according to their observations, comparisons and experiences). There are things that are just too dreadful to mention or even think about... but in a sense, these things are just more conspicuous in Cambodia because of strong tourism business there...

ha, but lets remain looking at the bright side of life, no matter what :-)

Angeli said...

@artemis: tama ka. yan din ang sinasabi ko pag tinatanong ako - that cambodia is very similar to the philippines not only in terms of topography and weather. :)

@witsandnuts: we also try to mix the two. we do some things on our own then we join an organized tour. that way, we get the benefits of both. :)

@kayni: yes, inequality is not that easy to be eliminated.

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