Annie Bananie en Europe

A blog about travel, life, and everyday tidbits

Tag Archives: history

The other face of Angkor Wat

Most people go to Cambodia to see the Angkor temples. With millions of tourists each year, it is not unreasonable to say that the Angkor area, including Siem Reap, the closest city and the hub for visiting the temples, has become excessively commercialized and tailored for tourism. That is to be expected at any popular tourist destination, for like many others, Angkor was my reason for visiting Cambodia.

I was genuinely fascinated by Angkor Wat, THE most famous temple of them all, even though its grandiosity was with no doubt undermined by the sheer number of tourists within the temples at any given time. Of course, the other temples, like Bayon, Baphuon, Ta Prohm, and Banteay Srei (all the ones we went to that day), each had its own unique characteristics. I am not going to spam you with only the typical photos of each temple itself, but rather, I will show you some parts of the exploration that you may not see on postcards and advertisements.

It’s easy to get templed-out in Angkor, especially when that’s all you go there to see. With two and a half days in the Siem Reap area, my friend and I could only afford one day in the temple complexes, which means that between 9am and 6pm, we were temple-hopping in the scorching, 33-degree heat. Some interesting sightings included elephant-riding tourists, gorgeous butterflies, and monkeys…lots and lots of monkeys just chilling around Angkor Wat. It was quite a miracle that I didn’t end up with a heat stroke.

When touring the Angkor temples, I couldn’t help but ponder whether tourism has harmed the country than helped it. Sure, tourism is a significant source of income for Cambodians, and I don’t deny that it has helped the growth and development of the country. However, every time I visit a popular tourist destination in a developing country, I think of the impact and implications of the tourism industry on culture and society. When the sacred histories of your country become the Facebook profile pictures of foreigners who don’t understand what it took to make those histories happen, when the realities of life in this country is masked by the glamorous image of tourism and overlooked by most, do you feel saddened? Indifferent? Does it even matter at all?

Of course, I have to come back to the people. I struggled to decide whether I should post more photos of the Cambodian people because they made me feel so…sad and torn. On one hand, I want to avoid the possibility of disrespecting the people who appear in these photos but on the other hand, I would not be telling the whole story if I omit them from my experiences. In the end, I decided that I would post them.

I cannot forget that little girl at Angkor Wat, walking back and forth through the queue of people lining up to climb a temple, picking up, crushing, and bagging plastic bottles and cans from anyone who threw them away. This was life for her. While I paid $20 for a single visit to the temples and hundreds of dollars to get to her country in the first place, $1 might be more than what she gets a day. This is her life.

It is no secret that Cambodia is a poverty-stricken country and when I see the stark contrast between my life and that of the little girl, I even felt a bit guilty. And the tourism question comes back – do we do good by “supporting” Cambodia – or any other country where tourism plays a main role in its economy – through its tourism? If this is what life is like here, then I can’t even begin to imagine life in the more rural parts of the country, perhaps its true face.

We see so much, yet know so little.

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Prague and its statues

While exploring Prague, I stumbled upon many statues in the different corners of the city. After my trip, I did some research and found out that Prague has its fair share of, let’s say, “interesting” sculptures. Some had historical significant while others were just…strange. Let’s take a look at the ones that I managed to find.

The statue of men (or just one man) being eaten up from the core and finally losing a part of himself illustrates the destruction of a totalitarian society. Inscribed on a tablet in front of these statues: “The memorial to the victims of communism is dedicated to all victims, not only those who were jailed or executed but also those whose lives were ruined by totalitarian despotism.”

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Hidden in Paris – Le Village Saint-Paul

Paris is not all glamour and romance. And if I liked Paris at all, it wasn’t the glamour and the so-called “romance” that I liked, but the simple, unseen aspects of everyday life. A friend who was living in Paris told me about a little area in the city, hidden from the hustle of the urban center and away from the touristic crowds. In her words, it was “A village within a city, an enclosure of its own, sort of like connected courtyards behind a secret door, hiding a world of art and antiques.” But she didn’t tell me how to find it. According to my friend, she stumbled upon the place through a treasure hunt of some sort, carefully following instructions while not really knowing where she was going. And by the time she reached this “village”, she didn’t remember how she got there or how she got out. Intrigued, I decided to look for this mysterious place one afternoon as I had a few hours to kill in Paris before heading back to Bordeaux. I thought a good place to start would be the area around the metro station “Saint-Paul”, as the village itself is named, of course, Le Village Saint-Paul.

Usually, many signs point to prominent tourist landmarks, and you could be sure to reach these landmarks by following signs alone. Not the case with Saint-Paul. I suppose it wasn’t a place foreigners visited often, and while there were one or two signs around the metro station pointing to the direction of the “village”, they were vague and misleading, to say the least. I was prepared to enter a maze of quiet alleys in a quest to find Saint-Paul. And it did take a while. I was frustrated, turning corners obliviously without knowing where I was and where I was going, but at the same time, without knowing that what I was looking for could be closer to me than I had anticipated.

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