Annie Bananie en Europe

A blog about travel, life, and everyday tidbits

Tag Archives: tourism

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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Short travel reflection: Accommodations

It is no surprise that accommodation is a big part of budgeting for frequent travellers. Many backpackers and globetrotters prefer a simple bed in a hostel room over the “luxury” of a hotel. In addition to the advantage of low price, hostels are great for socializing and getting to know your fellow travellers. Many people even find travel companions in the people they meet at hostels. For some, that is the best way to arrange accommodation. However, if I were to be completely honest, I am not a huge fan of hostels. I have had my fair share of experience with hostels, and while most of them have been positive and I don’t mind them, they are certainly not my preferred type of accommodation. As someone who has never been great at socializing and doesn’t care for going to bars and pubs, I tend to try to avoid crowds. And if I travel solo, then I REALLY want to be solo (as I have mentioned before) – if I wanted company I would have found friends to come along in the first place. That said, I still opt for hostels most of the time because they are overall so much cheaper than hotels, especially in cities like Paris. Smaller and quieter hostels suit me better than huge ones where parties keep people up all night, and where all I want to do is write and sleep in peace. There are times when I am willing to pitch in a bit more for the comfort and privacy of a hotel room, and I can still afford to do that occasionally as I can’t consider myself a “frequent traveller”, and I DO have a full-time job πŸ˜› Heh, perhaps I sound like an anti-social spoiled brat, but I do have to be quite honest with myself. Of course, options like airBNB are now much more attractive than hostels and hotels, and I have yet to try the much acclaimed Couchsurfing…

A room in a cute, minimalist hostel in Český Krumlov, Czech, December 2014

You got me, Schaffhausen!

Once in a while you stumble upon a place during your travels that you’ve probably never heard of, or only planned on stopping by as a point of transfer. That was Schaffhausen for me.

It was hard to be oblivious to Schaffhausen since it was on the way to Rhine Falls – you either go through Winterthur or Schaffhausen on your way there. Since I went by the Winterthur route (and didn’t stay in Winterthur, which was south of Rhine Falls) going towards the falls, I figured I’d take the other alternative and head north towards Schaffhausen while heading towards the next destination. Of course Schaffhausen wasn’t an actual planned stop on the itinerary, but I had an extra two hours to spare. I could go to the Zurich Airport early…or explore Schaffhausen and see what I could find there. No need to guess what I did.

I don’t think Schaffhausen is widely known as a tourist city in Switzerland. If it weren’t for Rhine Falls, I probably wouldn’t even have known that it existed. Still, that doesn’t mean it’s not worth a visit. In fact, Schaffhausen was quite an interesting stopover for me, and dare I saw, I liked it more than Lucerne

It was a Sunday afternoon when I visited. The streets of Schaffhausen were very quiet, and many shops were closed. Sometimes I wonder how many residents actually live in small cities like Schaffhausen. Somehow it gave me the impression that the city was reconstructed from a colourful painting, jumping into reality through an artist’s brush, given life by the presence of the few tourists that were around the small old town square.

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Two weeks in China, part 2: Chengdu, why did I even come?

After the food edition in part 1, here is the more comprehensive Chengdu entry. Be warned of the photo spam, but more could be found on Facebook, for the photo addict πŸ˜‰

China, though my home for the first 8 years of my life, is a mystery to be unravelled. The last time I visited China was during the summer in 2010. Every time I go back to China, a mix of joy, excitement, and nervousness brews inside of me. There is something that always connects you with the place where you were born, no matter how long ago you’ve left and how far away you’ve gone. It’s like tracing your steps back to your roots. You find your way through the most unfamiliar territories, but end up right back at where you started, in the very beginning. Do you still call it home? CAN you still call it home?

9 hours from Amsterdam to Chengdu. With every second, the little airplane icon on the screen moved closer to the destination, and the heart anticipated a little bit more. I dared not imagine what awaited me in the motherland. This would be an adventure, just like any other, except nothing like any other.

The 9th WBC

The 9th World Biomaterials Congress was the reason why I had the opportunity to go to Chengdu in the first place. The 5-day event, held every 4 years, is the biggest and most important conference in my field of work, and this year it happened to be in China. (A side note: the next one, to be held in 2016, will be in Montreal, Canada!) I went with my entire lab in France, a group of 6. In the name of academia, we were off!

From Bordeaux to Chengdu, we’d only have to make a transfer in Amsterdam with KLM – I was so glad we didn’t have to go through Paris! Upon landing in China, the group promptly took a taxi to the hotel in downtown Chengdu. I was surprised to see banners on the side of the highway advertising the congress (or conference, I’ll use these terms interchangeably)…I didn’t know it was such a big deal!

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