musings on travel, international living, development aid, politics, turkey (the country more than the meat) and anything else that comes to mind...

Sunday, June 10, 2012

From Cambodia: Angkor Whaaaat?

It was on the list. You know, the list. It's been on there for a while. Not exactly sure why or where I first heard about Angkor Wat, but from the first picture I saw I was hooked.

Well, turns out that Angkor Wat, the largest religious building in the world, is not only fascinating in person, it's only part of the fun! Much like Bagan in Myanmar, the temples just north of Siem Reap (of which Angkor Wat is the most famous) just keep going. And going. And going. Also like Bagan, they were all a bit different from one another, built by different people at different times for different (or perhaps the same?) purposes. We were there for a good part of the day (5am to 1pm) and I get the distinct impression that we barely scratched the surface of what there was to explore both on and off our map.

Like other places we've been in Cambodia, the whole complex is well-maintained, organized and conducive to exploration. Not really being the 'guided tour' types (with some rare exceptions), we preferred to use a tuk tuk (the place is too big to see much of it in one day on bicycles) for transportation. But the exploring was up to us. Just the way we like it!

However, even in the low season and under the extreme humidity, there were thousands of other people (some of whom are described below) who decided to be hand held by an undoubtedly knowledgeable guide constantly spitting out dates and random tidbits of information that most likely made the treacherous journey into one ear, through the thoroughly confused tourist's brain and out the other ear. They're easily identified and just as easily grouped into categories.

Seeing as how Cambodia is in the neighborhood as the world's most prolific travelers, it's no wonder that many a group of Chinese and Japanese were spotted being ushered through the ruins of and around Angkor Wat. Let's call them crazy Asian tourists... crasians for short.

In my experience crasians are some of the most well-prepared, and hilarious, travelers. Always in groups of 15+, your typical crasian will don a late model fanny pack (yes, apparently they are still manufactured), big floppy hat and, always, a nice camera. We're talking DSLR here mostly, with expensive point-and-shoots as the backup. And they all have them. Good luck trying to take a shot of the temple overrun by trees and vines (nature 1 : humans 0) without also capturing at least 4 and a half crasians posing for photos. As the tour guide yawns (it's probably his/her fault anyways - I've heard guides say 'and this is a pretty place for a picture' countless times), this can go on for 10s of minutes, each husband or wife taking a picture of the significant other flashing the peace sign. Then a group shot. Or three. Luckily for my sanity, crasians are also very good at waiting in line. They are exceedingly polite and regularly express animated acknowledgment of interest facts through head nodding and surprise-indicating verbal cues ('aahh' and 'oohh' being the most common). And they always smile at me while looking straight up at my chin from below. Yes, at I am a freak of nature in Asia.

As a point of clarification, I am not calling all people of the Asian persuasion crazy. Much like otherwise normal fraternity guys descend into insanity upon coming together in a group, so too do Asian tourists become crasians when grouped into 15 or more.

To be fair, American tourists are similarly fun to watch. Let's call this group Loud Bad Jeans White Shoes (LBJWS). LBJWSs, although not as prevalent as crasians on the international 'it's in the guidebook so I must see it' scene, are just as recognizable. They're almost always loud and obnoxious ("Betty. Betty! BETTY! Honey, you HAVE to come and see this pretty 'lil native thing here! It's only 20 bucks!), never minding those of us around who realize that there are other people around that may not want to hear about the great juice mixer you just bought or the Made in China scarf you're about to purchase. Almost without fail, LBJWSs also have poorly fitting jeans (but they're just comfortable right?). C'mon, admit it, we all have a pair (or three)... Lastly, LBJWSs always seem to be wearing tennis shoes (usually white) with white athletic tube socks. Again, they're comfortable, get off our backs.

In all honesty, I think Europeans are the best travelers, perhaps because traveling is such an ingrained part of their culture. German, French, English, etc. youth are encouraged to take a year off backpacking around the world before or after university. It's a great policy if you ask me and one that more American kids should try. Generally they also have decent fashion sense, even when it's a million degrees outside and despite the fact that capri pants (i.e. manpris) never look good on men. Even though Germans have the tendency to pair shorts with hiking boots not just when hiking, I have to give a general thumbs up to the Euros (not the currency, that's a mess). Sometimes on tours but (especially with the youth) usually alone or in pairs, they get my vote for most awesome-est tourists.

Call me insensitive for pointing this stuff out and collectively poking fun at tourists (and myself - just ask Lauren about some of my outfits on this trip)? I'm just telling you what I saw. And see over and over again. And over again.