Travel and tourism are two sides of the same cookie. One just tastes a little less processed.
A few days ago, I was walking through the ruins of Angkor Wat. I was sweating, and stickier than a popsicle. I saw hordes of tourists snapping pictures while also taking in the sites, as a thought occurred to me: “Is Angkor Wat really so different from Disney World?”
Sadly, there are no roller coasters at Angkor Wat. And definitely no air conditioning. But while dripping my way through the masses, I saw an opening and turned. I entered a chamber the size of a childhood bedroom, with few wall carvings. More remarkably, I was the only person there. I stayed in that room, enjoying the chill of being alone amongst many, thinking what the thousands who had existed in that room before me had done, and how they had lived.
I left the room, turned another corner, and saw again the tourists. My thoughts turned as well, to my comparison of Angkor Wat and Disney World. Perhaps the difference lie not in the places as much as in the way they were experienced.
To fully enjoy the temples at Angkor Wat, then, I needed to do a little climbing. Some of you will know that I have a unique desire to climb and explore things that really shouldn’t be. If anyone shares this propensity, I have a bit of advice: go to the temples of Thailand and Cambodia. The guides there actually told me to climb on fallen pieces of the temple as I was looking for a more legitimate exit. And few things have made me happier than channeling my inner Indy to squeeze through broken windows and climb on thousand-year-old temples.
At the end of this long day exploring the temples near Siam Reap, my guide suggested I watch the sunset from the top of a temple on top of a hill. Part way up the hill, an official asked me to cover my shoulders. I didn’t have a scarf, so I had to put on a sweater I had in my backpack. I walked quickly up the hill, sweating more than I thought possible, until I reached the top. Once I did, I had to pee. Doing the pee dance while searching for a restroom, I realized nature’s toilet would have to do. I should note that I was wearing harem pants, those diaper pants that MC Hammer made famous in “Can’t Touch This”. As I attempted to gracefully relieve my bladder, I may have misaimed and ‘spilled’ a bit on these ridiculous pants.
SO, sweaty, pee-stained, and pissy as a teenager, I climbed to the top of the temple, and sat to watch the view. A Chinese man next to me motioned for me to scoot closer. It became apparent that he wanted to take a picture with me. I obliged. After, he looked at me and exclaimed, “Beautiful!” In case you were wondering, I felt- and was -the farthest from beautiful that I could possibly be. But that didn’t stop me from smiling. Quietly cracking up at the hilarity of the situation, I watched the sun set over the temple. From sweaty and grumpy, to cooler and calmer, I reflected on my mercurial moods. All it took was a little climbing to find my peace. That beats a roller coaster any day!