Overbooked: The Exploding Business of Travel and Tourism by Elizabeth Becker takes a closer look at the multi-trillion dollar industry and peels back the curtain on the tourism industry around the world. What she finds isn’t always pretty.
Southeast Asia’s temples are world-class, but the big crowds and overgrown tourism is a downer. Here’s three of the quieter – yet still incredible – temples from the region.
Approaching the Muang Sing Historical Park outside Kanchanaburi was a little surreal to me. I had been living in Cambodia for two years, and the differences between that country and Thailand are striking as soon as you cross the border. So to see a rather grand Khmer ruin so far away from Angkor Wat was fascinating.
Cambodia’s failed effort to beat Singapore on June 12 in its bid for the 2018 World Cup was like something out of a scene in Lord of the Rings. Not what was happening on the field, though. The madness was at the ticket gates just outside the Olympic Stadium. Hundreds of people without tickets stormed the fences and ran up the steep hill. Bored cops were out in full force but didn’t bother stopping any of the fans. In many ways, it was exactly like the traffic in Phnom Penh.
If there’s anything I’ve learned about Southeast Asian zoos, it’s that you can get ridiculously close to the animals compared to anywhere else in the world where they have all those pesky “rules” and “precautions.”. That’s never been truer than at the Phnom Tamao Wildlife Rescue Center. About 40 kilometers south of Phnom Penh, the first area of the zoo has monkeys running wild in a large forested pond area. Then there are deer following you around at the same time. At one point – I kid you not – my family saw a monkey riding a deer. Madness. I didn’t get a photo but I swear it happened.
The rare Irrawaddy dolphin’s numbers are dwindling to critical levels in the Mekong River. You can still see them up close in Kratie, Cambodia by boat.
Even when trying to avoid riding elephants, things are not so cut and dry. More and more people are wizening up to the fact that riding elephants is not a good thing, so tour companies are offering trips that involve feeding, cleaning and watching elephants rather than riding. The problem is that some tour companies hire elephants both to be ridden or cared for, depending on what the tourists want to pay for. So one day the elephant might have a leisurely time. The next day – unbeknownst to tourists – the same elephant will be forced to carry tourists.
When it comes to coffee, Cambodia will probably never be able to compete with the scale of neighboring Vietnam’s vast operations. Although Vietnam is the second largest producer of coffee in the world, Cambodia has been carving out its own niche with some decent and inexpensive coffee that’s mostly produced in the cooler province of Mondulkiri.
Phnom Penh’s streets are clogged and chaotic. If it isn’t traffic that’s blocking the way, it’s an impromptu flood during the rainy season. The roads can be dangerous, with everyone on a motorbike or driving an SUV seemingly on their phones and oblivious to their surroundings. Despite all the danger and the tropical heat, I fell in love with bicycling for the first time after riding through the city daily.
Some 40,000 people suffer from dengue fever annually in Cambodia, and now I’m one of them. Top-notch treatment is available at the new Royal Phnom Penh Hospital, but you’re going to need to pay top dollar for this level of care.