Looking for Authenticity
One of my family members calls the places I hang out these days “The Far East”. Although technically correct, there is nothing far about this place anymore.
Tomorrow we explore Angkor Wat and the countless temples, canals and the stone architecture that shaped this once bustling, ancient city.
For almost half a year, I have been moving. Moving overland across Southeast Asia. From Indonesia we moved north through Singapore, Malaysia, Thailand, and now, Cambodia. Next week takes us to Laos.
We have seen a nice slice of the Far East. Enough to know that there isn’t anything far about this place anymore.
Naturally, I had a couple of expectations of what Asia would be like, and one of them has been so misguidedly wrong. I never expected how much of the authenticity of the cultures would have been eroded. Or at least mixed together with alien ones.
Read on to the end of this article where we’ll give our advice as to how to avoid or enjoy the tourist traps.
Angkor What?! Do we have to go?
Tomorrow we go to Angkor Wat. But it’s not just Angkor Wat. Angkor, the city that surrounds the famous temple everyone has heard of, is an ancient city, that was abandoned. Lost to the world. At its prime, it was the largest city in the world. In sheer size and population.
And to be honest, we’re kind of forcing ourselves to go. We are going to go of course. We do want to. It’s beautiful and impressive and historical and well… because we’re here, and it’s here. And we have to go. Right? We have to.
Archeologists have studied this city since its discovery 150 years ago. Two centuries after it was abandoned. When it was discovered, no one really had any record of this place or knew it existed. It’s so massive that parts of it are still being excavated and restored to this day.
We have to go, right?
The east has met the west, and there is nothing far about this place anymore. Western tourism into the east has changed so much of this place. Quickly.
Where is the road less travelled?
Although it wasn’t hard to find locals in Bali, they were working at every restaurant and massage parlor. It was hard to find them. To speak to locals who weren’t annoyed with and over tourists being in their space. It seemed like you had to break down a barrier to see the real Bali.
Bali is not Indonesia. And Indonesia is not Bali.
We had a much more authentic experience in Java compared to Bali. And George Town was, for example, a place we knew nothing about before we heard other travellers recommend we go. It was one of our favourite cities, by far.
We have to ask ourselves if we want to stand in front of Angkor Wat waiting for our turn to take the same picture that’s been taken a thousand times before. Maneuvering carefully with my camera to find a gap through the crowd. There is nothing far about this place anymore
I want to make clear that we have had some of the most amazing experiences since we’ve been traveling and I am so excited to keep going and to keep learning. I am lucky and blessed and grateful for every opportunity Henry and I have gone after. You can read more about our experience in my Life as a Nomad series.
In my latest article I speak about our journey to today. It’s called “Is full-time travel still special after 5 months?”
I will openly admit that I am exaggerating my point in this article. Of course, we are excited to see Angkor Wat. The historical significance of the place is astounding and the architectural genius of its time, impressive. There is however still a sense of being one of the masses. And that is what I am highlighting here.
Much like Bangkok and Phuket do not show the full story of Thailand. The infamous Pub Street in Siem Reap is not representative of the Cambodian local culture.
The experience you chase, and the experience you enjoy, is different to mine. It depends how you want to travel and what you want to see. Each tourist is different from the next.
There have been moments on this trip that have been so amazing. So humbling. And ones that have left me feeling so part of it. Then, there have also been moments where I have felt like another cattle being herded through the field. Part of the crowd. Another number.
Our advice for travellers looking for authenticity
For us, this realisation just means we have to be more careful of how we experience the places we go. Yesterday we walked through the streets of Siem Reap with no plan. No destination. And, it was incredible.
It’s on the side streets and local parks that we have found our experience.
When you let go of the idea that you have to find a destination at the end of the road, you just appreciate the road.
How you can get away from, or enjoy the tourist traps
Go somewhere you have never heard of before. You might surprise yourself.
Get off of the tourist map as often as you can. Get lost.
Go to the Angkor Wats. Walk the great walls. We don’t always avoid them. But, do it your way. Sit in the back of the busy temple compound and absorb it all. Instead of rushing through to take photos, breathe.
Follow the advice of other travellers you have met on the road. This doesn’t mean you should always just listen to everyone you meet. Keep in mind, everyone’s travel style is different. Take cues from people whose travel philosophy seems to match up with yours.
Walk. Just walk.
Don’t plan everything in advance. Leave some room for spontaneity and follow the road, wherever it takes you.
We’ve been on the road for…