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Can hype kill famous landmarks… like Angkor Wat?

angkor

 When I stepped foot onto Angkor Wat Archeological Park and stared at the crumbles of time, I thought one thing~

This is it?

Nevermind, that it was once the magnificent capital of the Khmer Empire from the 9th-15th centuries. Or that it’s a world-reknown UNESCO site. I had heard one too many raves from enthusiastic friends and travelers that it was the must-see of Cambodia.

—  ‘Take the three day pass because you’ll want to see everything!’
—  ‘Do the hot air balloon ride over the park! It’s so amazing. You’ll never forget it.’
—  ‘Angkor Wat is the only reason I went to Cambodia. It’s the best sight of all of Southeast Asia!’
—  ‘You haaaaave to see it; I’m so glad I did!’ 

Although I hadn’t seen photos of its architecture or read about it before my visit, I was certain it would fulfill my monumental notions about its grandeur.

But what stood in front of me now, was rough around the edges, highly eroded, decomposing … ancient sand fortresses slammed and beaten by the waves of time.

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Why I hate ” tourist hype”

Hype can ruin a good thing.

It builds expectations to exaggerated climax and like landmines, they lie in silent wait for you, so that when you discover them, you exclaim–

 That’s it?!

That was it.

A big, fat bullet of disappointed had killed it. Hypothetically, the “only reason to visit Cambodia” had just been slayed.

So I took the one-day pass instead, feeling some pessimism as to how Macchu Picchu would someday fare for me.

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Falling into the trap of making travel comparisons

If you travel a lot, you inevitably develop a subtle cockiness, over time.  You’ve seen other splendors and this gives you a frame of reference  to make comparisons. It’s a nasty habit. A habit that I am often challenged to break.

In Asia, I’ve had my fill of archeological and religious opulence: golden temples and palaces, towering and magestic Buddhas, stunning buddhist wats, painted with gold, glinting brightly in the sun like King Solomon’s treasure. I expected to be bowled over.

But I wasn’t. 

It’s no exaggeration that archeological park is enormous (stretching over 400km), but ‘archeological‘ and ‘ruins‘ are the keywords to note.

Hype had stretched my expectations above and beyond that.

Meanwhile, comparisons had knocked them over like bowling pins.

But…

angkor.

 

Reshaping my perspective and experience

I knew I was being unfair.

Angkor Wat is glorious and magnificent in its own right and surely there’s more beauty to Cambodia than just Angkor Wat. 

 It took me a while to understand what the park was really about, but once I did, I quickly reset my expectations and switched fairytale romances so I could enjoy my day. I discovered it was actually pretty cool.

Sorry Angkor Wat.

Bayon: One of my favorite temples. It has face reliefs.

Bayon

Monster trees

One of my favorite film locations. Anyone wanna say Tomb Raider?  


S
leeping Buddha stone statue

Angkor Wat actually means “City Temple” and its name is an accurate description of its unparalleled draw. Instead of King Solomon’s treasure, you might think of the park as more like a Lost City.  Much restoration is being done, but as the ‘city’ of temples, which withstood centuries, it’s slow decay is apparent in fading impressions and wall reliefs. Still, it shares imprints of an early civilization.

It takes 3 days to tour because like a city, the architectural ruins and artwork tell a story the civilization. Not to mention,  the temples are very distanced from each other; you’ll be best off hiring a tuk-tuk to take you around.

.Apsara (aka dancers).   Ruin restoration         .   . 

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More Angkor Wat photos (click on icon above)

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Ways to escape the hype of famous sites:

1) Read about the site first

Research the site beforehand. You’ll have a better perspective of what to expect and how to appreciate it. 

 

2)  If it’s listed in the guidebook, expect a crowd. 

These days, you’ll be hard-pressed to find a famous landmark that isn’t over-saturated with tourists. Even sunrises and sunsets spots are littered with tourist paparazzi. If you’re looking for a more intimate experience, you may be disappointed (these days, those are primarily found when you go local or off-the-map).   Best advice: Arrive early for a good spot- or- go around lunchtime, when most crowds leave for lunch and to escape the heat.

 

3) Keep an open mind

Keep an open mind.   Each country is individual in its culture, art and history. Comparisons and expectations keep you from fully experiencing or understanding a place fully from its own perspective.

 

4) Don’t let the touts get to you

You’re there to sightsee, they’re there to make a living. Touts can spoil your experience with their persistence in selling you things.  They’ll annoy you to the point you want to hate the culture. Don’t. Touts test your patience, but try to understand. In developing countries,  money doesn’t come easily and is needed for basic survival moreso, than luxury. A famous site is the only place which will draw tourists, so your tout has probably traveled some ways to you and to do a honest day’s work. 

 

5) Just because others like it doesn’t mean you will

So your friends and guidebook have sampled the site and given it their thumbs up. That doesn’t mean it will appeal to you. We all have distinct tastes. Ask a die-hard sports fan if he/she wants to visit an art museum like the Louvre and they might find it boring, where you might find it exciting. Just as each site is individual and unique; so are we.

 

 What do you think? Can hype kill a famous landmark for you?  

 

 

 

47 Comments

  1. Manage your expectation before visiting a destination. Then you will not be “out-expected”. The photographs you see in media are always “touched up” and may mislead you. Angkor Wat is beautiful because of it’s history and the pride it brings to the Cambodian. But please do not visit a place just because somebody say so. Do your own research and decide for yourself. But when you decide to go, do not curse and swear when the place is not what you perceived. You are responsible for your decision 🙂

    • Christine Kaaloa says:

      @Paulo: Good advice! Too bad you weren’t there to give it to me before I took my trip. 😉

  2. Great review Christine. I agree with your article about inflated expectations. They can be disappointing sometimes.
    How do you felt Angkor wat compared to Ayutthaya?

    pd. Tomr Rider rules !

  3. spider says:

    If you can’t understand or appreciate Angkor Wat and the surrounding temples regardless of what you read,or had preconceived notions about… you are a moron!!!

    • Christine Kaaloa says:

      @Spider: Anyone who calls a person a moron for owning a personal opinion is a worse moron. duh!

  4. DomHyo says:

    Hype can ruin many things that’s why I love your list. Everyone is different and sometimes hype can totally ruin something…even movies for myself. Maybe pessimism is good sometimes?

    • Christine Kaaloa says:

      @DomHyo: Agreed, pessimism is good sometimes. The one good thing about hype is that if you want an original experience, it pushes you to be more creative in your visit. =-) What was one of your over or under hyped places?

  5. Paul says:

    Another way to escape they hype is to visit during the off peak season. I have been to the Colosseum and Louvre for example, in early spring and mid summer, and had two very different experiences. In early spring there were tourists about, but it wasn’t packed, there weren’t lines, and it was great. When I went in the summer, it was just annoying, and really sad given that there was no way that the introspective experience I had when it was more “mine” was going to be had with all of those crowds around.

  6. Kathryn says:

    Since I’ve been blogging and reading a lot of other blogs I’ve started to get the feeling that I will be disappointed when I visit some of these over hyped places. It hasn’t happened yet though!
    Also, some of the places that were top of my list have dropped down the list as I see yet another blog writing about them. Your lovely photos have reignited my interest in visiting Angkor Wat. Thank you!

    • @Kathryn: Thanks and I think it’s awesome that you haven’t experienced that yet! Had I read travel blogs on it, I might’ve been better prepared. When I went, I was going mostly off of others’ verbal enthusiasm.

  7. Simon says:

    I feel sorry for you; Angkor Wat is one of the most amazing places I’ve visited! But I do understand the tourism hype thing because I hated Rome – and with a passion! (But that’s a story for another time.) I think you can get a bit templed out in Angkor, though – so a three-day pass would be a bit overkill in my opinion.

    • @Simon: Templed out- I can see how that might stretch a non-templed person thin. 😉 Rome: Did you hate all of Rome or just certain parts of it? For me, the Michelangelo’s Sistine Chapel ceiling mural was another disappointment for me (too bad because I’m a big fan of Michelangelo and had really studied his work). But I had artbooks and slide lectures to compare and the color wasn’t as vibrant nor could I see the detail. Someone who wasn’t an art major might’ve been more impressed.

  8. I’m fully loving this post. You’re right that hype can kill things sometimes, whether it’s a famous site, or just a town you read about in a guidebook that sounded amazing but ended up being less than what you expected it to be.

    I’ve only ever heard people rave about Angkor Wat, and I’m glad you ended up having a positive experience in the end. If you don’t know what to expect, you can get taken aback when a place isn’t how you imagined it to be.

  9. Kate says:

    I’ve just come from Cambodia and *everything* you are posting about it (Angkor Wat/10 reasons to love) is exactly what my travel mate and I have been saying to each other over the past month. Right on 🙂

  10. Sara says:

    I haven’t been to Cambodia, but your photos of Angor Wat make me really want to go. I did experience the kind of “that’s it?” feeling when I went to the Acropolis in Athens. Part of this was because I had studied classics and had spent so much time reading about the acropolis and its architecture, art, etc. that when I finally saw it, it was kind of a let down. The actual Parthenon has a lot of construction supports on it, which take away a lot of the grandeur, and there is virtually no shade there so it was HOT. I did end up falling in love with Athens, and am wowed by the view of the Acropolis from afar (especially at sunset), but up close it was just not quite as exciting as I anticipated.

    • @Sara: Ha ha… that’s a good point you just made, Sara. Sometimes when you’ve studied it for school, that’s a kind of hype too. Maybe the AC class took away from it. LOL.
      I was an art major & when I was in the Sistine Chapel I was excited to see the ceiling painting by Michaelangelo. Adore Michaelangelo and that painting, I’d seen in slide lectures & my book… it was gorgeous. But standing there, it looked faded (vs the vibrant colors of my textbook), I had to squint, there was a long line herding me forward and my neck hurt. That was my first Classical disappointment.

  11. Furio says:

    It’s funny I read this post just after I’ve visited Halong Bay, which I didn’t find very different from Yangshuo (China).

    I cannot say I was deceived. Halong Bay is beautiful. Only, I was expecting something more from such a famous (and overpriced) Bay.

    I agree with Dave when he says that people that only travel two weeks per year MUST like what they see as there will not be any new spots to see for a long time.

    However when you travel more often you risk to emotional burn out (this is what happen to me with Buddhist temples haha). The only way I found to solve this “problem” is to travel slower, try to reach less famous spots and put more attention on people (which are always unique) than buildings.

    • @Furio: I agree with you with putting more attention on people. I feel like its that and the natural beauty of the land or the energy of the city/towns that make the country what it is.

      Halong Bay was the “first” place Ive seen such magnificent karst islets, so for me it was mind-blowing, even though I knew it was a heavily touristed place. So I wonder if Yangshuo, I’d be ‘ho hum’ about it. I think it also has a lot to do with ‘firsts’. Everyone remembers their first love as this great thing, but second and thirds… in order for them to be memorable they have to be highly unique.

  12. I think this is a great post, as it lessens alot of pressure for some of us visiting famous sights. We are expected to be moved and instantly fall in love with them; because everyone else did! I had a similar situation on visiting Macchu Picchu. I heard about people being moved to tears when seeing it. Me? completely dry eyed! It was a fantastic sight, but wasn’t moved like soo many others.

    • @Elle: You know, thanks for putting it like that– “it lessens a lot of pressure for some of us visiting famous sights”. It is pressure and we do expect to be moved. I was actually mortified that I didn’t “absolutely love it.” I spent a good chunk of the day chasing sights thinking– “okay, maybe this is the one that’s going to do it for me!” I’m actually slightly nervous about Macchu Picchu– it’s been built up just as high and of course everyone just takes that one famous picture. Now I’m wondering if that picture is the only experience. Is that it? 😉

  13. Gray says:

    Hype ruins most things, from my experience, including tourist locations. Any time we get our expectations unrealistically high, we run the risk of being disappointed and unfortunately, hype exists purely to get our expectations up. I’m also very wary of assuming that I’ll like things just because other people did.

  14. Jenna says:

    I have no personal experience with Angkor Wat, but I definitely know what it’s like to raise expectations upon reality. I just wrote a post on the same topic about Croatia, which has been topping my “must visit” list for years. Call it my romantic streak, but I tend to buy into hype very easily. Sometimes it doesn’t work out, but other times the hype – or buzz – leads me to places I might not have discovered on my own. It’s a trade-off, no doubt.

    • @Jenna: I really appreciated your honesty about Croatia, because I don’t want to have deluded hopes. Mostly I want to have a neutral feeling so I can find my own value in its beauty. I also liked what you said about how it leads you to other places you may not have discovered. It’s almost like the disappointment pushes you to look for a consolation and you open your vision to go beyond the typical tourist chatter. Most of the time, we should be starting with that open vision but the hype narrows its reaches.

  15. I have to agree that some over the top advertisement gives any person some grandiose expectation of certain places. It does ruin your memory and outlook of the place because of it and a disappointment in that department might dampen your enthusiasm for the journey.

    But, all is not really a waste if you start appreciating what is really out there. Each place is unique though it may not be as what you painted them to be in your mind. Enjoy the moment. Make your own memories.

    • @Sandy: Love what you said:

      Each place is unique though it may not be as what you painted them to be in your mind. Enjoy the moment. Make your own memories.

      Exactly.

  16. Dave says:

    Very much agree with you points.

    Here’s the kicker.

    People like or want to think everything is great in travel, even when it’s not. It comes from the majority of people working all year just to escape the daily grind. So even when they do end up in a place like Angkor for a day or two with 1,0000 camera holding tourists on tour, sweat pouring from every pore, and dark clouds raining down they’ll generally say they like it.

    If you write about how “horrible” and experience like Angkor can be – you’ll be lambasted or ignored.

    Write about how great it is and people will love you for it. Why? Because you are giving them some hope and something to look forward to. Even if the raw reality is something different.

    I stopped expecting anything from travel “sights” years ago. I do some research on what’s good to see at a place, what to avoid eg crowds, and make me own thoughts on it. Good or bad.

    • @Dave: ha ha… good insight on people and the travel- hype mentality. True, I thought expressing my honest opinion on this might be digging a grave for reasons you explained. Ironically, I adored every little bitty thing else about Cambodia, aside from Angkor Wat. I had to grow into that appreciation. These days I find the everyday culture and lifestyle of a country, captures my curiosity and interest moreso than reknown sites, although I still visit them thinking I might miss out. Some sites still blow me away after its hype; others, not. Maybe its jadedness, personal preference or a superstitious belief that a place can only withstand the first 1 million camera clicks before it starts to fade.

      I laughed at your “sweat pouring from every pore” bit. So true! I thought I’d be nice and leave that part out but it aggravated my impatience even more.

  17. Hey Christine, I really enjoyed reading your take on Angkor Wat. I totally understand how overly persistent touts and excessive crowds would put a damper on things, and I can appreciate how it could seem a little underwhelming once one has seen as many wonders as you have.
    I’m glad that you were able to get some enjoyment in the end… Bayon Temple was my favorite – it kind of blew my mind! I never actually got to the Sleeping Buddha – next time, for sure. You snapped a great picture of it!
    For the record, I totally agree with all of your tips listed above – definitely would help with planning a happy trip to a place I adore. 🙂
    Cheers for the interesting read!

  18. Ekua says:

    I actually loved Angkor Wat. I think there were a couple key factors – I had only seen one major sight in SE Asia thus far so I had little to compare it with, and I like ruins and I appreciated how much you could see the detail of the artistry since the buildings were not covered with shiny gold paint. You describe it as, “rough around the edges, highly eroded, decomposing … ancient sand fortresses slammed and beaten by the waves of time.” This is actually what made it fascinating to me!

    I don’t think it’s necessarily cockiness that leads frequent travelers to to have that “meh” experience, I think it’s jadedness. It’s not that people get too cool, it’s just that the more you see the less things might wow you, especially if you’ve already had a big “wow” moment that you compare everything else to, as much as you don’t want to.

    Like other people said, It’s definitely a great idea to go into a well known sight with very low expectations and then to appreciate the experience for what it is!

  19. Hannah says:

    Hype can ruin most things, not just tourist attractions! I think you’re spot on about doing your own research first. Usually there’s a lot of hype for a reason but I would never trust what others have to say until I’ve looked into it myself first.

  20. Mike says:

    @Christine- I don’t fully agree with your explanation but fully appreciate and respect the fact that you allowed my criticism to appear on your wall when you moderated it, and provided a response, so thank you!

  21. Mike says:

    “It builds expectations to exaggerated climax and like landmines, they lie in silent wait for you, so that when you discover them, you exclaim–

    That’s it?!

    That was it.

    A big, fat bullet of disappointed [sic] had killed it. Hypothetically, the “only reason to visit Cambodia” had just been slayed.”

    Sorry, but I can’t let this one go without comment. This is extremely offensive writing. It demonstrates a complete absence of cultural awareness (let alone sensitivity) to use metaphors about landmines and violence which allude to Cambodia’s history. It comes across as exploitative; as though you have no emotional connection towards your surroundings and your only concern is writing a story. Perhaps your next blog should be about how long term travel can cause the traveller to completely lose their perspective and grip on reality. Let’s ignore the fact that in addition to this it is very badly written and the metaphors don’t really make sense.

    • @Michael: Thank you for your honesty. This post was supposed to be exactly the way you commented on it. That was the ‘insensitive reality’ of my situation at the time, due to the fact I had ungrounded and unrealistic expectations. So everything you said is true, but I make no apologies for my writing. I’m not here to sensor my own “failures in my humanity”, but to explain it was just that and its a common human trait in long and short term travelers.

      I’m not here to appease with my writing nor lie and pretend I don’t have ignorant human responses. But in my recent posts about Cambodia, you’ll find that I do deeply respect and admire the country for their suffering and tragic history. I actually fell deeply in love with Cambodia, but this is not the post that expresses that.

      As for “badly written”? You’re welcome to your opinion.

  22. Stephen says:

    Lower you expectations (about everything)!! Then you won’t ever be disappointed.

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