Can hype kill famous landmarks… like Angkor Wat?


 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.


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.


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.




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.


Monster trees

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

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         .   . 


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?  

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48 Comments. Leave new

  • 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?

    • Avatar
      Christine Kaaloa
      August 24, 2013 7:24 pm

      @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?

  • 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.

  • 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.

  • […] Can hype kill famous landmarks… like Angkor Wat? […]

  • […] Can hype kill famous landmarks… like Angkor Wat? […]

  • 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.

  • 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.

  • […] jump back on the tour bus, either way I was left a little underwhelmed by the experience. I suppose it’s hard for anything to live up to the hype that a place like Stonehenge is subjected to, and although I generally try to avoid being too […]

  • 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 🙂

  • 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.

  • 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.

  • 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? 😉


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