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Notes on the Geography of Cambodia (Angkor): Looking at Tourists

So much for the official tour. We deviate now to look at the tourists who have been so carefully (and misleadingly) excluded from many of the preceding pictures.

In 1915, the French authorities provided one automobile for the occasional tourist, who usually arrived by boat from Saigon. Landing at Tonle Sap, visitors were taken by that car, weather permitting, to a bungalow just west of Angkor Wat. Times have changed.

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Cambodia (Angkor): Looking at Tourists picture 1

There's an international airport now, three miles west of Angkor Wat. There are several 5-star hotels at Siem Reap, the prospering town that lies the same distance south of the temple. From those nocturnal holding pens, thousands of tourists are daily driven--or drive, or pedal--north to the archaeological zone.

Cambodia (Angkor): Looking at Tourists picture 2

Not so fast! They have to stop at this megaplex toll plaza and get multiple-entry photo-IDs, which with moderate rigor are checked every time they enter.

Cambodia (Angkor): Looking at Tourists picture 3

Pierre Loti wrote in Pilgrimage to Angkor that "in the depth of the forests of Siam I have seen the evening star rise over the ruins of the mysterious Angkor." Very nice, but as dead-and-gone as the Khmer Empire itself. Here is the grand causeway to Angkor Wat: most of the day, it's like an airport concourse, and at sunset it's closed. C'est la vie.

Cambodia (Angkor): Looking at Tourists picture 4

Tourists are docile. Told that they must visit Bakheng at sunset, they dutifully do so. The site, which was the capital of the Khmer Empire after Hariharalaya (Ruluos), is atop a steep hill, and it theoretically provides a spectacular view of the West Baray, on the west, and Angkor Wat, on the east. A local hotelier has entrepreneurially provided a fleet of elephants for those visitors seeking an authentic experience.

Cambodia (Angkor): Looking at Tourists picture 5

Up top at Bakheng, this is what the tourists find.

Cambodia (Angkor): Looking at Tourists picture 6

Peripheral industries develop, including the provision of refreshments.

Cambodia (Angkor): Looking at Tourists picture 7

Here's a shipment coming in early one morning from around the East Baray.

Cambodia (Angkor): Looking at Tourists picture 8

The curse of Mr. Eastman: serious photographers up at Kopal Spien. The woman in the center deserves full marks for having carried her gear up the long path, but she wasn't amused by congratulatory words. Or maybe she spoke only Polish.

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