Looking back, I should have taken my time doing the itinerary, not just with the temple tour but the entire trip. Given that this was a journey to an unfamiliar land, it is best that I should have at least done my research. Ignorance is bliss, and true enough, I looked and felt like an ignorant fool. Not knowing any information about the country, the people, the language, the culture, the temples and their history is like a slap in the face, not giving an ounce of respect to the people living in the country.
This was initially apparent when I first arrived at the guesthouse asking the owner how to say “good evening” in Khmer. I felt somewhat embarrassed at that moment, something that I could recall pretty well. The only excuse I could come up was that I thought Khmer language was the same as the Thai language.
Another one of my mishaps is not getting information about the temples. Guidebooks offer sufficient information to showcase the temples’ history and relevance up to the smallest detail and yet, I failed to get one and read. I just went there and took shots after shots, not truly understanding the idea behind it. Photos would definitely be more meaningful if the underlying message has bee received.
Having no information whatsoever led me to the thought that I should probably just eavesdrop on other tourists with tour guides in order to get more data. This eventually led me to another pitfall: to become prey to unsuspecting locals who would try to “guide” at a cost. They would wait for tourists who do not have guides and approach them so they could “assist” with the tour. I fell for this a few times, which cost me some of my pocket money. Do not get me wrong, I do not blame these locals, assuming they were indeed “in need” of financial assistance. At the end of the day I can only blame myself.
Aside from the pseudo-guides, it was a bit of a challenge for me to deal with the majority of the locals selling their items there. The marketing approach tugs on your heartstrings, knowing that these people do not have much. The persistence, which was borderline on begging, can be annoying at times, preventing you from enjoying your temple visits. One vendor was even on the verge of tears when I declined to buy. It leaves a sour note, and you can only try so hard to say ‘no’. Unfortunately, once you are used to it, you would look like an unapologetic, heartless bastard who does not care if these vendors would not sell anything at the end of the day.
Despite some of these concerns and my complete lack of initiative to create the itinerary, I have grown to appreciate Siem Reap, so much that I would want to visit again. There is a sense of calmness that the temples provide, somewhat like a meditative atmosphere. The place was relaxing even with walking under the harsh weather that eroded the temples themselves.
It is quite surprising how the Khmer people do not have much, despite how rich their history and culture is. They live a simple life, and yet they seem like the happiest people on earth. Seeing these people made me appreciate what I have and make the most out of it.