A good reminder that one person’s tourist site is another person’s sacred site: French tourists in Sri Lanka have received suspended jail terms for pretending to kiss a Buddha statue. I know many Cambodians have similar concerns regarding the way that their cultural heritage sites (of which many are also sacred or religious sites) are treated poorly by tourists. And man, I have personally seen tourists do offensive and potentially destructive things at sites within the Angkor park. I know that making sure that people treat these sites is with respect is one goal of future heritage conservation work at Angkor. I wonder what would happen if they started imposing fines on such behavior in Cambodia….
Do you think the problem is caused by who simply don’t care, or by tourists who may just have never learned the proper behavior in places such as these? I’ve seen a couple of crowds of gap-year aged tourists in the past little bit, and I can’t help but wonder the problem is caused by a lack of maturity is combined with lack of education… What do you think?
Those are good questions. The poor behavior I’ve seen has spanned all the age ranges. The worst offender I saw recently was a middle-aged Japanese tourist who climbed on a statue with no head or arms, stuck his head and arms on it, and proceeded to make silly faces while someone else took photos. Tour groups are the worst IMO. They are shuttled through the park on a bus, which I think creates a mentality where they are less engaged with Angkor/Siem Reap as a place where people live and work. Instead they treat it like Disneyland. Also, once one person in a group does something silly, then they all start doing it, and then it creates an environment amongst all the other tourists where they don’t have to treat the places they are visiting with respect.
It’s strange – I’m not sure that anyone means any disrespect when they do something daft at a historical monument. I think it’s the lack of effective management of many of these locations (such as Angkor) that leaves people feeling that they’re in a developing nation’s Disneyland rather than in a place of religious significance. I’d like to see people who litter these places taken to one side and slapped about a bit though…