Day 24: Exploring Angkor and Discussing Global Poverty

After our morning exercise, stretching and playing more soccer and frisbee, we boarded our tuk tuks for a ride up north. A tuk tuk is the preferred mode of transportation here. They are essentially trailers with comfortable seating hitched to a motorbike. Competition is fierce and a ride into town costs less than $2 USD. It’s a bit odd to paying in American currency while in Asia but it is the preferred method for tourists. Prices are listed in USD and small change, like a quarter, is provided as a bill for 1000 Cambodian Riel.

The students were excited for the long tuk tuk ride, taking copious amounts of video. We drove for 25 minutes, stopping for tickets. We reached the remains of Angkor, the abandoned medieval city in the jungle.

The forest has been cleared and roads have been made to visit the many stone buildings. We saw Ta Prohm, famous for the large trees which have grown into and on top of the temple as well as the many faces of the Bayon. These were places where the avid photographers in our group were let loose. Ilana took some compelling shots of students framed by the many mysterious stone doorways while Yale had no trouble posing for her portrait as a travel photographer.

In the afternoon, we had lesson in a cafe and discussed global poverty, how economies develop and the trend of “voluntourism” where young people pay for a travel experience in the guise of helping. This led to a lot of critical thinking about the impacts of travel and if traveling to a less developed economy constitutes “slum tourism”. The students developed personal questions and shared the pros and cons of travel as well as if/how travellers can assist locals finding their way up and out of poverty. We also spoke about the local scams for tourists that take advantage of our misconceptions and desire to help. Poverty is a challenge in Cambodia but in Siem Reap, living standards are on the rise due. Millions of tourists pour money into the local economy every year. The minimum wage here is just over $2 USD/day while a ticket to see the ruins of Angkor is $20.

After dinner, we visited another “Night Market” which sold more t-shirts, lightweight “elephant pants”, and local art. Mack picked up a stylish new shirt while other students went wild acquiring souvenirs with the plan to ship things home from Siem Reap’s tourist friendly post office. By the end of the day, it was incredible to think that we were walking through temples in the jungle in the morning.

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