Extremely Steep in Siem Reap
I was in Siem Reap, Cambodia at the beginning of the month doing a few stories. Two were Angkor related and I spent a day at Angkor Wat itself and a few of the other temples.
Cambodia is a fascinating place and I was really excited to be there, considering my previous trips were just across the border and back at Aranya Prathet and Poipet.
All of the new construction points to the huge tourists numbers coming to visit the temples--almost a million last year and set to double in the next few. I'll leave most of the issues that come along with the influx and concentrate the major one--the fragility of the temples themselves.
Visitors can pretty much walk anywhere unchecked at Angkor and guides, who depend on tips from their groups to supplement their incomes, don't want to risk offense by telling tourists what they can and can't do. Four to five thousand people go up the steps pictured EACH DAY, a statistic I could hardly believe. There has been talk about a reservations system and limiting the number of tourists per day, but to this long suffering country which finally has something to smile about, placing limitations on how many people can come to its most famous tourist attractions seems risky just as the economy is reaping benefits from the tourist boom.
A note about the steps: They are extremely steep, like scary Hitchcockian, vertiginous, Fear Factor crazy steep--don't let the legions of Korean grandmas bounding up and down them fool you. Going up is strenuous and then don't look down--it's not a fun feeling, even if you are not particularly afraid of heights. It was packed at the top with people waiting in line to come back down using the guardrail, as you see in the picture.
When I got to the top and realized it was an 80 degree drop, I promptly freaked out- a rare brush with real fear. My cameraman Pong scampered up with his trust Sony was bounding around like freaking Spiderman as I tried to convey that I needed to get down from there ASAP. He convinced me to sit for a few "Dia contemplating the serenity of the temples" shots but I couldn't wait.
And I really couldn't--it was so hot and dusty and I was overstimulated and the mass of people chatting and joking at the top of the Stairs of Imminent Death was not my scene. So I did something a little strange--I opted to go down a side of the temple where there was no crowd, but also no guard rail. I picked my way down, really really scared, but I made it. Unfortunately (or maybe not) Pong was not rolling as I did it and thus my petrification has not been immortalized.