The Top Tourist Traps you’d be Mad not to Visit.
This ancient Cambodian temple complex – the largest religious monument in the world spread over 400 km2 – was once an adventure traveller’s mecca. The crumbling temples of the Khmer Empire, some of their stone foundations entwined with great tree roots, had an otherworldly quality. They beckoned visitors to get lost among them and enjoy special moments of quiet contemplation – reward for having journeyed so far to find them. But since 2000, soaring visitor numbers mean visitor experience has been compromised as well as, more importantly, the 1,000-year-old buildings themselves.
Thankfully, local body APSARA -- Authority for the Protection and Management of Angkor and the Region of Siem Reap has stepped in with initiatives to help alleviate the problem. Of most interest to tourists perhaps is the Angkor Sunset Finder (angkorsunsets.com). This easy to use tool, produced in collaboration with Australian consultants GML helps spread footfall more evenly across the park, therefore protecting overvisited sites. It also allows visitors to find a sunset location suited to them. Experiences can be filtered according to factors including desired atmosphere, distance from the main gate and type of visitor.
GREAT WALL, CHINA
When Karl Pilkington visited China’s Great Wall in the first episode of Sky 1’s Idiot Abroad he wasn’t impressed, and even suggested it might be more appropriate to call it the “alright wall of China”. But, whilst viewers laughed at the ridiculousness of his review of one of man’s greatest feats – he was onto something. The UNESCO World Heritage fortification, measuring 8,851.8 km from East to West, may date back around 2,000 years but significant portions are in fact 80s reincarnations. Other parts have been relinquished in the name of urban development, and significant damage has also occurred due to the number of hikers walking the same parts of the wall, as well as young revellers using it as a party spot.
But all is not lost. Although an estimated 75% of Great Wall tourists see the Badaling section, by far the most developed and convenient, you can help spread the load by visiting a more remote section. Wild Great Wall (www.wildgreatwall.com) runs a selection of small group trips including the Jiankou Hiking Plus Mutianyu Toboggan Ride 1 Day Tour, which sets off from the rugged Jiankou mountains.
ROUTE 66, USA
This iconic American road was a rite of passage for teens in the 1960s and 70s with its open road, stretching across the Midwest from Chicago to Los Angeles, symbolising freedom and opportunity. But since it is no longer possible to get your kicks on the actual Route 66, as it was decommissioned in the 1980s, is the journey still worth the trouble? Well, for many -- yes. The essence of the American road trip lives on, even if the route may have been diverted and changed slightly. New interstate highways have replaced much of the route, but remnants of the original remain and continue to attract pilgrims seeking the quintessential American travel experience. Thanks to festivals in towns along the way such as the annual Route 66 International Festival, held this year in Kingman Arizona (www.gokingman.com), the spirit of the journey remains alive and well.
TAJ MAHAL, INDIA
Built as a symbol of love by Emperor Shah Jahan for his wife Queen Mumtaz Mahal, who died giving birth to their 14th child, the magnificent marble palace attracts up to four million visitors a year. But despite being one of the world’s most astounding examples of architecture, visitors also report it as one of the most annoying – from the relentless hawkers trying to rip you off outside to the hoards of visitors inside. Add to this India’s sweltering summer temperatures, and you have a recipe for irritation. Still, despite it all, there really is no other display of Indian art and design that comes even close. It is so awe-inspiring that being rendered speechless is now a cliché here – just check out the comments on Trip Advisor.
For a stress-free visit, consider booking with a tour company such as Taj Mahal Day Tours (www.tajmahaldaytrip.com) who can help you navigate the remarkably beautiful buildings in peace.
ISLAND HOPPING, THAILAND
When Danny Boyle’s cult film ‘The Beach’ came out in 2000, the hedonistic backpackers it portrayed were a very real phenomenon. Fast-forward to 2014, however, and the popularity of the Southeast Asia trail means there are now so many hedonistic backpackers it no longer appears to be the wild adventure it once was -- a well trodden route of air conditioned buses, tour boats and beach bars now lead straight to the mystical isles shown in the film. Koh Samui is full of big bucks resorts and international bars, whilst the formerly peaceful Koh Phi Phi was not only allegedly damaged by the making of the film and subsequent influx of tourists, but also by the 2004 Indian Ocean Tsunami.
Luckily, the dream of tropical island hopping in Thailand’s famed wooden fishing boats is still within reach. There are around 1,430 islands to choose from, so with just a little extra logistical effort you can discover your own paradise off-the-beaten-track. . Global Grasshopper (www.globalgrasshopper.com) has a great run-down of the best “Thai islands for travel snobs”, from low key Koh Bulon-Lae, to atmospheric Koh Phayam.
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Written by Hannah Stuart-Leach
Culture & Lifestyle Journalist - Currency Today