Hawkers in Angkor Wat 15


One of the things that immediately strikes you in almost any Third World country you go to is that amount of touts and hawkers that you run into. The vast majority of the places I have been to on this trip have people that fairly constantly bayon temple with cloudsare coming up to you and asking if you want a taxi, tuk-tuk, bus ticket, bracelet, prostitute, meal, tour, and anything else you can think of. In addition to that, you obviously run into a huge amount of begging, depending on what country you are in.

There is a long-standing debate on what to do about this on various travel forums and in guidebooks. The general consensus that I’ve seen is that you should avoid giving money to people begging, even children.

I made the decision before the trip that I was never going to give money to anyone begging. It is basically the motto I followed when I was in Washington D.C. and one that I feel comfortable with. In D.C., I used to give money to the guys that were playing a musical instrument or telling jokes or something, but I’ve subscribed to the philosophy of “don’t just stick your hand out — do something for my money.”

On the issue of touts and hawkers, I frankly wasn’t prepared for the volume and intensity before the trip, but at this point, it is pretty much water off a ducks back. I’ve gotten so used to saying “no, thank you” over and over to people walking up to me that sometimes I accidentally say it to people that aren’t even coming in my direction to ask me for anything.

Southeast Asia is no better on this score, so far, than other places (though South America seemed a bit more mellow, looking back in hindsight). I’ve run into a number of travelers that got very annoyed with the persistence in Vietnam, but Angkot Wat rose to a higher level than Vietnam, in my opinion.

The temples at Angkor Wat are spread out over a fairly wide area. The main circuit of the most popular temples is north of Siem Reap and is about 30 kilometers around. I decided to rent a bicycle for a couple days and ride around to the various temples, instead of renting a tuk-tuk driver for the day. I was needing the exercise and the time alone to mull some stuff over. Plus, just didn’t feel like the interaction of a tuk-tuk guide.

monks at angor wat in orange robesIt was a couple long, and wonderful, days. The second day, I went ahead and just did the whole Grand Circuit, 30+ kilometers in 30+ degrees (Celcius — over 100 in U.S. terms) temps. I took a bunch of pictures and stopped a number of times at the various food shacks that are located at about every major temple.

As anyone would approach one of these areas, 7-10 women would come out of their shacks yelling at the top of their lungs “MISTER – eat here, eat here” or “MISTER — cold water? Cold water?” Easy enough to just through a ‘no thanks’ and ignore them, but kind of interesting in its frequency and intensity.

I stopped at one point and got some lunch and as soon as I sat down at a table, a half-dozen kids came up asking me if I wanted to buy postcards, or jewelry (“for your girlfrind!”) or other little trinkets. I politely told them all no – and a couple just stood around and watched me eat. One girl occasionally fanned me with a fan that she wanted to sell me while I ate.

I ate my meal, paid for it, and just as I was about to get up, she handed me a note that she’d obviously written while I wasn’t paying attention. On one side, it had a drawing of a flower with “for you” written on it a couple times. On the other side, she’d written:

“Hello!! Nice to meet you. I give you flower for your ___ [can’t read that word]. You are very nice and friendly. Nice to speak with you. Thank you for coming to see Angkor Wat. I wish you good luck with your job and your family. I hope to see you again – I hope you like my flower. I’m sorry to bother you – I like your smile. From, Heang”

She handed it to me with a smile and I just put it in my pocket, without reading it. When I pulled it out later that night and read it, I felt horrible that I didn’t buy anything from her.

First time I’d had a regret like that on the entire trip.


About Michael Hodson

Iā€™m an attorney that took off on my birthday in December of 2008 to circumnavigate the globe without ever getting on an airplane. After 16 months, 6 continents and 44 countries, I made it all the way back home. Right now, I am back on the road writing about it all.


15 thoughts on “Hawkers in Angkor Wat

  • Napoleon de BsAs

    1) The reason why South America is so mellow is because we're too lazy to put too much energy into our begging. (Plus, there might be a futbol match on the tele and there's only so much begging that can be done before racing back to the action.)2) I bought a flower from a lady last night. And she didn't even write a note.3) Sorry about your guilt. If you were Roman Catholic or Jewish, you might not make it through the week.Keep on keepin' on… and if you ever make it back, look me up.Napoleon

  • Napoleon de BsAs

    1) The reason why South America is so mellow is because we're too lazy to put too much energy into our begging. (Plus, there might be a futbol match on the tele and there's only so much begging that can be done before racing back to the action.)

    2) I bought a flower from a lady last night. And she didn't even write a note.

    3) Sorry about your guilt. If you were Roman Catholic or Jewish, you might not make it through the week.

    Keep on keepin' on… and if you ever make it back, look me up.

    Napoleon

  • Anonymous

    I love the honesty of this blog. Most all people will lie to you and you should be wary of beggers, but when someone makes you think twice because of their sincere actions- they are special. I wish you had posted a picture of the little girl!

  • Anonymous

    I love the honesty of this blog. Most all people will lie to you and you should be wary of beggers, but when someone makes you think twice because of their sincere actions- they are special. I wish you had posted a picture of the little girl!

  • brian

    Cambodia is hard man. I wrote in my blog the best thing to learn when you get there is how to say no. The kids are hustling because that may be the only way their family eats at night. I respect those kids for learning English and not giving up in the face of rejection every day. I wish they were in school tho and not hawking batteries and postcards to me.

  • Laura

    I found the people at Angkor Wat to be extremely persistent. I tried my best to insist that I wasn’t buying anything so that they would move on to someone else and not waste their time. The worst part for me is dealing with children selling things. I feel bad that they are selling things and not in school, however it’s always a moral dilemma for me. Do I buy something to help, or do I turn them away because I might encourage them to be out of school if a parent thinks they are making money. Tough calls, but nice to hear your thoughts on it as well.

  • Margo

    I love the honesty and strong voice of your writing here, the lack of judgmentalism. This is one of those places I know I’ll get to someday and have read plenty about from different perspectives… but this really gives me a feel for what the experience is like as a human — and I like it all mixed in with the practical tidbits like the 30 k grand circuit, the bike and the heat šŸ˜‰

  • Erica

    Oh man. I think if I had seen the note I would have just broken down and cried. I’m not sure how I’m going to be able to handle those situations.

  • Marnie de Vanssay

    Thank you for your blog. We are off to Siem Reap in January, and I will definitely remember to open little pieces of paper when given! This is exactly the type of situation that happened to us in Marocco three years ago.
    Guy and Marnie
    Chateau de La Barre
    France

  • GoingPlaces.sg

    Thanks for sharing the article. That’s really a tough one – to give or not to give. I guess if I were to read the note when given on the spot, I would probably buy something from her or just give her some coins. But if I read it later, I will feel touched but I don’t think I should feel guilty šŸ˜‰

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