The internet has made the world a much smaller place. In the past, an enthusiastic traveler would need to go to a bookstore and a buy a travel guide for their destination, a book being a finite source of information with no “social proof” dictating the popularity of one destination over another. Today, there is an infinite amount of information on an infinite amount of places to visit, with viral videos and popular travel blogs giving the average viewer continual additions to their bucket list. This has resulted in many once obscure sites to become sites of pilgrimage for the perfect Instagram shot. The consequence of this cultural development means that the committed traveler looking for a truly unique experience must fight to find the unbeaten path.
Take for example the magnificent temples of Cambodia. This incredible complex was only made a UNESCO World Heritage site in 1992, and only 118,183 tourists visited the country 1993. In 2018, Cambodia hosted 6,201,077 visitors. This image I took of Ta Prohm “The Jungle Temple,” is an incredible entanglement of ancient stones and jungle vines, and has been used as a filming location for several movies, most notably the original “Tomb Raider” in 2001. However this means that it is the first destination for every bus tour, and the only way for me to capture this image was split-second timing when the shot was clear of tourists. In reality, the scene just out of frame looked something more like this:
Tired of these crowds, my brother and I asked our “Tuk Tuk” driver if he recommended the obscure temple of “Beng Mealea,” almost 2 hrs drive away from the main tourist route. He said it was “very beautiful” and that we should go. This short drive resulted in us visiting what was probably my favorite temple of the entire trip. Largely un-excavated and un-restored, Beng Mealea is largely untouched since its last inhabitants lived there in the 12th century. When we arrived, the sole security guard offered to give us an “illegal” tour for a few bucks, and we were able to walk deeper inside the temple complex getting photos and memories that are some of our most cherished from the trip.
Everyone is entitled to enjoy magnificent sites of the world, and admittedly I used the internet to initially learn about Beng Mealea through an obscure travel blog. However it’s ultimately up to you to find and discover experiences away from the crowd that you and your audience will remember.
The world is crowded place, and as distant and exotic as a destination might seem, there are countless others who’ve booked marked that same place before you. Stretch yourself out of your comfort zone, talk to locals, take some risk, drive the few extra hours, and discover the places that will create the memories you cherish the most.
Was there a time you traveled somewhere expecting nobody only to be surprised by crowds?