Impersonal travel

Not here!

I write this time on something less relevant to my usual muses about politics, the environment, geography or economics, as I leave for India tomorrow and wont be writing until April. I was trying very hard to find inspiration to write something different or something I’d feel passion for, but I did not find any in The Straits Times or this week’s The Economist. Instead, I found an article about travel on Financial Times. In their Travel column, Sophy Roberts writes about how tourism and travel nowadays is all about the crowds: plenty of people thronging the same sights as you, making the place feel very impersonal and leaving you with a bad impression and aftertaste.

Roberts writes about her own experiences in Venice and somewhere closer to home: Angkor Wat. All these tourist hotspots are becoming too popular and visited by too many people that many times when you visit a place what you see there most of the time is people and not so much the real place of interest. Tourism is pretty much a commercial concept, of course, but it seems to have become too commercial and too popular. The clamour towards the middle class has also unleashed this attitude or desire to see the world and experience what it’s like outside, which is not bad unless thousands of others think like you and wish to do the same.

Even I am guilty of having this desire to see the world and travel to everywhere and anywhere I can. My passion as a geographer developed very much as a result of and with the desire to see the world beyond Singapore. And it is important to travel outside of your home country to experience the diversity of cultures. It’s just sad that many of these tourist places have now become too saturated with unfettered tourists, especially during peak season, that it just taints your experience or could even destroy the whole beauty of travelling around.

I wonder if I were in the writer’s shoes, would I have done what she did, to fork out that kind of money to get exclusive access to less-crowded places. Personally, I have visited places that I felt would have been beautiful were it not for the huge crowds, especially in China. When I visited Hainan Island twice in 2006, the beaches that I visited were actually really beautiful places, but the whole picture was tainted by the tremendous numbers of tourists like myself who wanted a piece of the place. And in my plans for future travel, I keep thinking about visiting places that are not saturated with tourists, but then I would not be able to keep within my tight budgets if I were to really backpack across Malaysia.

Then again, for some tourist attractions, it is the tremendous number of people there that gives you the vibe and excitement. Kuta Beach in Bali, when I visited in 2008, was not that crowded but I think I might have felt the holiday mood more if there were more beachgoers and more surfers around. I sure hope that when I visit the Taj Mahal in India, I will not have to fight with the crowds to take a photo of this Wonder of the World.

The writer ends by saying that “cliche… has long been an intrinsic part of tourism”. Maybe.