via Fodor Travel, 13 November 2019: Travel guide publisher Fodor publishes their annual “No” list for 2020 highlighting the places people should avoid traveling to because of underlying ethical, environmental or political issues. This year, Angkor Wat, Bali and Hanoi make the list for overtourism.
The temple complex of Angkor Wat, a UNESCO World Heritage Site and Cambodia’s most visited attraction, is suffering under its own popularity. The literal wear and tear brought on to the 900-year-old temples is having damaging effects on its foundations and structural integrity: steps are slippery because of the many tourists who have walked them and bas-reliefs are worn down by the number of tourists who have touched them. Concerned about damage to the temple, the agency charged with overseeing it is limiting the number of visitors to 300 at any time who are allowed at the top of Phnom Bakheng hill, a popular spot for sunsets. A less obvious impact on the area is the water shortage brought on by this year’s drought and exacerbated by hotels in the Siem Reap area, which continue to draw heavily from the province’s water table. In 2019, Angkor Wat’s moat lost more than 10 million liters of water, the equivalent of four Olympic-sized swimming pools. A call to further restrict and enforce the limitations of tourists visitations in both numbers and access (placing bas-reliefs behind glass, building wooden staircases and footpaths), as well as government regulation of the hospitality industry’s water use, and encouraging tourism growth in other areas of the country, are key steps to reducing the damage brought on by overtourism.
Bali, Indonesia’s most-visited island, has suffered the effects of overtourism in the last few years to the point that the government is weighing a tourist tax to help combat some of the more sinister effects on the environment. In 2017 a “garbage emergency” was declared over the amount of plastic on beaches and in waters; the Bali Environment Agency recorded that the island produced 3,800 tons of waste every day, with only 60% ending up in landfills–an obvious observation to anyone visiting the island. A ban on single-use plastics (shopping bags, styrofoam, and plastic straws) went into effect in December 2018, and this year, the Bali legislature has debated imposing an extremely negligible “tourist tax” of US$10 per visitor. Water scarcity, brought on the development of luxury villas and golf courses, has impacted the profits of local farmers. And besides negative environmental impacts, authorities are now working to enact guidelines mandating respectful behavior from tourists who are visiting religious sites in bathing suits, climbing over sacred sites, and generally disrespecting customs and cultural norms.
In 1902, French colonists built a railway that runs through Hanoi and Hai Phong and through the northern provinces of Vietnam, and to this day it still carries passengers and cargo across the land. In one neighborhood in Hanoi’s Old Quarter, the rail line snakes through a densely populated neighborhood, literally passing behind houses and shops on either side. Dubbed Hanoi Train Street, the photos captured of the area are, predictably, stunning. But because the tracks are still operational, they come with a dangerous price. That hasn’t stopped the Instagrammers, who gather along the line vying for the optimal shot. Vendors now cater to the tourists with snacks and drinks, and cafes have popped up, encouraging crowds to linger. Recently, a train had to make an emergency stop in order to avoid hitting the tourists snapping selfies and loitering on the tracks, and eventually was rerouted. In response, the municipal government of Hanoi has ordered that all cafes along the tracks to close. New signs have also been installed in the area warning passersby not to take photos or videos near the tracks. While the ban is intended to protect the tourists (who have predictably already begun to complain about it), it also seems inappropriate for visitors to inconvenience the operations of the rail line and anyone riding it.