Authentic versus ‘authentic’ experiences

Authentic versus ?authentic? experiences

I recently returned from a trip to Burma with friends, and while it was a mostly pleasant trip, I came back feeling somewhat underwhelmed. Part of this is that I’m becoming a jaded traveler; the other part took some time to identify. Then I realized that the type of authenticity people seek when traveling around Asia was somewhat missing from Burma. In short, the country hasn’t been exploited or spoiled by tourism the way other Asian countries have. And while this may sound like a good thing, it also means locals have lived their lives without the need to dress up in traditional garments, kowtowing to visitors and putting on a show. Instead Burma has evolved as it should — with a mixture of modern buildings and modern clothing, which are as functional as they are not “authentic.”

I think I was expecting a throwback to Cambodia — something that would make me feel off the beaten track. Or perhaps I was romanticizing about George Orwell novels. Is it fair to expect these countries to entertain us this way? Should old colonial buildings be restored into new hotels with butler service reminiscent of the English occupation? Should hotel employees start dressing in traditional gear and bowing to guests? Should tourists take photos of the long neck women, a thought that makes me shudder? I suppose that’s what travelers want. Perhaps it’s even what I wanted. But is it right?