I hear so many mixed views about TripAdvisor. It is such a powerful tool that has the ability to ruin a business's reputation in a mere few taps of a keyboard. There was even the case where someone tricked the public and managed to get his garden shed to number one restaurant in London!
Some people swear by it to plan every hotel, meal out and day trip; others prefer an authentic holiday where they come across new experiences by chance.
I am usually a bit of a mix but mainly in the second camp. I find it very time consuming trawling through reviews and find that often some of the best meals abroad can be found by accident. However, some recent events have changed my opinion, not least our shocking day trip to a Siem Reap fishing village.
During our short visit to Siem Reap, we wanted to see some of the local culture as well as the temples. We had read that fishing villages are a good experience so enquired with our hotel reception as to the best one to visit. We were told that it was dry season and so the best village to see was 'Chong Kneas' which also happened to be closest to us. Stupidly we didn't check TripAdvisor as we trusted our hotel.
Off we went with our trusted tuk tuk driver who we had used happily every day of our trip. He tried to say to us, 'This is not a local village, it's Vietnamese, are you sure you want to go?' Looking back it seemed like he was warning us but we thought even if it wasn't truly local it would still be worth a visit to see a different way of life.
On arrival we were charged US$40 for a large boat, with only us on it. We then stopped at a jetty and were told we had to pay the same amount again for a smaller boat to go into the village as the larger boat couldn't get there. Including our tuk tuk to get there we were now down US$100.
The village itself was a sad place with animals kept in some really bad conditions. The guide started telling us in detail about the poverty of the village which was clear all around us. We felt uncomfortable at this point about invading the privacy of those living here and I didn't take many photos despite the guide encouraging it.
Then came the scam. He took us to a 'floating school with orphans', insisting that we buy some food from the 'local shop' to feed children who had lost their parents at sea. We asked if we could just donate some money instead as our gut feeling told us this didn't feel right but he said this wasn't good enough. The guide was quite aggressive and we felt trapped so we agreed.
On arrival at the 'shop', clearly set up for this scam, rice to feed 350 children was US$60. We settled on the cheapest option... a small box of noodle soup for US$21, it was worth around US$5 max. We dropped it off at the school as they waved us off, clearly used to this happening regularly with tourists. I doubt any children benefit from that money at all.
At this point I should say that we are very generous with charity and would always donate to causes we believe in but we felt forced, uncomfortable and very aware that this was not going to be a genuine donation.
We were then dropped back at the jetty and told to look around whilst waiting for our big boat to take us back. This place was awful. There were obvious acts of animal exploitation with tourists clearly enjoying their experience. I started to get panicky and demanded we leave immediately. Luckily we found our boat and got back.
Both boat drivers and guides aggressively demanded tips from us and when we got back to shore, small girls of around 6 or 7 shoved plates at us to buy which had our faces on! Photos they had taken without us even realising. This awful experience and has put me off going back to Siem Reap, which is a shame.
This brings me back to TripAdvisor. When we got back to our hotel we went straight online to see if there were any reviews about this place. There, clear as day, were over 1,000 scathing reviews making it 197 of 199 things to see in Siem Reap. We felt seriously let down by our hotel and upset about the welfare of the children and animals we had seen. Reviews said it is likely the children are trafficked rather than genuine orphans and I am gutted we gave money to the organisers. We spoke to the hotel who basically shrugged it off and blamed the girl on reception for not telling us to avoid making a donation.
I don't like to write negative posts but if this stops even one tourist having an awful experience like we did then it was worth it. The moral of the story is to always check reviews, read trusted blogs or ask friends who have been to your destination before! I won't let TripAdvisor take over my life but I am not booking any trips abroad again without doing my research and certainly won't be trusting a hotel recommendation in isolation. If you are visiting Siem Reap and would like to visit a fishing village then do your research and this should be possible, however, I hesitate to recommend any other villages here as they all have mixed reviews.
To read the full, horrendous TripAdvisor reviews of this place: click here.
The photos of us smiling above are on the way to the village, with no idea what was in store!