Tourism officials from Cambodia and Thailand are discussing plans to jointly promote and develop the Preah Vihear temple as a tourist attraction.
The cooperation makes sense because the temple, on the border between the two countries, is most easily reached from the Thai side, and 80 percent of its visitors are Thai.
Cambodia would like to do all the work itself, but simply can’t afford to, said Long Sovann, the second deputy governor of Preah Vihear province.
“We should do everything by ourselves, like building toilets,” he said. Yet while the road on the Thai side of the border is in excellent condition, Cambodia cannot afford to repair the road on its side without outside assistance.
A Thai Embassy official said Tuesday that officials hope to “improve the road link between the two countries” at the Angkorian temple, which was built in stages between 900 and 1200.
They also plan to continue the “Two Kingdoms—One Destination” tourism promotion for another year, while the Thai Tourism Authority trains Cambodian tourism officials.
But media reports that the Thais seek a “long-term lease” at the site are untrue, said the embassy official. No firm agreements were reached on how Preah Vihear will be developed, other than improving road access and making it easier for tourists to cross the border.
The temple’s spectacular location, on the edge of a cliff in the Dangrek Mountains along Cambodia’s northern border with Thailand, has led to controversy in the past.
Thailand seized the area in 1958 during a border dispute. But the World Court in the Hague ordered Thailand to return the seized territory and the temple to Cambodia in 1962.
The temple’s remote location deep in former Khmer Rouge territory kept it off-limits to tourism until 1998 and parts of the area are still mined, officials say.
At the same time, it is considered one of the most impressive temples in the country, built on four levels atop a 600-meter cliff that offers one of the most memorable views in Cambodia.
Cambodian officials have been trying for several years to protect the site, and in 1999 decided to seek World Heritage status for the temple from the UN’s Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization.
Unesco officials said Tuesday that World Heritage status takes about two years to achieve, but that Cambodian officials have not yet completed the application process.
(Additional reporting by Van Roeun)