Angkor Wat May Get Visitors’ Center in 2004

siem reap – For years, visitors to Angkor have wondered at the temples’ grandeur—and grumbled about the lack of information.

With no on-site visitors’ center to guide them, no museum to give them background on what they’re seeing and little explanatory signage, tourists must make do by purchasing a guidebook or hiring a guide.

In two years, such complaints may be a thing of the past. Visi­tors may be able to stroll through a collection of traditional-style wooden buildings, viewing ex­hibits on not only the temples but also Cambodian history, the environment and other topics.

The idea of an Angkor visitors’ center has been proposed dozens of times.

But now for the first time, a pro­posal with financial backing has come along.

The man behind it is Martin French, a Malaysia-based British businessman. He has raised       $9 million of the $10 million to $12 million needed for his idea, the Living Ang­kor Project.

“Everyone comes up with great projects like this, but they never happen because they nev­er have the money,” French said Wednesday. “We decided to raise the money first and then start talking about it.”

French made the details of his project public for the first time this week.

In the last two weeks, French re­ceived approval from his larg­est backers, the International Fi­nancial Corporation—the commercial arm of the International Monetary Fund—and the Organ­ization of Petroleum Exporting Countries.

The project has been approved by the International Coordinating Committee for the Safeguarding and Development of the Historic Site of Angkor, which met here this week to discuss the past and future of the monuments.

“The experts from Unesco looked at this and found it very interesting,” Azedine Beschaouch, the committee’s scientific secretary, said at the meeting. Provided the project gets the rest of the funding it needs, it’s up to the government, he said.

It has not yet received formal government approval, but French said top officials have expressed enthusiasm in casual meetings. “We met with [Prime Minister] Hun Sen, and he was very keen on it,” French said.

French calls the project an “eco-cultural park.” He says he wants it to be more than just a museum.

The exhibits inside the buildings should be complemented by the buildings’ traditional ar­chitecture, the lush landscaping of the large site they occupy, and even outdoor attractions such as an aviary, he said.

Workers for the project took surveys of visitors as they left Siem Reap, and the responses indicated the need for a visitors’ center that was not just one-di­mensional.

“In our exit surveys, just about everyone said they wanted a visitors’ center,” French said. “But it’s not just the temples they’re curious about. They want to know about the plants and animals they’re seeing, the local people they’re meeting, the modern history of Cambodia.”

French, an affable Londoner who runs an investment firm in Kuala Lumpur, said he is considering three possible sites for the center, two in Siem Reap town and one in the “hotel zone” that is being planned northeast of the city.

Detailed plans have been drawn, and ground could be broken in two or three months, provided the government has ap­proved the project, French said.

“There’s a huge demand” for this type of thing, he said. “The tour operators are crying out for it, the people are crying out for it, the government is crying out for it. But no one has ever come up with the money.”


Related Stories

Latest News

The Weekly DispatchA new weekly newsletter from The Cambodia Daily delivering news, analysis and opinion to your inbox. Published every Friday at 11:30am. Sign up today.