Committee Considers Pressures of Temple Tourism

siem reap city – The 17th session of the International Coordinating Com­mittee of Angkor ended Thurs­day with both Cambodian and international representatives agreeing measures must be taken if monuments in the archaeological park are not to fall victim to the site’s popularity.

In spite of the recent economic crisis, the number of tourists this year is expected to reach 2 million. They will have spent on average two and a half days at the World Heritage site and flock largely to the same small number of monuments, US Ambassador Carol Rodley said during the meeting. “After all, who wouldn’t want to enjoy the sunset at Phnom Bak­heng or view the sunrise at Angkor Wat?” she asked.

Every evening at Phnom Bak­heng, where restoration is supported by the US, thousands of visitors climb to the top of the temple, taking its toll on the 1,100-year-old monument.

“The key challenge in keeping these sites preserved…will be how to find ways to spread visitors around all the major sites to avoid overcrowding,” she said. “I believe that now is the time…to suggest alternative sites to enjoy the sunset and encourage nighttime visits to the temples with the use of creative techniques for tours to take place at those cooler times.”

That may be a tall order, since all tourist guidebooks recommend visits to star temples such as Angkor Wat, Bayon, Ta Prohm and Phnom Bakheng. But preservation of those temples may soon make new marketing strategies a necessity, and recommendations approved at the ICC included some drastic changes, such as encouraging tourists to visit all year round rather than only in the peak, dry season.

Co-led by France and Japan, the ICC consists of representatives from countries funding temple restoration at Angkor and the Apsara Authority, the Cambodian government body managing the archaeological park.

In his closing remarks, CabinetMinister Sok An, head of the authority, noted that the volume of visitors is not the only thing threatening the monuments.

“There is also, and sometimes especially, the effect of underground or river water as well as urban pressure,” he said, adding that he had ordered Siem Reap provincial authorities and Apsara to conduct studies to stave off a potential crisis. Moreover, monitoring the situation, he said, “is also the sine quanon condition to continue earning Unesco’s confidence, the World Heritage committee’s satisfaction, and the approbation of world opinion.”

His comments may have alluded to the fact that at the 2003 ICC meeting in Paris, Cambodia had agreed that the economic, social

“We have studied their forms of livelihood before developing the park,” said Apsara’s urban planner and architect Khuon Khun-Neay during the site visit on Wednesday.

The eco-village provides villagers wood to build their homes as well as equipment to set up septic tanks in a park with ponds, roads and more than 4,000 newly planted trees. In the first phase of the village, 50 families have been allocated homes, and there is a waiting list of 200 for the remaining 50 homes, said Apsara adviser Uk Someth.

At the ICC meeting on Thursday, a Hungarian businessman announced that he would donate to Cambodia about 10 stone inscriptions as well as pre-Angkorian and Angkorian gold objects. Istvan Zelnik, who is president of the Hungarian Indochina Investment and Development Corporation, said in an interview that they were part of his Southeast Asian artifact collection to be housed next year in a private museum in Budapest.

He said his collection “was acquired over the last 45 years, mostly in Europe. I bought them from antique dealers and also old families whose members had worked 60, 80, 100 years ago in the old colonial administrations. Not only French families, but also Dutch, German, Belgian, British, and I had the chance to buy directly from them.” and environmental effects of development projects planned in Siem Reap province would be discussed at the ICC due to their potential consequences for Angkor.

International ICC members have repeatedly asked for this to happen, as Siem Reap City has kept growing with apparent disregard for architectural harmony. However, recommendations approved at Thursday’s meeting included developing a land management plan for the region that would take into account urban development, rural areas surrounding the park and the park itself.

This year’s meeting included a site visit to an eco-village set up by Apsara for the extended families of villagers living in the archaeological park who are not allowed to build additional homes for their families.

The eco-village is to provide those who would like to relocate not only a plot of land and a home, but also means to support themselves by farming, growing produce or making arts and crafts.


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