An e-mail invitation being passed around Phnom Penh offers a glimpse into the jet-setting lifestyles of a group of London financial professionals and reveals that on Nov 19 they plan to conduct a “treasure hunt” around the Angkor temples and hold a party at Preah Kahn temple.
“We will have dinner within the temple compound; this is the first time an event of this scale and nature has been organized in the temple grounds,” the invitation, ostensibly written by a Naomi Bruck at the Xchanging brokerage reads. “Merci beaucoup, UNESCO.”
The invitation details multiple nights of drinking in Bangkok, Siem Reap and at Angkor. The main party, provided by the Grand Hotel d’Angkor, costs $500, with $150 going toward the conservation of the temples, according to the invitation.
If there is a “slight surplus,” the organizer writes, a donation to Cambodian land mine victims is being considered.
UN Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization World Heritage Unit program manager Tamara Teneishvili said that Unesco is not involved in private parties at Angkor, but renowned conservationist John Sanday said that the World Monument Fund, which is renovating Preah Kahn under his supervision, does hold regular dinner party fundraisers there.
“Our banquets are very sacred…we had a lot of difficulty getting permission,” he said.
“We have been holding events for years.”
Sanday said that to protect the site and out of cultural respect, no parties occur inside the temple.
“Why would it be in my interest to damage the temple I have spent so much time restoring?” he said.
He said that he could not confirm that this specific group will be coming to Preah Kahn because he was outside of his office Sunday.
Private dinner parties are now regular events at Angkor Archaelogical Park, officials said Sunday.
On Sunday, Apsara Authority deputy director for tourism Tep Penn said private party organizers can send a letter to him and fees are open to discussion. He said Apsara decides what exactly is allowed at Angkor, and parties never occur inside temples.
“Normally, we hold dinner parties in front of the Terrace of Elephants,” he said, adding that many parties occur during the year. “Send us a letter and we will reply with suggestions of where to hold the party.”
Teneishvili said she had only heard rumors of the London bankers party invitation and wished to clarify that Unesco is not involved.
“The director of tourism at Apsara told me that even candles at Bayon temple could offend the cultural sensitivities of the Khmers…so that is why these things must be decided by Cambodians and not [in London],” Teneishvili said. “The request for private parties…is becoming an issue at many World Heritage sites.”
Chea Vannath, president of the Center for Social Development, said she objects to any parties with alcohol being held at Angkor.
“If we allow the holding of parties, Angkor will become a commercial area, not a spiritual site,” she said.
Him Monypheak, president of the Khmer Student Association and a recent tourism studies graduate of Norton University disagreed.
“Parties with dancing, drinking would attract more tourists to visit our country,” he said.