A life as Pol Pot’s photographer in his past, Seng Lytheng takes his place among Siem Reap’s teeming moto crowd most mornings to ply his latest trade: tourism director.
“I decided to take tourism work because I had no other job,” said the nephew of Brother No 1, who once spent days snapping pictures of the reclusive leader with his visitors. “I know how to bend according to the situation.”
Seng Lytheng’s life today among the temples of Siem Reap is not all that unlike his old job, he argues.
As Pol Pot’s photographer, Seng Lytheng documented in photographs the guests who came to visit the Khmer Rouge leader, a job which required welcoming new people and guiding them around the house or office where the visit was taking place.
“Don’t think Khmer Rouge people don’t know how to do this work,” he said of his tourism job.
He was first a soldier battling the Lon Nol forces before joining the Khmer Rouge.
“I used to work in the protocol department of the DK foreign ministry. I had received many guests in one day and I took Pol Pot’s picture with the guests as well,” he said.
His tourism duties today include acting as director of the tourism department of the municipality of Pailin, known more for its gleaming casinos than for its tourist draw.
Seng Lytheng remains optimistic. “It is a good thing to let foreigners and Cambodian people explore Pailin and learn about Cambodian history,” he said. “This is the time to work, not to fight each other. This is a normal thing for people to do to feed themselves.”
Tourism may yet take off in Pailin, as more westerners come to Cambodia to see once-impenetrable Khmer Rouge areas.
A border crossing could come to this former Khmer Rouge stronghold sometime in the future, and the people there believe it will lead to a tourism boom, Seng Lytheng said.
“When more tourists were here I sold the best. Now it is not selling so well,” said Phon Match, a fruit seller in Pailin. “The security is good here but I don’t understand why foreigners and tourists do not visit here,” she said.
There are regular visitors: Thais still stream over the border to gamble at the casinos that make the most lucrative business in this frontier town.
Tourists coming from within Cambodia, however, are hampered by the condition of the road from Battambang, Keut Sothea, of the Pailin municipality, said Thursday
“We are communicating with the government about the construction of Road 10 from Battambang to Pailin and the Thai border. The process is in negotiation right now about who should build this road,” he said.
“We are trying to do this road first, because more people will flock to Pailin when the road is good. Pailin has at least three places of water flow. Besides these they can visit other places which were the hot battlefields between Khmer Rouge soldiers and government troops,” he said, adding that Thai leaders are inspecting their land for a checkpoint as well.
Seng Lytheng, the former photographer, said he still thinks about his old job working closely with Pol Pot.
“I still want to turn to my former profession as a photographer, but I have no money to buy materials or a company to work for,” he said.