preah vihear temple – The sounds of hammers striking metal and saws cutting wooden boards could be heard yesterday at the base of the entrance stairway at the Preah Vihear temple as workers toiled on the site’s future marketplace.
After rocket fire during an April firefight burned the market to the ground, vendors have heralded the rebuilding of the marketplace as a sign of peace at the disputed zone.
Yet, despite the relative tranquility and emerging infrastructure, business has been slow for local merchants.
The number of visitors to the temple remains a fraction of levels prior to the military standoff with Thailand, they said, and compounding the problem is the more than yearlong closure of the nearby border gate with Thailand, which previously fed tourists directly to the temple’s entrance.
Selling snacks, cigarettes and toiletries, a resident of the former market, Hoem Sreyny, said she now sells her goods up the mountain between the second and third temple.
Ms Sreyny, 25, said she is looking forward to relocating back down the hill to a more permanent and safer space.
“The new market could attract more customers,” she said. “Up until now, it has been quiet.”
Srey Mom said soldiers used to buy vegetables and meat from her but now, in these more relaxed times since the old market’s destruction, most soldiers head to the nearby town of Kor 1 for supplies. She was confident, however, that their shopping habits would change once construction on the new market is completed.
“If the market is built, they will come back,” Ms Mom, 37, said.
Under construction for about a month now, the market is to feature roughly 200 stalls located in three different sizes of building, according to schematics posted on its site. Also included will be administrative offices, a police post, a first aid clinic, public toilets and a nearby center for cultural events and displays.
Unlike the arrangement at the former market, vendors will not be allowed to live in their stalls in order to establish a higher environmental standard, said Undersecretary of State for the Council of Ministers Sous Yara. He added that the shops would be geared mostly toward tourists and that construction is expected to end in about three months.
Most of the staff constructing the market are soldiers stationed at the temple. One of them, 28-year-old Lout Lin, said builders can typically finish constructing a large row of 10 stalls in about four to five days.
“This new building is much nicer than the old one,” he said in between hammering nails into poles for the roof of the buildings.
When asked if he thought the new market would attract shoppers or possibly suffer the same fate as the previous one, Mr Lin said he could not predict the future.
Based just meters away from the construction site, Neang Sreypov held a very different opinion, saying visitors no longer have a reason to visit the base of the 11th-century sanctuary since the gateway to Thailand was shuttered last year. She said tourists only visit the top of the mountain and the temple chambers there.
“The visitors just come to buy stuff at the temple and not at the market,” the 33-year-old widow said. “Since the fighting things are getting better but it is still not great.”