A Cambodian tourism industry official on Tuesday applauded last week’s decision to ban dogs from the Angkor temples, but said authorities should now consider the possible damage being caused by elephants at Phnom Bakheng.
Moeung Sonn, managing director of Eurasie Travel and president of the National Association of Tourism Enterprise, said pachyderms may be a hazard to visitors ascending Bakheng mountain to the temple overlooking Angkor Wat, and could damage it because of their weight.
The elephants carry visitors to the temple in late afternoon, making their way among the thousands of tourists who climb Bakheng to watch the sunset.
Tep Vattho, who has been offering rides on her eight elephants since 1996, said the elephants pose no danger to tourists or the monument.
“We have been using elephants since Angkor was built,” said Tep Vattho, who is also urban development director at Apsara Authority, the government agency managing the park.
Tourists are encouraged to take a path up the mountain while the elephants use an elephant walk, she said.
Every day at sundown, an estimated 2,000 to 3,000 tourists flock to the temple, either walking up its crumbling stairs or renting elephants.
Sok Leng, a tourism assistant at Apsara Authority, said the elephants don’t pose a safety threat to the monument but their pungent urine was off putting to visitors. “Tourists don’t like the smell,” he said.
The conservation NGO World Monuments Fund has started emergency work on the 1,100-year-old monument, and is developing a plan that includes improving the path that tourists take to Bakheng.
Apsara is considering setting up two other mountaintop sites to offer alternative sunset views, said Bun Narith, the agency’s director general.