Tourist Crush Forces Changes at Banteay Srei

banteay srei temple, Siem Reap province – Visitors to this tiny jewel of a temple now need to pack telephoto lenses if they want close-up photographs of the famous Apsaras.

The central sanctuary, which contains some of the most ex­qui­site carvings in Cambodia, has been roped off to visitors.

It had to happen, said Ang Choulean, director of culture for the Apsara Authority. “Our duty is to physically protect the temples,” Ang Choulean said.

Until the factional fighting ended in 1998, there was little wear-and-tear on the temple be­cause few tourists visited Banteay Srei, which is 25 km northeast of the Angkor complex along what had been a notoriously poor road.

A US woman who tried to visit in early 1995 was shot dead, along with a Cambo­dian guide, ap­­parently by Khmer Rouge soldiers. Her husband was critically wounded in an attack that in­volved grenades and a B-40 rocket. But once the gunfire stopped and the mines were removed, the tourists began to return.

Repairs to the road this year opened the floodgates; in a single three-hour span on the Khmer New Year last April, 7,000 mostly Cambo­dian tourists visited Banteay Srei.

In June, the ropes went up.

Access to most of the temple remains unchanged. The new ropes surround only the central sanctuary, which includes the three beautifully decorated central towers and two libraries.

Previously, visitors wandered freely throughout the site, and it was not uncommon to see tour­ists fingering the delicate carvings or leaning on the kneeling statues that serve as temple guardians.

Even with the new ropes, the scale of Banteay Srei is so small that visitors are still only a few meters away from most spots in the temple.

Similar ropes have been installed at Lolei, a brick complex in the Roluos group east of Siem Reap; and in front of the bas reliefs at Angkor Wat and the Bayon.

Ang Choulean said the chang­es are part of the continuing effort by Apsara to protect the temples as more and more tourists come to see them. Twice as many visitors flew directly to Siem Reap in the first half of this year—65,572—as during the same period last year.

Apsara has received few complaints from tourists, although tour guides are not happy with the restricted access, said Ang Choulean.

“They are naturally concerned with keeping their clients happy,” he said.


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