With Troops Gone, Preah Vihear Museum Pins Hope on Peace

sa’em district, Preah Vihear province – With the long-awaited withdrawal of hundreds of Thai and Cambodian troops from Preah Vihear temple on Wednes­day, attention is turning back to the majestic cliff-top sanctuary’s potential as a tourist attraction.

Government officials have long talked of getting more of the more than 1 million tourists who visit Ang­kor Wat each year to spend an extra few days for a trip to Preah Vihear, which sees only a tiny fraction of the tourists that its world-famous cousin does.

Since the last bout of fighting at Preah Vihear in February 2011, Unesco has revived restoration plans for the 11th-century temple, and the once-bumpy dirt road be­tween here and Siem Reap City is now fully paved.

Despite the potential, a new museum that is meant to help anchor the plans for Preah Vihear is out of money.

“We are facing a shortage

of money, which is why the util­ity systems and decorations have not been installed yet,” Chuch Phoe­ung, president of the

Na­­­tional Authority for Preah Vihear, said after Wednesday’s cere­mony here marking the troop withdrawal.

The government approved $300,000 to finish work at the museum, “but we are facing problems withdrawing the money be­cause the government budget is needed to pay for the most urgent projects, like the elections,” Mr. Phoeung said.

There are also a lack of hotels and other amenities in the area designed to attract tourists to what is one of the most picturesque temples in the country.

Tucked away behind a smattering of trees just off the main road through Thomacheat village,

a few kilometers from the base

of the road that winds up the

cliff to Preah Vihear temple, the Eco-Global Museum is easy to miss.

Past a pair of concrete nagas, an overgrown gravel path leads to the museum itself, cleverly laid out to mirror Preah Vihear temple with its four parallel, stand-alone exhibition halls connected by outdoor paths.

During a visit on Thursday, the halls stood dark and empty save for a few framed photographs of Preah Vihear and other Angkor-era temples.

The only signs of life came from a family that had moved into a wing of the museum’s last hall and kept the buildings clean.

Mr. Phoeung was vague about future exhibits at the museum, but he mentioned sculptures from the temple, examples of household items excavated from the area, and weapons made by the local Kuoy ethnic minority, as well as making good on the mu­seum’s name by adding a bo­tanical garden.

Though the main buildings have been waiting for the finishing touches since 2008, Mr. Phoeung sounded optimistic about opening the museum’s doors to the public some time in early 2013.

If and when the money does arrive to finish off the work, it will come on top of the $250,000 that Prime Minister Hun Sen and a Ja­panese foundation have donated toward the project already.

Cambodians will have free access to the temple and a re­duced rate for access to the mu­seum, Mr. Phoeung said, while foreign visitors will pay $2 or $3 for a single ticket giving them access to both the museum and the temple.

“We hope we can have at least 100 visitors per day,” he said.

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