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See Angkor Wat while you can

June 15, 2018 Headline News No Comments Email Email

Angkor Wat is jewel in Cambodia’s tourism crown.  A visit here is at the top of most published lists nominating the things you should do before you die.  The problem is that too many people are sharing the same list. Angkor Wat is being toured to death.

The temple complex entry has become a rowdy melee of tuk tuks, touts, buses and tour groups. You push your way through among throngs of school-age children selling books, postcards and expensive water.  Spivs promote English-speaking guides that unfortunately speak an English largely unrecognisable to westerners.  At the temple itself it is near impossible to take a photo without dozens of people crowding your scene. To witness sunrise breaking over Angkor Wat, where your day can start at 4am, expect hundreds of other people wanting to share your space and experience. Ditto for other temples in the complex such as Ta Prohm and Bayon.

Visitor numbers create their own picture.  In 1993 Angkor Wat welcomed 7,650 visitors.  Last year there were 2.5 million, a 12 percent increase on the previous year.

Cambodia expects 6.1 million tourists this year, 7 million by 2020 and 10 million by 2025. The majority of these visitors are from China, followed by Vietnam, Laos, Thailand and Korea.  Most of them plan visits to Angkor Wat.

A 72% hike in admission prices introduced earlier this year for foreign visitors has had no impact on Angkor Wat’s popularity.  Admission prices to the Angkor Archaeological Park are now US$37 for a single day pass, $62 for a three-day pass and $72 for a weeklong pass.  Cambodians enter for free.

Siem Reap, the host town to the Angkor temples, is also enjoying major growth. A decade ago it was a sleepy town with bars and restaurants on Pub Street closing at 9.30pm.  Today, it is host to 417 hotels with 17,000 rooms plus numerous bars and eateries all centred around Pub Street, Old Market and the Night Market, which ignite the night like fairyland for adults.

According to Long Kosal, a spokesman for the Authority for the Protection and Management of Angkor and the Region of Siem Reap (APSARA), Angkor Wat is the heart and soul of Cambodia.  He talks reverently about the complex of temples and moats spread over 208 hectares in a World Heritage site built between 820 and 1431.

It is a sacred site.  But a lack of respect for Angkor Wat has become a by-product of tourism growth. Authorities have drawn a line.  Recently, 10 backpackers were gaoled – three of whom remain in prison while seven have been deported – for lewd “pornographic” dancing during a Siem Reap pub crawl.  The arrests followed a spate of incidents involving foreign visitors being arrested and deported for taking nude photos while at Angkor Wat.  An Asian model posing topless at a temple photo shoot similarly horrified authorities keen to preserve the dignity of Cambodian culture and its Buddhist values.

The Apsara Authority taken measures to promote respectful behaviour at the temples.  A poster promises gaol, fines and deportation for indecency. A ‘code of conduct’ video highlights the types of behaviour considered unacceptable including smoking, wearing revealing clothing, and take selfies with monks.

Locals are feeling enough is enough.

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