19 August 2007 (The Brisbane Times) – The article talks about the tourist effects in Siem Reap and how to practice responsible tourism in while visiting the temples of Angkor. I’ll be touching a little more on this when I write the next Adventures in Angkor installment at the end of the week.
Invasion of Angkor Wat
Cambodia’s jewel has survived a lot, but popularity may be its biggest challenge, Kerry van der Jagt writes.
Angelina Jolie has a lot to answer for. Ta Prohm, with its ancient stonework and massive tree roots, is now sadly known as the Tomb Raider temple. And the tour groups love it. I watch on as entire groups re-enact Lara Croft running out from the temple.
One at a time they sprint, leap and hurl themselves towards their tour guide – and his video camera.
More like a stampede of clearance-sale shoppers than responsible travellers.
Angkor Wat and the surrounding Angkor temple complex in Cambodia are without doubt one of the seven man-made wonders of the world.
Stretching over 400 square kilometres, Angkor Archaeological Park contains the magnificent remains of the different capitals of the Khmer empire, from the 9th to the 15thcentury.
In December 1992, the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation declared Angkor a World Heritage Site.
In 1993, 7600 intrepid travellers visited Angkor, but by 2006 the number had skyrocketed to 1.6million. By 2010, 3 million people are expected to visit Cambodia.
Dr Dougald O’Reilly, one of South-East Asia’s foremost archaeologists and lecturer at the University of Sydney, founded the non-governmental organisation Heritage Watch in 2003.
The group has implemented a number of projects to help protect Cambodia’s heritage by raising awareness of looting and its consequences. With full support from the Ministry of Tourism and the Authority for the Protection and Management of Angkor and the Region of Siem Reap, Heritage Watch declared 2007 “heritage friendly”.
Its aim is to bring together locally-based private, public and non-governmental sectors in a nationwide collaboration to promote responsible tourism, while encouraging businesses to promote the arts, culture, heritage and development projects in Cambodia.
An additional component of the Heritage Watch project, the Heritage Friendly Tourism Campaign, was launched in January.
“The idea behind the campaign is to raise awareness of the fragility of heritage and the need for travellers to be responsible when they visit archaeological ruins,” O’Reilly says.
“We also hope to discourage people from purchasing antiquities and to broaden their travel experience outside of just Angkor.”
O’Reilly would like to see visitors venturing further afield.
“Cambodia is an amazing and diverse country with much to offer, yet too few people leave Siem Reap where the temples of Angkor are located,” he says. “Rural communities are in desperate need of tourist dollars and encouraging people to lengthen their stays and visit other places is one of the goals of the campaign.”
A major component of the Heritage Friendly Tourism Campaign has been to involve the business and corporate community in promoting arts, culture and heritage in Cambodia.
More than 100 businesses have been certified as heritage friendly. Heritage friendly businesses are promoted through banners, street signs and stickers to help travellers identify and support those companies that give something back to Cambodia.
Heritage Watch offers some simple and undemanding guidelines for visitors: do not purchase ancient artefacts; respect the temples as they are religious monuments; refrain from touching bas-reliefs as the lanolin on hands imparts oil into the stone; use environmentally friendly transport such as bicycles in the park (vibrations from buses affect the monuments); conserve water in Siem Reap – the water table is dropping, which may cause the monuments to subside; purchase Cambodian-made products; dispose of rubbish appropriately; support businesses certified as heritage friendly.
Dr Tim Winter, of the University of Sydney, has worked in Cambodia for many years on the challenges that emerge around heritage and tourism. Winter acknowledges that though there has been significant damage to some of the temples, including erosion to steps, entrance ways and fragile carvings, this is only part of the problem.
Winter says there are other important things to consider when visiting the area: the local economy and major inequalities arising in Cambodia because of tourism and Siem Reap as an island of hyper-growth, surrounded by some of the poorest communities in the whole of Asia.
Associate professor Roland Fletcher of the University of Sydney, who is also the director of the Greater Angkor Project and the Living with Heritage Project, encourages visitors to prolong their stay in the area. “Basically, the key thing that tourists need to do is to stay longer than the average two-day stay,” he says.
It sounds so simple, but makes good sense. By increasing your stay to four days, you will significantly contribute to the local economy. Even the pollution problem caused by washing your sheets and towels will be reduced.
Yes, parts of Angkor can feel like a circus. But if you venture further a field to the quieter temples of Preah Khan, Ta Som, Banteay Srei or Beng Mealea or spend a few extra days away from the madding crowds, you will be rewarded with the moments that every traveller craves.
Perhaps it will come while you’re sitting under a centuries-old silk-cotton tree that is slowly devouring a temple, or when you talk with a saffron-robbed monk.
Or maybe when a shy local child plays peek-a-boo with you from behind a temple or during that spine-tingling moment when the sun first climbs through the sky over Angkor Wat.