The dark side of Angkor's night visits

Plans to boost tourism by opening temple at night alarm conservationists

The magical temples of Angkor – already visited by around half a million tourists a year – could lure even more people if the Cambodian authorities go ahead with a controversial plan to open the 12th-century complex into the night.

In an effort to boost tourism at the site, officials at Angkor say visiting hours could be extended and lighting provided to give visitors a different experience. "We want tourists to see all views of the temple, even in the dark places where they may have not have seen some of the sculptures and statues," said an official, Bun Narith.

The plan is just one proposal being considered by officials who are trying to counter the first slump in visitors to Angkor, which for a decade has experienced a boom. Recent figures show a 14 per cent drop in visitors to the town of Siem Reap, where Angkor is located, compared with last year. The authorities have also called on hotel owners to reduce their prices.

Foreign tourism is hugely important to Cambodia, reportedly providing up to 75 per cent of its foreign currency earnings. Around 50 per cent of all tourists to the country end up visiting the temple complex, six hours' drive north of the capital Phnom Penh.

But the issue of tourist numbers is complex. Conservationists warn that boosting the number of people visiting Angkor, without doing more to control them when they are at the site, could have a detrimental effect.

"Angkor is colossal but the problem is that there is very little control over the movement of tourists," said John Sanday, country officer with the Global Heritage Fund. "It can handle the number of people that are there if they are co-ordinated – perhaps with tickets."

Already, there has been controversy about the installation of lights at Angkor. This week officials were forced to deny reports from tourists that the building's structure had been damaged by the lights. "This accusation that new holes were created simply is not true," said Phay Siphan, spokesman for the Cambodian Council of Ministers. "The installation will not involve any new holes being drilled."

Ahmed Bennis, a French lighting expert who was commissioned to install the new lights, said there would be no structural alterations made. "These new lights will use solar power and they will not be built into the structure of the temple," he said. "Because the lights are powered by the sun there will be no electricity cables at the site."

Angkor was removed from Unesco's World Heritage in Danger list in 2004, but conservationists remain concerned for its welfare. Last year, Unesco raised concerns about the impact that the growth of Siem Reap was having on Angkor's foundations.

The UN organisation said that a surge in demand for water had led to a massive increase in the amount of groundwater being pumped. Philippe Delanghe, the culture programme specialist at Unesco's Phnom Penh office, said: "There is a very important balance between the sand and water on which the temple is built. And if that balance is taken away then we might have trouble with collapse."

Angkor is believed to have been built as a funerary temple for King Suryavarman II to honour the Hindu god Vishnu. The sandstone blocks from which it was constructed were quarried more than 30 miles away and floated down the Siem Reap river.

Suggested Topics
Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA year of political gossip, levity and intrigue from the sharpest pen in Westminster
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Account Manager

£20000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This full service social media ...

Recruitment Genius: Data Analyst - Online Marketing

£24000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: We are 'Changemakers in retail'...

Austen Lloyd: Senior Residential Conveyancer

Very Competitive: Austen Lloyd: Senior Conveyancer - South West We are see...

Austen Lloyd: Residential / Commercial Property Solicitor

Excellent Salary: Austen Lloyd: DORSET MARKET TOWN - SENIOR PROPERTY SOLICITOR...

Day In a Page

Isis in Iraq: Yazidi girls killing themselves to escape rape and imprisonment by militants

'Jilan killed herself in the bathroom. She cut her wrists and hanged herself'

Yazidi girls killing themselves to escape rape and imprisonment
Ed Balls interview: 'If I think about the deficit when I'm playing the piano, it all goes wrong'

Ed Balls interview

'If I think about the deficit when I'm playing the piano, it all goes wrong'
He's behind you, dude!

US stars in UK panto

From David Hasselhoff to Jerry Hall
Grace Dent's Christmas Quiz: What are you – a festive curmudgeon or top of the tree?

Grace Dent's Christmas Quiz

What are you – a festive curmudgeon or top of the tree?
Nasa planning to build cloud cities in airships above Venus

Nasa planning to build cloud cities in airships above Venus

Planet’s surface is inhospitable to humans but 30 miles above it is almost perfect
Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history - clocks, rifles, frogmen’s uniforms and colonial helmets

Clocks, rifles, swords, frogmen’s uniforms

Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history
Return to Gaza: Four months on, the wounds left by Israel's bombardment have not yet healed

Four months after the bombardment, Gaza’s wounds are yet to heal

Kim Sengupta is reunited with a man whose plight mirrors the suffering of the Palestinian people
Gastric surgery: Is it really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

Is gastric surgery really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

Critics argue that it’s crazy to operate on healthy people just to stop them eating
Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction Part 2 - now LIVE

Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction

Bid on original art, or trips of a lifetime to Africa or the 'Corrie' set, and help Homeless Veterans
Pantomime rings the changes to welcome autistic theatre-goers

Autism-friendly theatre

Pantomime leads the pack in quest to welcome all
The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

Sony suffered a chorus of disapproval after it withdrew 'The Interview', but it's not too late for it to take a stand, says Joan Smith
From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?

Panto dames: before and after

From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?
Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

Booksellers say readers are turning away from dark modern thrillers and back to the golden age of crime writing
Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best,' says founder of JustGiving

Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best'

Ten million of us have used the JustGiving website to donate to good causes. Its co-founder says that being dynamic is as important as being kind
The botanist who hunts for giant trees at Kew Gardens

The man who hunts giants

A Kew Gardens botanist has found 25 new large tree species - and he's sure there are more out there