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
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
A boy holds a chick during the Russian National Agricultural Exhibition Golden Autumn 2014 in Moscow on October 9, 2014.
Life and Style
love + sex
Ashley Young celebrates the winner for Manchester United against Newcastle
footballNewcastle v United 1 player ratings
Arts and Entertainment
Victoria Wood, Kayvan Novak, Alexa Chung, Chris Moyles
tvReview: No soggy bottoms, but plenty of other baking disasters on The Great Comic Relief Bake Off
Ashley Young celebrates the winner for Manchester United against Newcastle
footballNewcastle 0 Man United 1: Last minute strike seals precious victory
Life and Style
Tikka Masala has been overtaken by Jalfrezi as the nation's most popular curry
food + drink
Arts and Entertainment
Seth Rogan is one of America’s most famous pot smokers
filmAmy Pascal resigned after her personal emails were leaked following a cyber-attack sparked by the actor's film The Interview
Benjamin Netanyahu and his cartoon bomb – the Israeli PM shows his ‘evidence’
Arts and Entertainment
80s trailblazer: comedian Tracey Ullman
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

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

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: 2nd / 3rd Line IT Support Engineer - Managed Services Provider

£30000 - £37000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A 2nd / 3rd Line IT Support Eng...

Recruitment Genius: UI / UX Designer

£25000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This firm are focussed on assis...

Recruitment Genius: General Processor

£7 per hour: Recruitment Genius: A vacancy has arisen for a General Processor ...

Recruitment Genius: Outbound Sales Executive - B2B

£18000 - £22000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A great opportunity has arisen ...

Day In a Page

War with Isis: Iraq's government fights to win back Tikrit from militants - but then what?

Baghdad fights to win back Tikrit from Isis – but then what?

Patrick Cockburn reports from Kirkuk on a conflict which sectarianism has made intractable
Living with Alzheimer's: What is it really like to be diagnosed with early-onset dementia?

What is it like to live with Alzheimer's?

Depicting early-onset Alzheimer's, the film 'Still Alice' had a profound effect on Joy Watson, who lives with the illness. She tells Kate Hilpern how she's coped with the diagnosis
The Internet of Things: Meet the British salesman who gave real-world items a virtual life

Setting in motion the Internet of Things

British salesman Kevin Ashton gave real-world items a virtual life
Election 2015: Latest polling reveals Tories and Labour on course to win the same number of seats - with the SNP holding the balance of power

Election 2015: A dead heat between Mr Bean and Dick Dastardly!

Lord Ashcroft reveals latest polling – and which character voters associate with each leader
Audiences queue up for 'true stories told live' as cult competition The Moth goes global

Cult competition The Moth goes global

The non-profit 'slam storytelling' competition was founded in 1997 by the novelist George Dawes Green and has seen Malcolm Gladwell, Salman Rushdie and Molly Ringwald all take their turn at the mic
Pakistani women come out fighting: A hard-hitting play focuses on female Muslim boxers

Pakistani women come out fighting

Hard-hitting new play 'No Guts, No Heart, No Glory' focuses on female Muslim boxers
Leonora Carrington transcended her stolid background to become an avant garde star

Surreal deal: Leonora Carrington

The artist transcended her stolid background to become an avant garde star
LGBT History Month: Pupils discuss topics from Sappho to same-sex marriage

Education: LGBT History Month

Pupils have been discussing topics from Sappho to same-sex marriage
11 best gel eyeliners

Go bold this season: 11 best gel eyeliners

Use an ink pot eyeliner to go bold on the eyes with this season's feline flicked winged liner
Cricket World Cup 2015: Tournament runs riot to make the event more hit than miss...

Cricket World Cup runs riot to make the event more hit than miss...

The tournament has reached its halfway mark and scores of 300 and amazing catches abound. One thing never changes, though – everyone loves beating England
Katarina Johnson-Thompson: Heptathlete ready to jump at first major title

Katarina Johnson-Thompson: Ready to jump at first major title

After her 2014 was ruined by injury, 21-year-old Briton is leading pentathlete going into this week’s European Indoors. Now she intends to turn form into gold
Syrian conflict is the world's first 'climate change war', say scientists, but it won't be the last one

Climate change key in Syrian conflict

And it will trigger more war in future
How I outwitted the Gestapo

How I outwitted the Gestapo

My life as a Jew in wartime Berlin
The nation's favourite animal revealed

The nation's favourite animal revealed

Women like cuddly creatures whilst men like creepy-crawlies
Is this the way to get young people to vote?

Getting young people to vote

From #VOTESELFISH to Bite the Ballot