What is Angkor?
The temples of Angkor, Cambodia are some of the most important archaeological sites in South-East Asia and are listed as a UNESCO world heritage site. They contain the remains of the different capitals of the Khmer empire, dating back from the 9th to the 15th century and are also inhabited by ancestors of the Angkor period (UNESCO, 2018). Angkor was once listed “endangered” by UNESCO, but in 2004 was removed from the list and reinstated (UNESCO, 2018).
UNESCO describes the temples as an illustration of: “exemplifying cultural, religious and symbolic value as well as containing high architectural, archaeological and artistic value” (UNESCO, 2018).
Integrity: tangible and intangible heritage
Earlier this year, I was given the opportunity to travel to Angkor. Upon arrival I was automatically struck by the lenience tourists had at this sacred site. At many of the smaller temples, I noticed that tourists were able to climb on top of monuments and structures. This was entirely different from some of the other sectioned off UNESCO world heritage sites I had been to in the past. I enjoyed this at the time because I was able to explore the site in more depth to the extent that I was even climbing around the exteriors of the temples. This, however, did make me question the tactics used for preservation. Is the sites general integrity of its tangible and intangible heritage at risk?
Price of culture
Cambodia is a country with a very painful past and is still recovering from the effects of the civil war to this day (BBC News, 2018). It is now one of the worlds poorest countries due to its deep-rooted corruption and weak economy (BBC News, 2018). So it is not a surprise that the tourism sector in Cambodia is expanding rapidly and the temples of Angkor and the nearby settlement of Siem Reap are embracing the economic benefits of tourism (BBC News, 2018). Mass tourism can develop regional culture, protect the natural habitat and strengthen local traditions as long as the capital produced from this industry is reinvested in these areas (Pop, 2018). However, if cultural assets and capital are used irresponsibly (or taken mostly as profit) this can contribute to negative effects such as commercialised culture, deterioration of the environment, and capacity problems (Pop, 2018).
For a country like Cambodia, the economic effects of tourism are critical for the development of the country, but should this justify the negative impacts tourism can have on the worlds cultural sites and assets? For example, is the integrity of a sites tangible and intangible heritage worth the price of mass tourism? Should organisations and government bodies that own these attractions have less or more power over cultural heritage sites? Is UNESCO doing enough to encourage, manage, protect and restrict the effects of mass tourism or should more be done to prevent this in the future? What do you think?
BBC News. (2018). Cambodia profile. [online] Available at: https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-asia-pacific-13006539 [Accessed 11 Oct. 2018].
Pop, D. (2018). Cultural Tourism. SEA: Practical Application of Science, [online] 4(2), pp.219-222. Available at: http://seaopenresearch.eu/Journals/articles/SPAS_11_6.pdf [Accessed 11 Oct. 2018].
UNESCO. (2018). Angkor. [online] Available at: https://whc.unesco.org/en/list/668 [Accessed 11 Oct. 2018].