Saturday, September 04, 2010

Apocalypse in Our Time

‘Upon arriving at Angkor the visitor feels as if transported from darkness to light, from barbarism to civilisation. ... It is grander than anything left to us by Greece or Rome’: Henri Mouhot's description of Angkor Wat
The centre west entrance, Angkor Wat (Drawn by M. Theroud from a Sketch by Mouhot)

Saturday, September 04, 2010
Op-Ed by MP

POLICY makers in Cambodia could do better to consider other urgent priorities that would also bear direct impact upon or impart impetus for the country's development, beside building sky scrapers to rival other landmarks in Asia at this point in time.

A few posters in this forum have already mentioned the need to boost tourism infrastructure by way of building appropriate facilities and logistics in places throughout the country to improve the overall quality of tourism experience and thereby attracting greater influx of visitors into the Kingdom.

The said priorities involve at least 3 areas that remain critical to sustainable tourism and national development in the longer term:

1- Phnom Penh: The capital relies heavily upon its colonial era heritage as its main selling point to visitors, much of which like public buildings and architecture are under threat from dereliction as well as demolition to make way for building new houses or commercial apartments. Some travellers also like to explore souvenir markets and a handful pluck up their courage to study genocide museums/memorials in addition to visiting the small Museum of Fine Arts and the Royal Palace.

This means that extra incentives are needed to persuade tourists to jot down Phnom Penh as a major itinerary item who otherwise opt to bypass the capital altogether travelling from Saigon/HCM or Bangkok directly to Siem Reap by air or coaches.

Building an entertainment type theme park (not Freedom Park!) that combines a sea life aquarium, cultural village and the like would add enormous value to the education and enjoyment of home and foreign visitors alike.

2 - Preah Vihear: I have yet to visit this site, but from what I gather it is a real challenge even with a four-wheel drive to go up the steep road. I think it is a worthy investment to look into providing alternative means of transporting visitors to the famed historical site such as having a cable car transport system at affordable cost to use. People might also be attracted by the novelty of being transported in this way!

3 - Eco-tourism: The term is deployed to encompass a wider extent in quality and experience of tourism as such rather than being limited to bird-watching tourists on guided tours. While what ultimately qualifies as good or bad touristic experience depends largely on the perspective held by individual tourists themselves, it is clear from research that most tourists flock to locations with the capacity to cater for their tastes and safety. A region with a record of social stability and unpolluted environment stands to command a greater share of international tourists or visitors with multiplying economic impact upon both the tourism industry itself (which is very much a global phenomenon) and a whole range of related social services providers within the destination country.

The on-going destruction of the natural environment and the harm done to the indigenous inhabitants of regions such as Rattanakiri and Mondulkiri among others through commercialisation and 'globalisation' has been nothing less than a tragedy, signalling a less than welcoming sign of a country in distress. These remnants of hill tribes - classified officially as ‘ethnic minorities’ - must be among the most endangered species on the planet; their plight and suffering easily ignored or forgotten by both the authorities and the media owing to their lack of representation and physical isolation in general. Yet it is through this very isolated nature that they have been able to preserve their largely undiluted ancient cultures and ways of life down the centuries. They could claim with far greater credibility and force than could most 'Khmers' today (mostly mixed through assimilation with other races) as direct descendants of the ancient Khmer-Mon linguistic group.

No matter how much pride one takes in one's national culture, one will always risk losing something more fundamental by failing to preserve one's own roots, for these are not just there on exhibition as amusement gifts to curious tourists, but are indeed living embodiments of one's identity and soul which give meaning and sustenance to one's existence.

Within this troubled context, I would urge policy-makers and patriots alike to resist the temptation and promise of short term riches by preserving what little the country has left of its natural eco-system. Like the pristine Cardamom in the North-West, Rattanakiri and Mondulkiri also once boasted dreams of fortune making in timber, rubber as well as minerals, in pursuit of which, the environment and the natives have been required sacrifices. And while the fortunes have indeed been made by the few, the sacrifices have also been far too great for the inhabitants surviving in the decimated regions. Few could have imagined a more fitting sequel to ‘Apocalypse Now’ scenes portrayed in Francis Coppola’s film.

As an emerging nation in terms of ‘development’ Cambodia is endowed with a rare advantage of being able to learn from the costly mistakes and experiences of other countries by pursuing a more holistic, quality oriented development that marries the worldly culture of material success or aims with cultural-spiritual imperatives that together in turn adhere to human society’s most basic demands: the well-being and security of every man, woman and child. Such demands have not been discovered features of modernity or inventions of our epoch, but in truth the principal preoccupation of every age. And few contemporaneous civilisations in history could have borne witness to these ideals more passionately or concretely than Cambodia’s own forefathers who conscientiously laboured to immortalise them in stone.

At the height of the Khmer Empire there were not just stone monuments and great armies being assembled, but also sophisticated irrigation systems, well constructed highways crisscrossing the diverse regions of the Empire along which many a traveller could find resting houses and public drinking fountains fragranced with the nourishing scents of lotus flowers and jasmine. There were also hospitals and treatment sanctuaries for the sick and invalid at a time when most of Europe was still gripped by destitution and vices. It is this thought that partly led early European explorers such as Henri Mouhot to reflect:

‘Upon arriving at Angkor the visitor feels as if transported from darkness to light, from barbarism to civilisation. ... It is grander than anything left to us by Greece or Rome’.


Anonymous said...

I have read many articles and this is the best idea of all for Cambodian government to take action. This is your glory Mr. Hun Sen. You are not even famous but you might stood on the top of all the Cambodian leaders, if you follow this article advice. Your legacy and glory is here now. Take it or throw it. That's your choice. There will no other chance for you after this.

Anonymous said...

Good Morning Ki-media,
It is very good articles to attract more tourists to visit Cambodia but the problem is Authority of Apsara in Angkor Areas to force tourists to visit their shop that tourists do not want to see it because they want to see Khmer temples as in Angkor Thom city. They force tourists must walk across their shop and they made the the banner ( Not Permitted this way ). Ki- media should go to see along the Elephant & Leper King terraces, you will understand about this.
When the tourists walked into Baphoun temple & former Royal palace, Phimeankas temple, they can not get out to see Elephant terraces, it must be to see their shop. It is not good for tourists. The tourists always complain this things.
Khmer Angkor

Anonymous said...
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Anonymous said...

It is a good article indeed and we all wholeheartedly agree with that, but we should not forget the rise of the Chenla (Chandara) Kingdom, which has her first capital at Sambor Preykuk and the second at Shreshthapura, currently Chapassak Laos. The Chenla Kingdom is precursor from the Funan to the Khmer empire. In particular, the Khmer people from Chandara Kingdom still exists over some parts of Thailand and Laos and they still strongly inheritted the Khmer culture.

Khmer Isaan

Anonymous said...

Natural beauty can be the greatest asset for Cambodia. However, we must learn to take advantage with nature. Cambodia does not know how many people are sick of city lives and just wanted to left alone with the beauty and sound of nature. Cambodia is lucky in many ways to have endowed by rarity of nature and wild lives. Please put some money to have a well thought plans or master plan for whole Cambodia before developments will destroy it all. Look to Malaysia, not Thailand, there are many things we can learn from about the coexistence between human and nature. We have cut down many of our ancient trees which was a huge mistakes and please let not make another mistake for destroying our nature and wild lives. These are a rare commodities that not a lot of countries have...

Anonymous said...

Don't lose your temper brothers, around 13 century, there were a lot of masterpieces builded in Europe, bigger and prettier than Angkorwat.

Anonymous said...

cambodia should rebuild angkor back to its heyday when the temple is flawless in beauty, etc...

Anonymous said...

Thank you!