Cambodia gets third temple complex listed as World Heritage Site

By: Will Feuer - Posted on: July 10, 2017 | Cambodia

‘The temple in the richness of the forest’ received the recognition from Unesco four years after the request was initially made, priming Kampong Thom province for a boom in tourism

Tourists visit Angkor Wat temple in Siem Reap province, Cambodia, 17 February 2017. Over two million tourists visited Angkor Wat in 2016. Photo: EPA/Mak Remissa

The Sambor Prei Kuk temple complex in Kompong Thom province was officially added to Unesco’s list of World Heritage sites on Saturday, a development that will likely be another boon for the country’s flourishing tourism industry.

The site, which contains 50 temples and spans roughly 2,000 hectares of forest, will become the third in Cambodia to receive the recognition. Unesco listed Preah Vihear temple in 2008 and the Angkor Wat temple complex in 1992.

Sambor Prei Kuk, which translates as ‘the temple in the richness of the forest’, is celebrated for its unique archeological traits inherited from the 7th century Chenla era.

A statement from the Ministry of Culture and Fine Arts said the decision brought “great national pride”. In a Facebook post, Prime Minister Hun Sen referred to the decision as a “historic event”, urging Cambodians to celebrate the news by banging pots in public spaces at 10 am today.

Yet while recognition as a Unesco World Heritage site may bring prestige, a tourism boom and immediate economic benefits, it may also have some unintended consequences, a point touched upon by Phoeurng Sackona, Cambodia’s minister of culture and fine arts, in an interview with Southeast Asia Globe last month.

Asked whether she was concerned that growing numbers of tourists to Angkor Wat might damage the country’s most iconic site, Sackona replied: “Not only Angkor – the concern is everywhere. When you know that tourism will increase, you know there may be some negative impact on the site.”

In the wake of Unesco’s latest announcement, however, the government has been eager to downplay such concerns.

“We, all the Kampong Thom people, are very proud and happy with this news,” said Kampong Thom provincial governor Sok Lou. “We are not concerned that tourists will have a bad impact on our temples because the Unesco will know how to take care of it.”