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Tourism boom leaves Angkor Wat's ruins RUINED

Graffiti, worn-out temple steps and sinking foundation
March 27, 2007
The Electric New Paper

IT has been hailed as one of the wonders of the ancient world, and forms the very heart of Cambodia's identity.

But now, the famous Angkor Wat complex may not survive the onslaught of tourists.

Every day, thousands are left largely free to wander in and out of the temple ruins, probing dark corners, climbing over fallen stones or tracing the delicate bas reliefs with their hands.

Names and other graffiti are gouged into temple walls.

Unsightly wooden steps have been constructed over some stone staircases that have become worn with over-use.

In some temples, visitors have been prevented completely from coming into contact with delicate wall carvings.

The sinking foundation and widening cracks between the carefully carved stones of Bayon temple, famous for the serene faces carved on its 54 towers, confirm that one of Angkor's best known monuments is collapsing into the sandy ground around it.

Almost two million tourists visited Cambodia last year, with more than half of them visiting Angkor.

'The ancients built the temples for religious purposes, not for such crowds of tourists to climb on,' said Mr Khun Sokha, a tour guide whose job depends on the vast crowds swarming Angkor National Park in rising numbers each year.


'The harm is obvious. We are worried, but the people's livelihood depends on these tourists,' he added.

It is hard to ignore the nearly US$1.5 billion ($2.3b) in revenue that tourism brought to the impoverished country last year, forcing officials into a delicate balancing act.

But the biggest threat comes just kilometres away, where more than 250 guesthouses and hotels, including several sprawling resorts, have sprung up in recent years.

The unrestricted consumption of ground water by Siem Reap's hotels is destabilising the earth beneath the Angkor complex.

Said Mr Kuy Song, director of Siem Reap's tourism office: 'The construction of hotels is booming. We cannot ban the rich people from building accommodations.

'The future of the temples is really worrisome.' - AFP.