Weekly insights into our crazy world.

Tuesday, August 2, 2011



For nearly one thousand years, Cambodia's mighty temples at ANGKOR WAT have survived the worst.  They've weathered hundreds of vicious typhoons.  They've endured thousands of horrendous floods. They've withstood the fierce assaults from the armies of China, Thailand and India.   The ruins even withstood heavy bombardment from the Viet-Cong.   Heck, they were the one of the few things in Cambodia to survive a decade of abuse from the world's worst dictator ever, POL POT.  (Hiss!)  However, the ancient Khmer ruins are proving to be no match against the most ravenous invaders of them all: TOURISTS!

What?  You've never even heard of ANGKOR WAT?  According to their website, it's the "World's Largest Religious Building."  Alright, let's take a quick trip back to the year 1113 AD.  That's when the mighty King SURYAVARMAN II came to the throne.  His 30-year reign was the 'Golden Age' for Cambodia as his kingdom was five times larger than the current nation.  His empire encompassed all of modern-day Thailand, Laos, Vietnam and parts of Malaysia...Wow!  A devout Hindu, SURYAVARMAN II constructed a massive complex of temples, galleries, towers, cloisters, moats and reflective pools to honor his favorite deity, Vishnu.  Centuries later, when the Khmer converted to Buddhism, so did the temples.  ANGKOR WAT became a holy site for both faiths.  However, over the last century, neglect has ruined the ruins.

Things began to change in 1990 when the evil Khmer Rouge was finally overthrown.  The new Cambodian government eased travel restrictions and began rehabilitating the massive site.  "Bucket List" tourists worldwide jumped at the chance to see ANGKOR WAT and the number of visitors has risen exponentially.  In 1999, there were 60,000 tourists.  This year, they expect two million visitors.  Construction of the new airport is under way, so by 2020, six million people are expected to arrive.  These people need a place to stay, so the nearby town, Siem Reip, the closest village, has mushroomed into a miniature Las Vegas.  It now boasts 320 hotels, 550 restaurants and countless massage parlors.  There's even a Swensen Ice Cream Parlor.  RICKY MARTIN was just there!

Unfortunately, after you live La Vida Loca there is the inevitable hangover.  The government of Cambodia is completely overwhelmed by the tourism phenomenon.  It simply cannot protect ANGKOR WAT, its most precious commodity.  Signs on the small fences forbid tourists from climbing on the ruins...but for the wrong reason.  They merely warn people that when they climb on the ancient temples, they do so "at their own risk."  Ancient stone monuments are no match for Banana Republic rubber boot soles.  Also, Cambodia's tiny infrastructure cannot handle the intense demand.  It's no secret that all raw sewage is simply dumped into the nearby Tonle Sap Lake.  JEFF MORGAN of the Global Heritage Fund bluntly says: "Tourist management sucks.  They've had twenty years to work on it!"

However, according to PHILIPPE DELANGHE of UNESCO, the most pressing problem at Angkor Wat isn't graffiti or trash.  Rather, Philippe is worried the ground underneath the complex.  The temples were built on not so solid ground.  This delicate balance between sand and water is suddenly being drastically altered, as water is currently being pumped into Siem Reap at an alarming rate.  It's needed in the hotels, restaurants, massage parlors and...most importantly...to water the new 18-hole golf course!  In fact, the most visited site, the Banyan temple, is already slipping into a sinkhole.  So...if you're planning a trip to ANGKOR WAT anytime soon...please keep your carbon footprint in mind.  And, most importantly, NO GOLF!

1 comment:

  1. If it was not for the tourist they would have not been restored to their former glory. They would have no doubt been looted and destroyed. Considering the population was a million people, they should survive. Whats the purpose of rebuilding them if nobody can see them? Plus where would the money come from for preservation?