At Large  February 18, 2021  Anna Claire Mauney

Angkor World Heritage Site Threatened by Waterpark Development

Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

Main Temple Reflected in the Northern Reflection pond at Angkor Wat, Cambodia.

Unesco officials and third parties expressed concern after the Cambodian government granted a Hong Kong-based company seventy-five hectares of land to develop just 500 meters south of the World Heritage site of Angkor. Officials worry about the planned development's scale and proximity to buffer zones. Statements from Unesco make it clear that these concerns are based on technical information from conservation and sustainable development experts.

Photograph by Eric Esquivel. © UNESCO.

Eric Esquivel, Angkor Wat, Cambodia, 2013.

The development company in question, NagaCorp, announced in November 2020 that it had been granted a fifty-year-long renewable lease to develop what they are calling the Angkor Lake of Wander on this large swath of land. Their plans include the construction of a wide range of tourist attractions including hotels, a waterpark, conference halls, and bars.

Angkor is described by Unesco as “one of the most important archaeological sites in Southeast Asia.” Located in the Siem Reap Province, The Angkor Archaeological Park contains ninth to fifteenth-century remnants of the various Khmer Empire capitals. Among the treasured sites are the Temple of Angkor Wat and the Bayon Temple.

Western tourism to Angkor and Cambodia began in the 1970s. Since then, the number of tourists flocking to Angkor each year has been on a steep incline. Though of course, the COVID-19 pandemic has caused a brief stall, these numbers are sure to resume growth once world travel is deemed safe—particularly if this construction is allowed to continue unchecked.

Photographed by Francesco Bandarin. © UNESCO.

Francesco Bandarin, Angkor Ta Prohm Temple, Cambodia, 2005.

In 2008, Bonnie Burnham, then president of the World Monuments Fund, told the LA Times that officials were concerned about the destruction unchecked tourism can cause. Especially because many of the monuments in Angkor are made of sandstone, foot traffic alone can be a huge source of destruction.

The NagaCorp project and concerns surrounding it emerged following a January 26-27 video conference held by Unesco’s International Coordinating Committee for Angkor. A more in-depth discussion of concerns is planned for the World Heritage Committee‘s 44th session, scheduled for June-July of 2021.

Despite all of this, Unesco stated there are no concerns about the Cambodian authorities’ ultimate dedication to protecting the Angkor site. Some speculate this means Unesco is already in conversation with government officials.

About the Author

Anna Claire Mauney

Anna Claire Mauney is the former managing editor for Art & Object. A writer and artist living in North Carolina, she is interested in illustration, the 18th-century, and viceregal South America. She is also the co-host of An Obsessive Nature, a podcast about writing and pop culture.

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