A series of entertainment projects have been proposed at Siem Reap's temples in recent years, including a three-day festival on the backburner and an operational night festival.
Photo by: KYLE SHERER
An assortment of lighting equipment used for the Angkor Wat Night Festival is stockpiled on the grounds of the temple.
THE ONGOING light installation project at Angkor Wat temple - which in recent weeks has sparked allegations of temple damage and a defamation lawsuit - is the latest in a series of projects intended to transform Siem Reap's temples into major entertainment venues.
Though some of these projects have not moved past the proposal stage, one of them - the Angkor Wat Night Festival - is fully operational and has the backing of both UNESCO and the government.
The most recent plans for an entertainment project were presented by the Russian company Rise Entertainment during a meeting of the International Coordinating Committee for the Safeguarding and Development of the Historic Site of Angkor (ICC) held last week in Siem Reap.
The Moscow-based company, which in 2007 pitched a series of concerts as part of a festival to be titled "Angkorica", now aims to host a three-day concert festival at Bayon temple.
The "Angkorica" proposal, which included plans for an appearance by the Icelandic singer Bjork as well as elephants covered in white-and-gold cloth, was priced at between US$3.5 and $5 million and would have been staged at Angkor Wat and other temples.
Vladimir Meshkey, general producer for Rise Entertainment, told the Post earlier this month that the company had been advised by the Apsara Authority, the body that manages Angkor Wat, to consider a more modest festival at an alternate site.
"We're trying to work it out," Meshkey said. "We'll see in another year."
The Sou Ching Co, the company implementing the light installation project at Angkor Wat, hosts "Night Lighting" tours of the Kingdom's flagship tourism complex.
The project sparked controversy when the company began inserting lights into holes in the walls of the temple to replace lights placed on the ground. The company said the holes were pre-existing, though tourists and others said they suspected that the holes had been carved out specifically for the project.
Photos of Angkor that showed lights placed at regular intervals in part fuelled the allegations, though Sou Ching has denied causing any damage to the temple.
We have our mandate from the government... we need visitors to be visiting more.
The government and the Apsara Authority have also rejected claims that Angkor Wat sustained damage as a result of the installation project.
"The accusations of people that the light fittings were carved into the wall of Angkor are just not true," Phay Siphan, spokesman for the Council of Ministers, told the Post last week.
Earlier this month, the government filed a suit in which it charged Moeung Sonn, president of the Khmer Civilisation Foundation, with spreading false information and inciting the public in connection to his claims that holes had been drilled deep into the temple's walls. Shortly after the suit was filed on June 2, Moeung Sonn fled to France to avoid arrest.
In an interview from France Saturday, Moeung Sonn said, "If the trial starts, let it be done by international courts because Angkor Wat is a World Heritage site."
Photo by: KYLE SHERER
A wall-mounted light installed at Angkor Wat.
Angkor Wat Night Festival
During the dry season, Sou Ching also hosts the Angkor Wat Night Festival in conjunction with the Apsara Authority and the Ministry of Culture and Fine Arts. The nightly production, which features more than 150 performers, 45 lighting technicians and engineers and 50 support staff, is massive, moving across the interior of Angkor Wat and culminating in a traditional dance show held on a stage with light gantries that have been erected on the site.
The entire temple interior is lit up and wired throughout for sound, and a dining area provides an up-market Khmer dinner for guests.
Jamie Rossiter, former director of marketing for Sou Ching, told the Post in March that UNESCO, which granted Angkor Wat World Heritage site status in 1992, approved of the project, and that there had been no resistance to it.
Unesco officials, including Olabiyi Babalola Joseph Yai, president of UNESCO's Executive Council, joined government officials on a visit to the site in March, during which they dined at the restaurant and watched the show.
"There has been no controversy over the show, absolutely none," said Rossiter, who has since left Sou Ching.
He said, "We have our mandate from the government. It was Apsara, Unesco and the government together which said we need to use the temple more, we need visitors to be visiting more and enjoying it more and there is more we can be doing with these temples."
ADDITIONAL REPORTING BY NICKY MCGAVIN