Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - Angkor Wat complex sound & light show up in the air

Angkor Wat complex sound & light show up in the air

Angkor Wat complex sound & light show up in the air

VANN Molyvann, the statesman who presides over the umbrella agency that protects

and runs Angkor, has dealt a possibly fatal blow to Malaysian and Ministry of Tourism

plans for a sound-and-light extravaganza at Cambodia's showpiece monument.

In an on-going debate over the historic site, the minister of state and vice-president

of Apsara's Administrative Council told international donors and organizations his

government has scrapped YTL Corporation's multi-million dollar blueprint to light

up Angkor Wat.

"We announced to the international community that the concept of a sound-and-light

show as proposed by YTL has not been accepted by the Royal Government," Molyvann

told the Post, after a recently convened session of the International Coordinating

Committee for the Safeguarding and Development of the Historic Site of Angkor (ICC).

"Apsara rejects this concept of a sound-and-light show, and is asking YTL to

present plans for a project that will be acceptable to both Apsara and the International

Coordinating Committee. We have let YTL know that we don't wish to have this show

staged inside the enclosure of Angkor Wat, but are open to it being staged outside,"

he added.

Molyvann is convinced that the only way to avoid congestion and the corrosive effects

of tourism is for future nighttime entertainment at Angkor to be done over a wide

area and on a smaller, more manageable scale. His idea is to produce a drive-by show

where reduced numbers of tourists will be shown the ancient Khmer temples lit-up

at night.

At the ICC meeting that culminated in at least $1.3 million in financial and technical

aid being earmarked by France and Japan to boost Apsara's performance, Molyvann also

made it plain that, although he welcomes YTL investment in Angkor-Siem Reap, he will

block YTL's ambitions to win an outright hotel monopoly as part of its billion-dollar

designs there:

"The Royal Government has given 560 hectares to Apsara that has been designated

as a hotel zone.

"YTL proposes to use this land and expand to 1,000 hectares through a 70-year

lease. This land was given by the Royal Government - not to YTL - but to Apsara by

Royal decree. YTL has no right to lease land which does not belong to them.

"We want to develop this zone ourselves and warmly invite YTL, or other hotel

groups, to build within the 560-hectare zone, because we want to avoid a monopoly."

Molyvann also praised the decision by two French chains - Novotel and Accord - to

redraft plans for the construction of hotels near Angkors Wat and Thom, Banteay Srei,

and Roulos, so that they will meet Apsara and ICC guidelines for development.

"The hoteliers who originally had intended to build inside Zone 2 have withdrawn

their applications for building licenses and now accept to build on other sites in

order to protect Zone 2," he said.

Molyvann's stance drew a cool response from the Ministry of Tourism (MOT). "The

Royal Government has not rejected YTL's project to build a sound-and-light-show at

Angkor," maintained an aide to the tourism minister. "As far as MOT is

concerned, YTL's billion-dollar investment in Angkor-Siem Reap is going ahead as

planned."

"If it's true that YTL's concept of a sound-and-light show has been rejected,

then... [Molyvann] will have to prove that in writing," he added.

One of the line ministries which requires Apsara approval on projects in Siem Reap-Angkor,

the MOT struck its own deal with YTL in late 1995.

The two prime ministers - nominally co-presidents of Apsa-ra's Administrative Council

- gave their blessings to the deal, and were present when Tourism Minister Veng Sereyvuth

signed on behalf of the Royal Government.

As for YTL, Chairman Francis Yeoh was unavailable for comment at press time, but

a Cambodian projects officer responded to questions by phone from Kuala Lumpur.

"I am aware of His Excellency Vann Molyvann's proposals, but have not seen any

formal letter being sent from his office to YTL," he said. "I cannot comment

any further."

The ICC meeting in Phnom Penh was billed as a "frank discussion" to take

stock of Apsara's performance, since it was set up by Royal decree in Feb 1995, and

to chart its future.

"The international community believes that we should go a little faster,"

said Ang Choulean, an aide to Molyvann.

The minister of state voiced his concern to donors that Apsara wouldn't be able to

absorb the soaring numbers of visitors to Angkor-Siem Reap - forecast to reach 400,000

per year by 2000 - unless more money and experts are sent.

The message was evidently not lost on Azedine Beschaousch, Unesco's special representative

to Cambodia.

"Unfortunately, Apsara has been stalled in its performance," he said. "Apsara

does not have enough money and does not have qualified personnel apart from its director-general

who is a trained architect."

"What is asked of Apsara?" he added. "Apsara is expected to have a

greater visibility in Angkor, greater efficiency in its performance, and above all

greater autonomy."

Beschaousch cautioned, however, against any fast-track approach to development. He

said this would have disastrous consequences on Angkor's archaeological wonders,

the Khmer culture and people. "As an archaeologist, what is even more important

than the safeguarding of Angkor to me is its future development. You cannot turn

a two-year old into a 20-year old in an instant."

In Molyvann's opinion, there is another danger if any development that spurns ICC

guidelines takes precedence over Apsara in Angkor.

"In 1997, Angkor's inscription on Unesco's World Heritage List will officially

take hold," he said.

"Angkor was inscribed in 1993 on condition that - within three years - we showed

that we were capable of managing it. If we do not rigorously stick to international

guidelines, we risk loosing that listing."

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