SIEM REAP - By the time"Visit Cambodia Year" gets underway in 1996, UNESCO
expects 150,000 tourists a year to be passing through the gateways of the fabled
Angkor Wat temple complex.
That is surely bad news for the temple site, which last December was placed on the
World Heritage List, unless the government quickly moves to enforce restrictions
on tourists clamboring over the temple ruins.
In the meantime, UNESCO along with the cooperation of the Angkor conservation office
in Siem Reap is racing to complete a study using computers to map out a 3,000 square
kilometer area around the Angkor Wat complex stretching from Phnom Kulen to the Tonle
Sap. The ultimate goal of the study, which has drawn data inputs from specialists
in fields as diverse as archaeology and hydrology, is to create a Zoning and Enviromental
Management Plan (ZEMP) for the Angkor area .
To do this, a Geographical Information System (GIS) is being employed. This an innovative
software system developed by the Angkor Foundation of Hungary that is literally a
visual dossier of spatial data from satellite imagery, aerial photographs, maps and
Richard Engelhardt, head of UNESCO's Phnom Penh office and the driving force behind
the scheme said his colleagues in Paris said he was "crazy" to attempt
to digitize Angkor Wat and its surroundings. "But we did it in six months,"
the representative of the U.N. agency proudly noted.
Englehardt gets animated when talking about ZEMP, which essentially uses the GIS
to zone Angkor and its surrounds in such a way that one can access at a glance high-priority
archaelogical sites and social-economic districts, to name but a couple of the areas
that the ZEMP is intended to protect.
Once a Cambodian authority has been established to implement the various options
that ZEMP will provide, there will be a host of problems waiting to be tackled.
Engelhardt explained that Angkor was probably abandoned "because the water requirements
of the population became too demanding," adding that through ZEMP, "Hydrologists
will be able to restore the authenticity of the Khmer water system" used at
the height of the Khmer empire.
This brilliant mechanism will be enough to serve the current day needs of Siem Reap.
But with the town's population growing at five percent increase each year, the fastest
rate in Cambodia, coupled with the expected tourist boom and proliferation of hotels
pressure on water resources will increase greatly.
It would be an ironic twist if a similar fate befell modern day Angkor. "We
shall have to find ways of capturing more water," he said with the optimism
of a person who believes that pioneering technology can solve all of mankind's problems.
Communication in and around Angkor is actually connected to many of the options that
will have to be examined. For instance, roads leading to the temples, "are in
the wrong place," said Engelhardt. "They were developed according to how
the temples were discovered (by the foreigners) and not how the roads were to a Khmer
He illustrated his point by pointing out that the approach to Angkor Wat should only
be from the Airport route as to slowly see the impressive mausoleum's famous facade
in all its glory. Following the main drag to it now, one's view is masked by trees
lining the roadside. This way lacks anticipation and suspense as the entrance suddenly
comes into sight
Engelhardt noted that by the turn of the century projected figures indicated that
350,000 visitors might come to see Angkor Wat which would mean crowd management could
become a big headache.
He reasoned if each tourist spends an average of two hours inside Angkor Wat at any
time of the day, at least, 250 people would be milling around it.
Staggering the number of visitors allowed into each site; and raising the prices
could help alleviate the situation he proposed.
This is a very important point since the site is a place one leisurely strolls around
meditating on the past.
Engelhart cited the Notre Dame in France, which was built about the same time as
Angkor Wat, saying that one can not find serenity inside the cathederal when surrounded
by the many tourists attracted to it.
"We don't want tourism to undermine Angkor. If tourism grows too fast the end
result will mean the site will be degraded then tourists will stop coming, so it's
essential we keep ahead of the tourist industry," he said.
At presentl, Paul Box, a British GIS consultant in Siem Reap, is in the midst of
training 22-year-old Chrouk Kim Eak how to use the software.
Box is also using the computer as an on-going measure to improve records on the inventory
of art works stored for their safe-keeping at the conservatory. He came up with the
logical idea of mapping out the warehouse by using the computer.
Digitising the contents of the storage room means that one can find out very quickly
if anything is missing. In the future if this happens, customs authorities, police
and museums abroad could be notified within minutes.
Paul Burns, the 21-year-old son of British Ambassador Wally (?) Burns, volunteered
his services for a second summer at UNESCO to help make a video inventory of 20 nearby
sites and the statues and frescos in the warehouse. The time-consuming chore took
the culture and heritage student just over one month to complete as he started in
the middle of each temple and then walked in a clockwise direction, filming as he
went, until he reached the outside.
It will, of course take years to record everything at the Angkor complex temples
but it is a start in the right direction.
The videos will be in the form of a reference library and images will be scanned
into the GIS. In the future, the actual measurements of the temples will be input
so three-dimensional impressions can be used to facilitate the restoration of Angkor.
Earlier this month, UNTAC and UNESCO also sponsored a film made for Cambodian television
to raise public awareness about the illicit traffic in relics.
The film, which was shot on location at Angkor Wat, stars cute 10-year-old Orn Sophea
Rika who plays a school girl who wants to know why the head of a Buddhist image is
missing. Her teacher, Lung Socom, has no idea so she asks a flower-lady, Nu Sondab,
who informs them that bandits have stolen it.
The film is meant to bolster national pride in Khmer heritage and it asks the public
to be on the alert to suspicious activities taking place around the great temples.
The film does not address the reason why the bandits steal, because it is intended
to deter thieves not encourage them.
Engelhardt forsees ZEMP being employed on a world-wide scale as new technology will
facilitate conservationists' efforts everywhere.