Across the country, 857 out of over 5,300 ancient temples are located in natural protected areas, 426 of which are in the Phnom Kulen National Park, according to a report from the Ministry of Environment.

The ministry’s report released on May 30 said the number of archaeological sites in natural protected areas and within biodiversity corridors in deeply forested areas could actually be even greater in number than that shown in the most current surveys.

It said more than 70 natural protected areas and conservation corridors across 21 provinces covering 73 million hectares amounted to around 41 per cent of Cambodian territory.

The areas and biodiversity corridors not only abound with natural resources, timber, wild animals and plants but are also important archaeological sites and ancient storehouses of culture and tradition in Cambodia, the ministry said.

Its spokesperson Neth Pheaktra said the ministry works in cooperation with the Ministry of Culture and Fine Arts to protect and preserve those sites. While the former is in charge of managing and conserving natural resources within the protected areas, the latter has the role of conserving the archaeological sites such as temples there and carrying out repairs, maintenance and preservation work.

“The temples and archaeological sites are closely connected to areas with natural resources. These sites have become important tourist destinations for both cultural and eco-tourism.

“The Chen Srom Temple inside the Kulen Prum Tep Wildlife Sanctuary has been attracting the attention of national and international tourists as a destination for both birdwatchers and those interested in exploring the culture and traditions of the Cambodian people,” he said.

The environment ministry called on those living in natural protected areas where archaeological sites and temples are located to protect and conserve them in order to sustainably preserve the legacy of the Cambodian ancestors while also providing important insights about the past to scholars and academics.

Mao Sokny, a culture ministry official in charge of research and the compilation of historical documents, said some countries had provided technical and financial support for preserving and repairing the temples, but unfortunately that support has largely dried up amid the Covid-19 pandemic.

He added that development partners tended to have helped more with repairing and maintaining the most famous temples, with less attention going to many others in more remote areas and these are now facing increased deterioration due to natural disasters and aging.

“Currently, we have some support for repairing and maintaining those temples from the private sector in the country and abroad. But that support is not going to be enough because the maintenance work needs a lot of resources and a big budget. Right now, only the government is really spending money on this work,” he said.