As a roving reporter I’ve always imagined myself as something of a cross between Lois Lane, April O’Neil*, and, eh, Hunter S Thompson (minus the guns).
Unfortunately however there’s not often opportunity to flex my investigative muscles. So when my assignment came in this week to do a little digging, I was more than enthused.
Last month Apsara Authority announced a smoking ban at Angkor, “To protect our temples from fire and ashes and keep a good environment in the park,” said Sok Leakena, its Deputy Director General.
The authority said that while it would not introduce penalties, it would be enforced by park staff who would approach any visitors violating the rule.
So my wily editor asked me to go investigate whether or not the ban was working, or if in fact there was any need for such a ban at all.
As a non-smoker and ardent rule follower (okay, so I’m nothing like Hunter S) my investigation would entail catching some smokers in the act. But alas, it was not to be.
There was not a smoker in sight, not among the tuk tuks or the tourists, by the restaurants or in the temples.
While residents of the park are of course still allowed to smoke by their homes, this wasn’t even an issue. I scoured in and around Angkor Wat in search of one rule breaker but there were none to be found.
Non-smoking signage is minimal. There’s nothing obvious at the ticket gate, nothing around the parking area or periphery of Angkor Wat.
In fact it was only once inside the main Angkor Wat structure that I saw a no-smoking sign. This sign of course also advised against littering, eating, shouting, and immodest dressing; unfortunately the latter two weren’t being adhered to quite as much as the ciggy ban.
My big scoop finally came in the form of a tell-tale scattering of butts; all that remained of any rogue puffing.
I photographed frantically and began to take notes. But even at that they were few and far between and more on the grounds outside than in the temple itself.
For a site that attracts over 120,000 visitors a month, the lack of litter is actually rather impressive, especially considering I visited at midday (yeah, smart right?) so the morning rush was not long over.
One reoccurrence while walking over the moat were can-pulls, which would suggest more beer drinking than cigarette smoking among the temple-goers vices. In litter terms, the thousands of Liah clam shells dotting the ground are perhaps more of an issue than cigarette butts.
And as for any potential fire hazards, the rubbish fires all around the area are more likely a pressing concern.
So does Angkor Wat need a smoking ban? I’m starting to think this may be a case of much ado.
But should Angkor Wat have a smoking ban? The hard-core hack in me would be inclined to stick it to the man with a no.
But the non-smoking rule-follower in me says yes. Much ado about not much perhaps, but in a place as beautiful, historic and important as Angkor, even a small cigarette issue needs a good stubbing out.
*Editor’s note: Presumably the writer is referring to the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles television reporter character, and not the pornographic actress.