Mr. Kun, managing director of a travel company
Siem Reap, Cambodia | December 30, 2009
Mr. Kun is the managing director of Travel Loops, a travel company in Siem Reap, Cambodia.
About Siem Reap
Siem Reap is the gateway to the UNESCO World Heritage Site – Angkor Wat. Angkor Wat is the main tourist attraction in Cambodia and Siem Reap receives the most tourism in Cambodia.
LP: What do you think about tourism in Siem Reap?
Mr. Kun: Tourism coming to Siem Reap as well as in Cambodia, there are two ways of thinking: one is good and one is bad.
The good thing when they (tourists) come here is that they can help (local) people get a better life. When they spend money, it goes straight down to the local people and that can help local people get a better life.
But another thing is when more tourists come here, it will destroy a bit of the local culture. As well as using more underground water so it maybe makes Siem Reap not good.1 Especially, for example, the temples (Angkor Wat) they already need more underground water to be stable. For example, the Angkor Wat moat, there used to be always water there to keep the foundation strong and hold the whole construction.
LPT: So when tourists come, they’re using more of the water supply?
Mr. Kun: Yes.
LPT: So do you think there should be better planning for tourism in Siem Reap?
Mr. Kun: Now, there are a few non-government organizations cooperating with the local government. They are trying to find out, some how, to help not using underground water in Siem Reap. Because we also have the river, it’s called the Siem Reap River, and there’s really enough water for people to use there.
LPT: For the average local person, like the shop owners and restaurant staff, how do you think they feel about tourism?
Mr. Kun: They feel good. They need to survive so maybe by getting more tourists, they are happy. And also, they can help their children as well. Before tourism came to Cambodia, especially Siem Reap, some of them cannot send their children to school. Even though the schools are free in Cambodia, they (students) need money to pay for school supplies. So now they (locals) are better after tourism came because they can send their children to school to get a better education.
LPT: You mentioned earlier that part of the local culture changes with the increase in tourism. Can you give me some examples of how the culture is changing?
Mr. Kun: Ok, for example, for Cambodian ladies, they’re not supposed to (culturally) drink alcohol or go out at night.
And many of the changes are that they (Cambodian women) are going out at night and drinking alcohol. And another thing is their clothes are also changing. You can see they go out with shorts and this is not lady-like in Cambodia. And for the tops, they are not really covering their shoulders. It’s not really the Cambodian way of doing things.
LPT: Are these women working in the travel industry or just regular people?
Mr. Kun: Regular people. For example, some Cambodian ladies who see westerners walking down the street with shorts and not really covering their shoulders, they feel “oh, this really looks different”. They want to change and they want to follow that fashion.
LPT: So they think it’s good and want to copy the style.
Mr. Kun: They think it’s good but it’s destroying the culture. The next generation doesn’t really know what is the local culture or local dress. They feel lost in these things.
LPT: So do you think there’s a divide between the older and younger generations?
Mr. Kun: Yeah, yeah, yeah. For the older generation, they don’t really copy. But those teenagers, for example; those who are 18-20, they’ve changed a lot.
LPT: Do you think most tourists are respectful of the local culture?
Mr. Kun: It depends, it depends.
LPT: What are some examples of some misunderstandings?
Mr. Kun: For the older people (tourists), starting from 45 years old and up; they are better. They seem to understand more about the local culture because they’ve read more about it…maybe. Or maybe because they’re older. They’ve developed respect for the local culture and they always wear long trousers and a shirt or t-shirt that always cover their shoulders.
But for the younger tourists, it seems, they think it’s better if they go to the temple in shorts because the weather in Cambodia is especially hot. So shorts are better for them.
LPT: But that’s really disrespectful because Angkor Wat is a temple of worship, right? Do local people tell tourists when they’re dressing inappropriately?
Mr. Kun: Yes, some local people tell them. And also at Angkor Wat, there is a government authority called Apsara Authority now. They are trying to explain to those who don’t really have proper dress to make a dress change and to respect the local culture – officially. Especially because all the temples are holy for the country and as well as the soul of Cambodia.
Yeah. Yes, so they try to explain and some people (tourists) do change. Some people (tourists), they don’t really know so they just wear short tops and bottoms until they’re finished with their trip. Because most of them come to Siem Reap for just a short time – 3 to 4 days. And sometimes they don’t really have much time to talk, they just enjoy the new things in Siem Reap. They just quickly do a tour and they go back home.
LPT: How do you think tourism can be better in Siem Reap or Cambodia?
Mr. Kun: Yeah, the Cambodian government must have a new plan for bringing more tourists to Cambodia. Especially because we have enough natural resources and we have most of the things that everyone wants to see. But now, it’s only Angkor Wat and very recently, people know that Cambodia has beaches. So now some people come to Siem Reap to see the temples and then they have a beach holiday after Angkor Wat.
Cambodia has many places to visit. For example, in the northeast of Cambodia, we have minority villages and we have really beautiful forests and waterfalls. And also people who love to see animals or wildlife can go to the northeast of Cambodia. So if the government can build up this thing…
LPT: A campaign?
Mr. Kun: Yeah. Also to encourage the local people to develop accommodations and customer service, it can bring more people to come here. And another thing is, the local government needs to find out how to make a better airport for bigger airplane landings in Cambodia. There should be better connections.
And we also need to reduce the cost for those who come to invest in Cambodia. Yeah, so for the first or 3 years, the tax must be low. Just to encourage people to come to invest in the country.
And also the local government needs to give confidence and trust to all businesses, so all the officials must respect what they say.
Global Heritage Fund, Cambodia’s Angkor Wat Threatened by Diminishing Underground Water Supply, December 01, 2010 | http://globalheritagefund.org/onthewire/blog/angkor_wat_threatened_by_water_supply