Thursday, December 20, 2007

Protecting Cambodia's Treasures

The following short article about one of my favoured organizations, Heritage Watch, was posted by Brook Wilkinson on the website yesterday following her recent visit to Cambodia.

Heritage Watch: Protecting Cambodia's Treasures
While I was on assignment in Cambodia earlier this month, I learned about a great organization that is working to preserve that country's cultural treasures: Heritage Watch. Started by archaeologist Dougald O'Reilly, Heritage Watch has spent the past five years campaigning against antiquities looting - and, more recently, for responsible tourism. I was struck by the lack of guidance at Angkor Wat and the surrounding temples - there are few signs telling you where to go or not go, what to touch or not touch. But as Dr. O'Reilly told me, their unrestricted access is one of the charming things about the sites, and "the onus is on the people visiting to be responsible themselves."
How can you help preserve Cambodia's relics? Read on to find out.
Dr. O'Reilly reminds visitors to be respectful of the local culture, as well as the monuments' religious significance - this means covering knees and shoulders, speaking softly, and not using cell phones inside the temples. (I was none too impressed by the guy whose Shakira ring tone echoed throughout the complex). Visitors shouldn't touch the bas reliefs, should of course dispose of any litter properly (you'd be amazed at how many candy wrappers are scattered around the temples), and shouldn't buy any artifacts.
Heritage Watch also certifies businesses as being "heritage-friendly." Businesses that display the seal shown above have met at least three of Heritage Watch's criteria, which include contributing to and supporting NGOs and promoting clean environmental practices.
Finally, Heritage Watch is trying to ease the pressure on the most famous temples by encouraging visitors to explore lesser-known spots. Try watching the sun set from Phnom Krom, instead of with the swarming crowds at Phnom Bakheng. Or take the three-hour drive to the Koh Ker complex, a beautiful and secluded spot where Heritage Watch has trained locals to run their own tourism businesses. Link: Heritage Watch.

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