How you can help preserve the Angkor temples
Without some responsible travel practices, as impossible as it sounds, the Angkor Temples might not be around for long. Not even with the constant preservation work that they’re doing.
The increasing number of visitors every year takes its toll on the temples in many ways, and in some cases the preservation work cannot keep up with them.
Many travelers have also mentioned how remarkable it is that visitors are still allowed to walk, climb, and sit around on the temples (all the things that could harm the temples). And although for many us who live in this age can count ourselves very lucky to be able to do all that, our kids and grandkids may only be able to visit from afar.
In the future, instead of actually walking the bas relief galleries, they might only see life-sized photographs of them, and displayed outside the temples.
So, in order to keep the temples with us as long as possible, there are things, simple things, that each visitor can do. Plus, if we all do it, the effect will be significant, and that will undoubtedly help the monuments survive longer for future generations to enjoy.
Some of the simple things you can do as outlined by ICCROM:
Accept the restrictions placed on the temple complex – for example the do not touch, do not climb, or the do not enter signs.
Avoid touching anyway – every small touch becomes harmful when repeated by 1000 people every day.
Mind your backpack – you could brush up against the walls and damage the carvings and bas reliefs.
Avoid climbing unnecessarily on the statues and monuments – if you must take a photo on top of a monument, be very selective.
Stop graffiti – resist the temptations to scribble your name or draw on the monuments.
Admire from afar – if every visitor to Angkor Wat took home a piece of temple as a souvenir, the temples would quickly disappear forever.
Shop responsibly – beware of buying temple objects of unknown origin. The looting of archaeological sites results in the loss of significant social and cultural treasures and robs the Cambodian people of their history. (Yes, as amazing as this sounds, it is still happening.)
Don’t litter – take your rubbish with you.
Respect silence and other people – the temple complex brings different experiences to different people. Allow other visitors to experience the peace and beauty.
Here are some other responsible travel guidelines as mentioned by the Heritage Watch:
Conserve water in Siem Reap – the water table for the area is dropping, which may make the monuments unstable. (Read an article about this here.)
Try to use environmentally friendly transport – you can use bicycles, electric bikes or horse-drawn carts in the park.
Dress appropriately – preferably long trousers and shoulders covered. (Remember that Angkor Wat and the other temples are religious monuments.)
So in short…
Although some of the above responsible travel guidelines can be difficult to do, especially when you’ve come half way around the world (imagine not climbing up Bayon temple!), others are very easily done. We can all mind our backpack, we can all mind our litter, we can all not touch the bas reliefs, and we can all shop responsibly.
So when visiting, keep these guidelines in mind, as most of them are simply common sense. This way, hopefully we can preserve the temples so that it will stay around for more generations to come.