The Apsara National Authority (ANA) – the governmental body in charge of the Angkor Archaeological Park – has worked for years to restore the temples, sculptures and the necessary infrastructure such as roads, bridges and the ancient irrigation canals and reservoirs in the Angkor area.

The ANA has also created the Angkor Botanical Garden for domestic and international tourists to enjoy when they visit the famed World Heritage Site in Siem Reap province.

The Post interviewed ANA deputy director-general and spokesman Long Kosal about the efforts to conserve Cambodia’s ancient cultural heritage while also developing the Angkor area into a world-class tourist destination.

What are ANA’s strategic plans to attract domestic and international tourists to visit the magnificent Angkor Wat temples or to support and promote the cultural and tourism sectors in Cambodia?

The strategic plan of the ANA is to turn Angkor Archaeological Park into a top quality tourist destination by focusing on providing trusted high quality services to tourists visiting the Angkor Archaeological Park. This includes providing comprehensive information, arranging tourist routes with road maps, providing good security and public order, as well as paying attention to public health and hygiene issues.

For example, if visitors to Angkor Archaeological Park lose something such as a wallet somewhere in the park then we need to do our very best to help find it and return it to them while ensuring no loss of the property contained in the wallet.

If a guest has a health problem such as dizziness or nausea for any reason, we need to be able to provide first aid so that our guest is in good health. In the case of a serious health problem, we need to intervene and send them to the hospital for immediate treatment, without discrimination. These measures will strengthen tourist confidence in our services.

We are also preparing infrastructure that will provide better support for tourism services, such as tourist routes with maps that are safe and accurate, the installation of solid-block board flooring on sidewalks and bridges and at temple entrances and stairs to make it safer and more accessible for everyone visiting the park.

We also need to strengthen the standards of quality and service for restaurants in the park. They must serve delicious food that is hygienic and affordable and their premises must be decorated in a traditional Khmer style. The proprietors and staff must be friendly to tourists. Everything must be done at a high standard.

We are also expanding our offerings to tourists with new attractions, such as arranging for tourists to take a boat trip from Preah Khan to Neak Pean temples and preparing bike paths for those who wish to travel by bike and do a cycling tour through Angkor Archaeological Park. We’re also preparing designated locations for tourists to gather to see the sunrise and sunset, which is already a popular activity at Angkor Wat and Phnom Bakheng.

How are the current tourist numbers visiting the Angkor site compared to the situation before or during the Covid-19 pandemic? Which countries are the foreign tourists mostly coming from?

In terms of the number of tourists visiting Angkor Archaeological Park today, there is a significant increase over pandemic levels, but it’s not as crowded as it was at the peak in 2019.

But compared to 2020 and 2021, during which Cambodia and most countries around the world were facing a severe Covid-19 crisis, now the number of tourists visiting Angkor Archaeological Park has begun to increase again, especially the number of domestic tourists.

Foreign tourist numbers have gone up, but I do not know exactly how many and from which countries or from which country the most have come, because that data is managed by Angkor Enterprise.

Before the pandemic the park was seeing record numbers of tourists visiting. What about the park attracts so many people from around the world?

In general, tourists are enthusiastic about visiting the Angkor Archaeological Park, especially when they see the natural environment in the park and how rich it is with ancient temples, small and large, all perfectly designed and in an environment that is also rich in biodiversity of all kinds and the beauty of nature.

The Angkor Archaeological Park has a team of highly skilled professionals in each area. From our tour guides who are knowledgeable and have done an in-depth study of the culture, history and design of the sculptures in each of the temples to our environmental sanitation team that is responsible for educating tourists on the value of the environment and acting as garbage collectors, packing and storing all of the waste in an orderly manner.

We also have a tree planting and landscaping team that is responsible for the care, protection, conservation and planting of various species of trees in the park. That team has now installed an automatic modern irrigation system to water the Angkor lawn, which used to get too dry in the summer but will now be fresh and green in all seasons.

Tourists of all nationalities who visit Angkor Park tend to have a high awareness of the value of culture and the environment and are very willing participants who are pleased to help with the implementation our guiding principles to promote the value of culture and the natural environment.

There are more than 500 species ofplants and trees in the park and many species of wildlife, including ourfamous mischievous monkeys. Some tourists are scared of them. Has the ANA ever received criticism or complaints from tourists about the monkeys? How do you deal with them?

The nature of monkeys is to be mischievous, but also endearing. At the same time, some monkeys are just as ferocious as other wild animals and some have injured tourists by biting and scratching them to grab food from their hands, while others have dismantled and destroyed the roofs and terraces of the temples.

When these issues occur our team is sometimes blamed by some of the victims. However, these negative cases have always been easily resolved, and our team takes steps to remove any particularly ferocious monkeys and relocate them away from the Angkor Archaeological Park.

How quickly does the ANA expect the number of tourists to grow to the record numbers seen pre-Covid-19 pandemic?

Given the current situation, we are optimistic that the number of tourists visiting Angkor Archaeological Park will increase quickly to approach the numbers seen before the Covid-19 pandemic. Now that almost every country in the world has reopened, China being the notable exception, people are happy and everybody is eager to take a trip to reduce the stress and anxiety caused by Covid-19 since no one was able to travel anywhere for two years.

Moreover, during the pandemic period, not only did the ANA make an effort to protect, preserve and develop and improve the safety and quality of Angkor Archaeological Park to attract the flow of tourists again from all directions, but similar work was undertaken by all relevant ministries and institutions nationally, including the local authorities of Siem Reap, who we have also worked together with on their respective projects and responsibilities.

All of this added up means that there has never been a better time to visit all parts of Cambodia than exists today, with two whole years spent on preparation and improvements.