There was a time not too long ago when Cambodians and tourists enjoyed the open spaces and the world outside of their homes.
Visits to temples and beautiful beaches that bring with them crystal clear waters, waves and cool winds that blow away boredom as one enjoys the white sandy beaches and gets the soul refreshed from the rat race.
Divers enjoyed getting up close to see marine life in the seas off Preah Sihanouk, Kep, Kampot and Koh Kong provinces.
For early morning outings, locals and tourists rushed to get in the best position to view the sun rising above the Angkor Wat or view the sunset at its best at the Bakheng, Bakong, and Phnom Krom temples.
But all that is gone. “Stay home” seems to be the order of the day for governments around the world to enforce lockdowns to stem the outbreak of the Covid-19 pandemic.
In Cambodia, people are discouraged from travelling or attending gatherings unless it is critical. The government has issued various measures, shutting down schools, museums, beer gardens, KTV, casinos and more.
However, not all is lost. With a slowdown in all such activities under the circumstances, virtual reality (VR) technology can help return such activities for those who are forced to stay home for days, weeks or even months.
“For instance, if you want to visit Angkor Wat, or enjoy the beaches and islands, or visit other cities around the world such as Paris, Sydney, and elsewhere, or even dive in the sea with marine life, then VR is the way to go,” says Saraboth Ea who founded Virtual Reality Cambodia and is the director of Hiverlab Cambodia.
He says people are now feeling bored, stressed and isolated since they can’t hang out with friends or travel anywhere they like, especially to visit the natural resorts that Cambodia is famous for.
“Some people, who stay home for many days feel miserable as they are restricted from meeting friends and relatives as they used to.
“VR technology can help them release stress and find new friends,” says Ea, a former refugee who fled the country during the Khmer Rouge era of the 1970s and settled in the US.
Ea worked as a professional in finance, banking and real estate in the US for nearly 30 years before returning to Cambodia.
He now offers VR tech services for public and private events and tells The Post: “Social applications allow you to keep in contact with other people like in the real world, but via VR technology.
“Through VR technology, one does not need to feel isolated anymore, and in fact can connect with others in the virtual world.
“The technology not only allows one to travel virtually but offers many other activities that are almost like real-life experiences.
“VR has many applications. In fact, you can go fishing from your living room, play tennis, golf, row a boat, drive your car and do many other things,” says Ea.
He says VR also offers experiences in different immersive technologies and allows one to carry out physical activities to remain fit.
“As a result, VR improves mental and physical stress. We can enjoy workouts through activities on VR such as boxing, playing tennis or golf. Such social applications can benefit mental health by reducing stress and isolation,” says Ea.
However, the hundreds of activities that VR applications offer can only be accessed through devices that are imported into Cambodia. More importantly, VR technology is not cheap.
Ea founded Virtual Reality Cambodia primarily because of the passion he has for the technology and the potential it has to transform the way people interact with the world using digital technology.
He says that setting up VR devices at home requires a high-speed computer that costs thousands of dollars, a VR headset with sensors and other devices.
But, some of these devices are much cheaper as they do not require a computer or smartphone. All it needs is a VR headset without wires or sensor devices.
“Since we have to import these devices, a new VR headset can cost between $600 and $700 per set. But still, it is a far cheaper alternative as one does not require a computer or smartphone,” says Ea.
Ea realised that the high demand for such devices since more people were forced to stay at home. He imported a number of them and helped people cope with stress. But he admits that the imported products would take weeks or months to arrive.
“We have another option which is to buy cheap VR headsets which are already being sold in Cambodia. Such devices need to be connected to a smartphone. The downside is that they do not offer VR in its true form so activities are limited.
“We can try these devices though they are not of high quality and cost only about $20. But with such VR headsets, we can watch 3D movies and view simple VR pictures,” he says.