Tuesday, July 15, 2008


Prime spot for a bit of people-watching

PHNOM PENH : When once there was a trickle, now nearly 100 tourists a day visit the border temple of Preah Vihear, first viewing the magnificent millenium-old ruins, and then heading over to gawk at Thai protesters on the other side of the border. Armed with cameras and video devices, Cambodian tourists get their photos taken, smiling, next to the shuttered border gate, with angry Thai demonstrators heckling and chanting as a distant backdrop.

''For the past two weeks, more and more people have come to visit, firstly to see the temple, and then to watch the Thais,'' the secretary-general of the government's Preah Vihear authority said.

Visitors to the temple, known as Khao Phra Viharn by Thais, have risen from around 20 a day to up to about 90 recently, mainly because it was named a World Heritage site, but also to picnic and watch the firmly contained protests, he said.

The ancient Hindu temple, perched on a 525-metre-high cliff on the Dongrek mountain range that defines the Thai-Cambodian border, has been the source of a sovereignty dispute for decades, and some Thais fiercely objected to its heritage listing. But border police, military and tourists at the site agreed _ it passes the time watching protests, and it's quite good for business.
''More and more people visit,'' said Cham Sokhom, a motorbike taxi driver who has worked the temple's ragged road on the Cambodian side for three years. ''Before I earned US$5 [about 150 baht] a day. Lately I can earn up to $17.50.''

Of almost all the Cambodians who brave the bumpy road to the temple, there is no malice, just a simple curiosity value. ''I love the temple, and I also want to see Thais,'' one woman said.


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