Cambodia is considering opening the famed Angkor Wat temples at night in an attempt to draw more tourists to the impoverished country, amongst opposition cries from locals and heritage specialists.
Visitors are now ushered out of Angkor at sunset, but authorities are considering extending visiting hours to as late as 8:30 p.m. local time. Similar night tourism efforts have been introduced at other sites in Southeast Asia in attempts to garner more revenue.
Cambodia has already installed some lights at the network of centuries-old temples, said Bun Narith, director of the Apsara Authority - the agency responsible for managing the Angkor park. These lights were installed earlier this month with UNESCO's support and technical assistance.
However conservationists have long expressed concerns about tourism's impact on Angkor. They say that the uncontrolled pumping of underground water to meet the rising demand of hotels and residents in the nearby town of Siem Reap may be destabilizing the earth beneath the temples. They worry that the added pressure of the light fixtures may prove to be too much for the centuries-old site.
But proponents for the extended hours at the temples know that tourism is a major foreign currency earner for poverty stricken Cambodia. More than a million foreign tourists are expected to visit this year, with most from South Korea, Japan and the U.S. More than half of tourists visit the Angkor temples, the country's prime attraction and national symbol.
"We want tourists to see all views of the temple, even in the dark places where they may have not have seen some of the sculptures and statues," Bun Narith said.