Conservation Experts Fear That a New Amusement Park in Cambodia Could Endanger the Ancient Temple of Angkor Wat

The planned theme park and resort could threaten the world's largest religious monument.

The UNESCO World Heritage Site Angkor Wat. Photo by Sarah Cascone.
The UNESCO World Heritage Site Angkor Wat. Photo by Sarah Cascone.

Plans to build a new amusement park and resort near Cambodia’s most famous historic site, the Angkor Archaeological Park, have worried conservation experts.

In November, the Cambodian government granted NagaCorp, a Hong Kong-based company that runs the NagaWorld hotel and casino in Phnom Penh, a 50-year lease on a nearby tract of land in November. The planned Angkor Lake of Wonder resort will be located less than 1,650 feet outside of Angkor’s protected zone, which was delineated in 1994, reports the Art Newspaper.

The 12th-century temple complex of Angkor Wat is the world’s largest religious monument. The archaeological park is home to numerous ancient temples built by the Khmer Empire from the 9th to 15th centuries. It was named a UNESCO World Heritage site in 1992.

“The project’s proximity to the protected buffer zones of the [Angkor] site as well as the scale, scope, and concept of the planned activities could indeed have an impact on the outstanding universal value for which Angkor was inscribed on UNESCO’s World Heritage List,” the UN agency said in a statement, noting that conservation and sustainable development experts had advised against the planned construction.

The UNESCO World Heritage Site Angkor Wat at sunrise. Photo by Sarah Cascone.

The UNESCO World Heritage Site Angkor Wat at sunrise. Photo by Sarah Cascone.

Phay Siphan, a government spokesperson, told the Cambodian radio outlet VOD in November that the new tourism destination “will not impact our temple.”

Set to open in 2025, the $350 million Angkor Lake of Wonder complex will include the Naga Water World water park, an indoor digital theme park featuring AR and VR attractions; gardens; two hotels; and an entertainment district with restaurants, bars, and nightlife called Siam Reap China Town. There are currently no plans to build a casino on site.

NagaWorld in Phnom Penh. Photo courtesy of NagaWorld.

NagaWorld in Phnom Penh. Photo courtesy of NagaWorld.

“The vision is to promote Angkor Wat and NagaWorld developments as the twin tourism icons of Cambodia,“ notes a project prospectus from the company. The new facility, the first major resort in the Siam Reap area, would aim to “capture most of the existing five million tourists presently visiting Angkor Wat,” which generated $99 million in ticket sales revenue in 2019, and to offer tour packages that include both NagaWorld and Angkor Wat.

Angkor Lake of Wonder’s 187.5-acre site is larger than California’s two Disney parks. Under the terms of the lease, it can occupy the space rent free for the first seven to 10 years, after which NagaCorp will pay at least $450,000 annually. The total cost to the company will be at least $21 million.

The UNESCO World Heritage Site Angkor Thom. Photo by Sarah Cascone.

The UNESCO World Heritage Site Angkor Thom. Photo by Sarah Cascone.

UNESCO plans to examine the development plans at the World Heritage Committee’s upcoming June session, and to stay in contact with with the Cambodian authorities to ensure that the protection of Angkor remains a priority.

Cambodian citizens have also expressed reservations about the project. “I would not support it,” Phnom Penh resident Leng Chentha told Radio Free Asia, if it “destroys the beauty of Angkor Wat.”

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