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Sunday, December 26, 2010

In Cambodia, once-untouchable treasures await

A surge of tourism increases access not just to well-known sites such as Angkor but also temples in regions once off-limits due to skirmishes.

Two decades ago, the great ruined temple complex at Angkor in central Cambodia was an uncrowded dream destination. But as the country emerged from decades of poverty and suffering, mass tourism arrived at the UNESCO World Heritage Site. With it came sightseers by the busload and the transformation of the hamlet of Siem Reap at Angkor's threshold — an amiable but ballooning tourist trap with a new international airport, a branch of the Cambodian national museum, a trendy restaurant row and an abundance of hotels, including high-enders Raffles and Sofitel.

If the speed of transformation is any indication, 2011 is the time to visit the diminutive Southeast Asian country lodged between Thailand and Vietnam, not just to take advantage of Siem Reap's amenities but to go beyond Angkor to wonders still lost in the Cambodian jungle.

There are, for example, vestiges of the Khmer Empire as remarkable as Angkor all around Cambodia, including an older group of temples in the Sambor Prei Kuk area; Koh Ker, northeast of Siem Reap, opened to visitors since land mines, laid during the civil wars, were removed; and majestic Preah Vihear, on a mountaintop in the north where, until recently, Thai and Cambodian troops were engaged in a border skirmish.

The once-inaccessible Cambodian countryside, with its lime-green rice paddies, jungly mountains, swollen lakes and rushing rivers, increasingly is opening, thanks to adventure travel agencies that take visitors there by horse, motorcycle and helicopter. Guests at 4 Rivers Floating Lodge, a new eco-resort on the Tatai River in western Cambodia, get the chance to spot secretive rhinos and elephants in the wild, while boat trips up the great Mekong River cruise through the habitat of the rare, freshwater Irrawaddy dolphin on their way to the friendly Laotian border town of Chhlong.

Nonprofit organizations abound, seeking volunteers to work in Cambodia (, and — a great way to take part in the country's cultural and economic resurgence.

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Activists hold forum on disputed Preah Vihear temple with Cambodia

SI SA KET, Dec 26 -- Leaders of the activist Yellow Shirt group, the People’s Alliance for Democracy (PAD) Sunday conducted a public forum in the northeastern Thai province of Si Sa Ket on the historic ruins of the ancient Preah Vihear temple, disputed with neighbouring Cambodia.

More than 500 people attended the forum while top PAD leaders retired Maj- Gen Chamlong Srimuang and Pipop Thongchai demanded that the Thai government to revoke the memorandum of understanding (MoU) signed between Thailand and Cambodia in 2000.

The two PAD core leaders also urged supporters to join a major rally to be held in the Thai capital in late January.

The International Court of Justice at The Hague in the Netherlands in 1962 ruled that the 11th century temple belongs to Cambodia.

UNESCO named it a World Heritage site in 2008 after Cambodia applied such status. Cambodia submitted a management plan for the temple recently to the UNESCO World Heritage Commission, which deferred its decision until next year.

Both countries claimed a 1.8 square mile (4.6 sq km) tract of land near the cliff-top Preah Vihear temple. (MCOT online news)
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