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Heritage cities to boost tourism

Chea Vannak / Khmer Times Share:
Soy Sinol, director of Kampot’s tourism department.

Cambodia wants Unesco recognition for Kampot, Kratie and Battambang cities and hopes they would be considered by the UN organisation to be recognized as World Heritage sites when the kingdom files its application next June.
According to Tourism Minister Thong Khon, both his ministry and the Ministry of Culture and Fine Arts have already finalized applications to be submitted to Unesco. He said more than 30 tourism ministers will discuss Cambodia’s proposal at a conference on heritage cities in Siem Reap from June 10 to 15.
For 50-year-old Lay Sok Kei, a resident in Mouy Osaphea village in the old French part of Kampot city, this is welcomed news for her.
Sitting on the verandah of her French-styled shophouse, that survived the ravages of the genocidal Khmer Rouge, she told Khmer Times that the Unesco status will be good for her business.
“There will be more tourists visiting Kampot and I will be able to sell more handicrafts to them,” she said.
“The government has told us that we will be in a heritage site, having the same status of Angkor Wat and I’m so happy.”
Travellers to Cambodia have always been enchanted with Kampot.
“This riverside town, with streets rimmed by dilapidated shophouse architecture, has a dreamy quality; as if someone pressed the snooze button a few years back and the entire town forgot to wake up,” wrote the Lonely Planet guide.
“The Kompong Bay River – more accurately an estuary – rises and falls with the moons, serving as both attractive backdrop and water-sports playground for those staying in the boutique resorts and backpacker retreats that line its banks upstream from the town proper,” added the travel guide.
At the time of the French colonial administration, prior to 1954, Kampot was one of Cambodia’s most important ports. The evidence of French colonialism is more prevalent here than in other provincial cities. Today, the riverside is lined with French-styled villas languishing in stately decay.
Nonetheless, some the villas have been refurbished and converted into boutique hotels and guesthouses. According to provincial authorities, in order to preserve Kampot city’s heritage status no new construction would be allowed in the old French quarter.
Kampot’s provincial tourism department noted that there are around 300 heritage buildings in the old part of the city.
“The authorities have informed the residents and people who own those buildings about the plan to get heritage listing from Unesco,” Soy Sinol, director of Kampot’s tourism department said.
“We want them to keep and preserve the buildings in the same style and not change them because tourists want to see the original buildings. That’s the beauty of Kampot city and we want to keep it that way,” Mr Sinol said.
However, he said exceptions would be made for dilapidated buildings.
“These buildings cannot be left standing as they are but we want them refurbished in the original style, and not something modern,” added Mr Sinol.
Dressed in his shorts and a sports shirt, Cheang Sun sips coffee poured out from a French press.
“I have renovated my home many times and I am aware that I have to preserve the original design and structures,” he said, while talking to Khmer Times in the patio of his French villa in Kampong Bay Thbong in Kampot city.
“I want Kampot to be listed as a Unesco World Heritage city. It will be good for both local and international tourism.”
Mr Sun said he wanted his villa to look the same for the next generation.
“It will be lesson in history for these young people to know how the previous generation lived.”
Ho Vandy, secretary-general of the Cambodia National Tourism Alliance, said that if Kampot, Kep and Battambang are listed as heritage cities they would boost tourism at the provincial level.
He agreed with Mr Sun that these buildings have a rich history and needed to be preserved for the future generations.
“Kampot city for instance has been settled for centuries and young people need to know this.”

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