Banteay Chhmar: the ‘second Angkor Wat,’ with two tourists a day

The Shanghai Daily has a profile on the ‘Second Angkor Wat,’ Banteay Chhmar, 170 km to the northwest:

Called the “second Angkor Wat,” Banteay Chhmar approaches it in size, is more frozen in time than the manicured and made-over superstar, and has so far been spared the blights of mass tourism of recent years at Angkor.

In 2011, an average of 7,000 tourists a day visited Angkor, one of Asia’s top tourist draws located near the booming northwestern city of Siem Reap. Banteay Chhmar saw an average of two a day, with no tour buses and bullhorn-wielding guides to disturb the temple’s tranquility or traditional life in the surrounding village.

Two tourists a day. The Rapid Traveler was last in Cambodia in early 2007 before Banteay Chhmar opened to tourists but reading about it seems akin to visiting North Africa’s deserted, pristine Roman ruins rather than the sites in Italy that are inundated with tourists.

Those who have visited Angkor Wat, which is spectacular, know that tourists pop out of every nook, detracting from the atmosphere.  Angkor Wat and its tourist town, Siem Riep, are akin to a visit to Disney World, and sadly many tourists see nothing of Cambodia beyond. Phonm Penh is quite far overland and its main draws are horrors of the Khmer Rouge. Some regions of Cambodia are still mined. So it is understandable that tourists fly in and out, but Banteay Chhmar looks like a great option, possible even as a long day trip from Siem Riep.

Global Heritage Fund and Heritage Watch International have been involved in opening Bantear Chhmar to tourism with an eye to community involvement and sustainability. A UNESCO World Heritage Site nomination is in the works. The Banteay Chhmar Community-Based Tourism (CBT) group has extensive information on visiting and homestays. What better way to sample Cambodia that divert for a day or two (or many) up to Banteay Chhmar, playing explorer by day and local family member by night?

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