Cambodia’s most popular tourist attraction — the complex of
ancient temples that includes Angkor Wat — is suffering from a form of
overexposure: At least five foreign visitors have been arrested and
deported this year for taking nude photos at the sacred sites.
Authorities have no tolerance for people stripping down at Angkor
Archaeological Park, a sprawling, centuries-old UNESCO World Heritage
Site that drew 2 million visitors last year. The incidents are also
upsetting to ordinary Cambodians, for whom the Khmer-era complex holds
enormous spiritual and historical significance.
“Angkor Wat is the most famous sacred … temple in Cambodia, where
everyone — not only tourists but also Cambodians themselves — has to pay
respect,” said Rattanak Te, an administrative assistant who lives in
Phnom Penh, the capital. “It definitely upsets me and all Cambodians,
because outsiders will think we — Cambodian people — are careless and do
not take good care of this World Heritage (site) by allowing these
tourists to do such an unacceptable act.”
This month, guards arrested two American sisters after seeing them
snap photos of each other’s naked backsides in the temple of Preah Khan,
said Kerya Chau Sun, spokeswoman for the Apsara Authority, which
manages the temple complex in Siem Reap, in northwestern Cambodia.
Lindsey Adams, 22, and Leslie Adams, 20, both of Prescott, Arizona, were
each sentenced to a six-month suspended sentence, a fine of 1 million
riel ($250), deportation and a four-year ban from the country.
In January, three French men in their 20s were deported after they
were caught taking nude photographs at Angkor complex. Another photo
showing a topless woman at the site has circulated on social media, but
officials believe it is fake, according to Chau Sun. Three tourists were
also caught riding a motorbike naked near Phnom Penh in January,
according to local media.
Reached via email, one of the Frenchmen, Rodolphe Fourgeot, said he
did not want to talk about the case. He said it demonstrates “endemic
corruption” in Cambodia but did not elaborate.
A message on a cellphone listed for Lindsey Adams said the voicemail
was full and not accepting messages. She also didn’t respond to a
Facebook message. A message was left on a cellphone number listed for
the sisters’ mother.
This year’s incidents were not firsts for the Angkor temples, but
Chau Sun said earlier attempts by tourists to get naked were thwarted.
Signs at the temples and ticketing booths urge visitors to behave
respectfully, and Chau Sun said the Apsara Authority plans to add
posters warning them that taking nude photographs can lead to arrest and
“As a Cambodian, I am hurt … I think especially to the poor
Cambodians saving to be able to come across the country to pray at
Angkor,” she said. “They don’t understand why people could behave like
Angkor Archaeological Park is the biggest tourist draw for this
Southeast Asian country, which still feels the effects of the Khmer
Rouge, the fanatical communist regime behind a reign of terror that left
an estimated 1.7 million people dead from 1975 to 1979.
The massive Angkor complex is in a sense a proud counterpoint to that
painful legacy. It contains the remains of capitals of the Khmer
Empire, which existed from the 9th to the 15th centuries and at its peak
controlled most of Southeast Asia. For a time, Angkor was among the
world’s biggest cities.
The temples are renowned for their architecture and art, with
countless intricate carvings, including semi-nude spirits known as
apsaras. Angkor Wat is the largest and best preserved of the structures.
The temples are much more than stone ruins for most Cambodians, said
Trevor Sofield, a professor of Tourism at the University of Tasmania in
Australia. They are places of Buddhist worship as well as a symbol of
the Khmer heritage, he said. He added that the Apsara Authority and
UNESCO should focus on educating the public about the living sacred
nature of the site in addition to its historical characteristics.
Angkor is not the only world-renowned site that has had to deal with
nude tourists. In 2014, officials at Peru’s Machu Picchu said they were
increasing surveillance after visitors were caught taking nude
photographs or running through the ancient site naked.
Amichay Rab, a 32-year-old accountant from Tel Aviv, Israel, was one
of those tourists who posed in the buff. Rab documented his nude
escapades while on a nine-month trip through Central and South America
on his blog. Many of the photos were taken early in the morning before
there were crowds, he said, and local residents often snapped the photos
“I was anxious sometimes but was never afraid (of) getting in trouble
as I was very discreet,” he said. “I was waiting for the right moment
in order to avoid hurting someone’s feelings.”
Cambodian Mollyda Keo said people there recognize that different
cultures and societies have differing views on the body and what is
deemed acceptable. Cambodian women, for example, will only swim in a
T-shirt and shorts but are used to seeing Western women in bikinis, she
She said posing naked at the temples crosses the line.
“I just feel they don’t respect the culture,” she said. “You come from another culture. You should respect ours.”
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This article was written by Kristi Eaton from The Associated Press
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