Heritage icons power Mekong tourism

BANGKOK, 10 February 2017: Both Thailand and Cambodia are filing gigabytes of documents to UNESCO to support their efforts to add more cultural and natural to the various World Heritage site listings.

This week’s online posts had an update on the latest filings that if successful will add value for travellers visiting the Mekong Region. Thailand is keen to add to its World Heritage destinations, Phra That Phanom temple in Northeast Thailand that stands close to the banks of the Mekong River marking the border with Laos.

The iconic temple is very close to the hearts of all I-san (northeast Thailand) residents. It deserves to be a World Heritage site to recognise its influence on the cultural and religious life of I-san. It also reflects the comprehensive and painstaking restoration of a monument that collapsed during a torrential rainstorm in 1975.

inside no 5 Phra That Phanom temple
Phra That Phanom temple

Cambodia tourism success is based on the World Heritage Angkor Historical Park in Siem Reap and to a much lesser degree, Preah Vihear Temple on the border with Thailand. The country’s tourism is largely dependent on cultural monuments and this reality motivates the government to press ahead with two more temples for possible listing with UNESCO.

Without cultural and heritage attractions the Mekong Region would lose its appeal for international travellers. Yes, the region has beaches, golf courses, even casinos and mega shopping malls, but they are not the magnets that draw visitors. Travellers visit the Mekong region to experience its lifestyle and culture diversity much of it linked to World Heritage sites.

These latest filings for UNESCO World Heritage recognition underscore the urgent need for the travel industry to be guardians leading the campaign to ensure cultural and natural attractions of the Mekong Region are protected for future generations to enjoy. We should not be commercial predators who exploit national treasures and assets without contributing to their conservation.

inside no 5.1 Banteay Chhmar temple
Banteay Chhmar temple

Some of the Mekong region assets are not bricks and mortar.  They are communities, ethnic minority groups who have stories to tell and experiences to share that will enrich a visitor’s life.

They need to be recognised as partners and participants in the travel experience and its financial rewards. They should be beneficiaries, not show trophies, or passive backgrounds for a selfie photo. While the efforts to conserve historical sites are to be praised, more needs to be accomplished to engage the the region’s ethnic groups in a more meaningful way than is evident today.