The Architectural Controversy over Thai Tribute to Angkor Wat

By Guest Writer Thomas Sinclair, Editor of the Pembrokeshire Herald in Wales. Check them out here.

In Buriram province the construction of a temple complex at Wat Phu Man Fah is enkindling a subtle, yet potent diplomatic controversy with neighboring Cambodia. Accusations that the temple seeks to replicate the revered Angkor Wat have placed both nations on a cautious path, seeking to preserve their cultural heritage and bilateral relations.

Since 2021, the Cambodian Ministry of Culture and Fine Arts says it has been monitoring the construction activities at Wat Phu Man Fah, following concerns and appeals from its citizens over the potential architectural imitation of Angkor Wat, which has been a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 1992 and is emblematic of Cambodia’s national identity. The issues were prominently highlighted and mobilized through social media campaigns such as #SaveAngkorWat, embodying genuine apprehension for national heritage preservation.

Addressing these concerns, the Cambodian culture ministry conducted several actions, predominantly involving diplomatic discussions with the Thai authorities, to navigate this sensitive matter judiciously. Cambodian officials have expressed a steadfast commitment to preserving their ancestral heritage and utilizing all viable means to confront and resolve this issue. This approach encompasses “diplomatic engagement, technical verifications, direct site inspections, and adherence to both national and international legal frameworks,” as stated in the ministry’s communication.

Inspecting and negotiating with a sturdy stance against any attempts to mimic Cambodia’s national symbols, experts were dispatched to the Wat Phu Man Fah site, revealing that no additional construction had occurred since the initial discovery of the issue.

Sum Mab, a ministry spokesperson, underlined that an astute and methodical approach, coupling vigilant monitoring and diplomatic engagements, has been the mainstay of their strategy since 2021. Despite requests, the architectural plans of the developing structure have not been provided by the Thai side, making detailed evaluations of the architectural semblance currently unfeasible.

From an academic perspective, history lecturer Sambo Manara acknowledges the impassioned reaction from Cambodians, particularly the youth, accentuating a heartfelt concern for national heritage. Nevertheless, Manara advocates for measured and considerate responses to eschew potential harm to diplomatic relations between Cambodia and Thailand. He notes that Angkor Wat replicas exist in various countries, including France, China, and Japan, and the current construction in Thailand does not yield a true replication of Angkor Wat, particularly since it is still in progress and lacking a comprehensive examination.

Manara brings a thought-provoking viewpoint to the fore, emphasizing that the admiration and recreation of Angkor Wat by other nations could be perceived as a shared appreciation of Cambodian heritage, provided it doesn’t propagate historical inaccuracies. He encourages a proactive approach, suggesting that Cambodians should “aim to study and showcase Angkor Wat to the world” in lieu of purely reactive stances.

In this intricate and delicately balanced scenario, the actions and dialogues undertaken by both Thailand and Cambodia in the ensuing months will decisively impact the resolution of the architectural controversy, potentially forging a path towards mutual cultural respect and diplomatic harmony.

The original version of this article appeared on our sister website, The Pattaya News, owned by our parent company TPN media.