Even though I kept pinching myself the scene kept unfolding in front of me. This can’t be real… my brain churned over and over. Smashing my face against the bus window I could barely make out the silhouette of Angkor Wat in the darkness.
All day our PEPY team kept shaking our heads at each other, flabbergasted by our surroundings. At the last minute, we had all registered for the United Nations World Tourism Organization (UNWTO) Regional Conference on Tourism Development in Cultural and Natural Heritage Sites, which was being held in Siem Reap. I don’t think any of us knew exactly what we were signing up for other than a chance to hear some presentations on how other countries are handling tourism and maybe score some free meals.
Delegates from all over Asia, as well as South Africa, Iraq, Tunisia, Germany (just to name a few), had flown in to discuss sustainable tourism practices, cultural preservation, and ecological conservation. On the registration table, our “Participant” lanyards looked a little insignificant next to the titles like the Secretary-General of the UNWTO and Deputy-General of the Ministry of Tourism. Even though we didn’t have fancy titles we still struck gold at the bottom of our “swag” bags:
It’s easy to get an inflated sense of self-importance when National Road 6 is shut down for an event you’re attending and your entire route is lined with police stopping traffic. Despite an earlier presenter’s comment about Angkor, “not being a park for Indiana Jones and Tomb Raider,” I almost peed myself as our bus squeezed through the gate to Bayon Temple.
Still in a state of disbelief, we hopped off the bus, past guards decked out in traditional clothing and began weaving down a candle lit path through the temple. Along the way, attendants carried trays of assorted juices, you know, in case we got thirsty. In case the garnished pineapple juice wasn’t extravagant enough glowing ice sculptures (yes, you read that correctly) lined a red carpet leading to our banquet tables.
Interrupting the MC’s introduction the audience let out a collective gasp as spotlights switched on illuminating the temple.
Of course, the evening wouldn’t have been complete without a series of cultural dances, musical performances, including a few songs written for Cambodia’s tourism industry touting lyrics like, “The methods and laws are important” and “Cambodia is a safe place”, and a 15-year-old beatboxer (I thought I read the program wrong too).
Because the gala dinner wasn’t enough, tomorrow the UNWTO conference is (supposedly) providing limo service to Angkor so we can explore the temples during the day…