The Ministry of Culture and Fine Arts has dispatched experts to inspect the ongoing construction of a temple in Wat Phu Man Fah, located in Thailand’s Buriram province. This temple appears to be a replica of Cambodia’s renowned Angkor Wat.
The ministry said it is committed to safeguarding the integrity of ancestral heritage and will take all necessary measures to address this concern.
In response to concerns expressed by Cambodian citizens, particularly on social media, calling for the government and relevant institutions to intervene in the construction of the structure that closely resembles the World Heritage site, the ministry said it has been closely monitoring construction activities at the site since they first became aware of the issue in 2021.
Previous actions taken by the ministry have primarily involved diplomatic discussions with their counterparts at the Thai embassy in Phnom Penh and the Thai culture ministry.
“After sending experts to inspect the construction site at Wat Phu Man Fah, we found that no additional construction has taken place,” said the Cambodian culture ministry in a September 26 statement.
“When we dispatch experts to inspect and negotiate, we maintain a strong stance against any attempts to replicate our national identity. We do this through diplomatic engagement, technical verifications, direct site inspections and adherence to both national and international legal frameworks,” it explained.
On September 27, ministry spokesperson Sum Mab confirmed that officials have been closely monitoring this case since it first surfaced in 2021, and they have engaged with the Thai authorities through diplomatic channels.
Mab explained that the Cambodian side had previously requested the architectural plans of the structure to determine if indeed it resembled Angkor Wat. However, the Thai side responded that they did not possess such plans.
He further mentioned that Cambodian experts were dispatched to conduct additional inspections. This move was made with the intention of avoiding any negative impact on diplomatic relations between the two countries. The government, he added, is actively addressing this issue through cautious steps and not ignoring it.
“Allegations that the Thai side has built this structure as an imitation of the architectural design of Angkor Wat should only be made after a comprehensive assessment by experts. Recent inspections have shown that, at this point, only the surrounding wall and entrance of the structure have been constructed, making it impossible to evaluate,” he explained.
“Our commitment to safeguarding our cultural heritage remains unwavering. We are resolute in preventing its replication and will employ all available means to address this matter. Rest assured, we will not leave this issue unresolved,” he affirmed.
History lecturer Sambo Manara acknowledged that the reaction of Cambodian citizens, especially the youth, to the construction in Thailand resembling Angkor Wat reflects a genuine concern for their national heritage.
However, Manara stressed the need for thoughtful reactions to avoid any offence or harm to diplomatic ties between the two nations.
He highlighted that the government and experts are actively working to address the situation.
He also noted that in the past, several countries, including France, China and Japan, have constructed models of Angkor Wat within their territories.
He stressed that these structures can never authentically replicate the original 12th-century temple.
He also reiterated that the structure in Thailand’s Buriram province falls short of being a true replication of Angkor Wat.
“In the 21st century, we cannot prevent people from admiring and being fond of Angkor Wat, especially considering its UNESCO World Heritage status since 1992. It’s widely acknowledged that Angkor Wat is a key part of Cambodia’s heritage. When others construct structures resembling Angkor Wat, in a sense, they are sharing in their appreciation of our heritage. However, the issue arises when these constructions propagate inaccuracies about it,” he commented.
The historian added that Cambodia cannot accuse Thailand of replicating Angkor Wat at this stage since the construction is still in progress, and a comprehensive master plan has not been examined. This responsibility falls upon the culture ministry, as well as UNESCO, which is actively working to assess and address this matter.
“Instead of just reacting, people should aim to study and showcase Angkor Wat to the world,” he suggested.