Khun-Neay Khuon
Deputy Director-General, APSARA Authority, Cambodia


Angkor Park, spread over an area of 40,100 hectares, happily coexists with local settlements (112 villages scattered within the boundaries of the registered site and dating from before the inscription of the site as a World Heritage element in 1994) and a sizeable settlement outside—the town of Siem Reap, a mainly recent development south of Angkor. Siem Reap is the provincial capital with an international airport, over a hundred hotels and guesthouses, innumerable restaurants and cafes, and markets and shops, and this is to say nothing of administrative buildings.

The Royal Cambodian Government is determined to keep this population, estimated at 120,000 in 2010, in its environment, considering the people themselves a part of Angkor heritage, along with its hundreds of years of customs and practices. The Authority for the Protection and Management of Angkor and the Region of Siem Reap (APSARA) is responsible for safeguarding Angkor Park, so that the park is managed in conformity with UNESCO Conventions, enhancing the tangible and the intangible cultural heritage elements. This is done with an understanding that the living intangible heritage cannot be separated from tangible heritage.

Nowadays, the intangible heritage is disappearing little by little, and without understanding and preserving this heritage, Cambodia could lose its national identity. Since 2000, APSARA has been exerting tremendous effort to conduct research and establish an inventory of the different forms of intangible heritage in Angkor Park by founding a research group named Social Studies Group. Some years later, this activity was included in the Living with Heritage project in collaboration with the University of Sydney, Australia. In 2009, this research group’s activities were also incorporated into the Angkor Participatory Natural Resource Management and Livelihoods (APNRM&L) program, jointly administered by APSARA and New Zealand.

Alongside these activities, on 22 April 2010, APSARA founded the Research Committee on Intangible Heritage in the Angkor Park. This group concentrated its effort in drafting the “Guidelines for Safeguarding Intangible Cultural Heritage within the Angkor World Heritage Site and other Sites under the Jurisdiction of APSARA.” On 13 August 2010, this document was reviewed and supported by the leaders of APSARA.

APSARA organized a seminar that was held on 1 July 2013 to submit the draft guidelines for wider consultation, including the participation of monks, Buddhist monastery committee members, provincial and local authorities, tourist guides, and elders from the villages in Angkor Park. After discussion and some improvements, the guidelines were adopted.

The purposes of the guidelines are to

  • safeguard intangible cultural heritage that cannot be separated from tangible heritage at Angkor and other sites under the jurisdiction of APSARA
  • recognize the right and freedom of all villagers to their intangible heritage and their duty to respect, protect, and receive benefits from their heritage
  • raise awareness on safeguarding intangible and tangible heritage in compliance with UNESCO Conventions. Particularly, to raise awareness on the importance of intangible cultural heritage and Cambodia’s obligation to safeguard this heritage
  • encourage respect and promote the value of intangible cultural heritage, which is a unique part of Cambodia’s rich heritage and is a source of national identity.

Proposed Policies and Activities

1. Research and Inventory

1.1 Research is fundamental to understanding and appreciating intangible heritage. A research program that sets out to understand all forms of intangible cultural heritage present in areas managed by APSARA shall be established. A research team whose specific task is to document intangible cultural heritage shall be created.
1.2 The Angkor intangible heritage includes, but is not limited to:

  1. Orally transmitted knowledge, such as myths, tales, legends (including village and community histories and place names), proverbs, traditional words, and songs.
  2. Forms of artistic representation such as murals, puppetry, and all forms of theater, dance, and music.
  3. Ceremonies and rituals of all forms (animistic, Buddhist, and Brahmanic, often syncretized with one another) and for all purposes (rites of passage, agrarian rites, and construction rites).
  4. Traditional knowledge or skills about crafts, vernacular architecture, cooking, healing, astrology and fortune telling, collecting forest products, and traditional forms of sport.
  5. Dialectal features of language (accent, vocabulary, idiomatic expressions).

1.3 Research should involve the consultation of the local community. Within each village, key members of society, such as the village leaders, monks, and elderly villagers, should be asked on a voluntary basis to share information about intangible cultural heritage.
1.4 It is recognized that there is vast variation in forms of intangible cultural heritage practiced by communities. No one form is more valid than another and any research will try to encompass and acknowledge this variation.
1.5 Any research or inventory should accept that intangible heritage changes over time. Change should be accepted as an integral element of intangible heritage and any research should clarify and incorporate this.

2. Cultural Rights

2.1 APSARA should recognize and respect the cultural rights of an individual that are rights established in global human rights. Any act or behavior by any person shall not restrict or prevent an individual’s ability to realize these rights.
2.2 Within the globally accepted corpus of cultural rights all people have:

  1. The right to identify oneself with one or several cultural communities according to their histories.
  2. The right to access heritage.
  3. The right to participate freely in cultural life and public cultural policy.
  4. The right to religious belief and practice.
  5. The right to education and information about their culture.

3. Participation

3.1 APSARA acknowledges that community participation is critical for the identification, documentation, research, preservation, promotion, enhancement, and transmission of knowledge to the next generation. So APSARA will endeavor to develop regular and systematic consultations with local communities.
3.2 APSARA will engage the community in managing intangible cultural heritage by ensuring that community members are bestowed custodianship of their intangible heritage. Therefore, APSARA should consult with the community to develop or implement safeguarding measures such as education and inventory programs.

4. Recognition

4.1 The villagers who have knowledge about intangible heritage are very important in their community in safeguarding and transmission, and in recreation and revitalization of their heritage. The continuance of intangible heritage depends upon maintaining dialogue between holders of knowledge and the younger generations.
4.2 APSARA will recognize the holders of knowledge and stimulate transmission of traditional knowledge. APSARA will consult with key holders of knowledge for managing intangible cultural heritage. APSARA may recognize and propose that special holders of knowledge be recognized by the appropriate authority.


These newly adopted guidelines constitute a solid mechanism for implementation of intangible heritage management in the Angkor Park.

It is important to have such a mechanism, but it is also necessary to understand and cooperate with all stakeholders—at all levels of government and the population—to assure the full implementation of this mechanism.