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Siem Reap – Chhim Rathana has been an APASARA Authority tourism agent for seven years. She loves protecting the Banteay Srei temple but there are challenges and dealing with rude visitors is one of them.
She can be seen in the blue shirt and black trousers uniform of the agents, who stand at the corners of the temple as tourists take pictures in front of the gates while others listen to their tour guides.
Rathana followed in her mother's footsteps in the job protecting the temple, ensuring tourists’ safety and enforcing the Angkor Code of Conduct at the temple, about 40 kilometers from Siem Reap city.
As a frontline staff member, she meets international tourists every day, and is often questioned by some who refuse to obey or arrogantly ignore the Code of Conduct.
The Code of Conduct, created in 2016, details how tourists must act when visiting the temple. It prohibits shorts and skirts above the knees or showing bare shoulders. Smoking and touching the carvings are not allowed.
This is where conflicts arise. She gets into a war of words with tourists almost every day. It is hard to tell tourists to follow the Code of Conduct.
“We warn them but they respond with words that we find difficult to accept,” she said.
“They ask me why they cannot enter. 'It’s fine, do not let us go in. It's nothing great and it’s just a stone',” Rathana recalls them saying.
“Sometimes we forbid tourists from touching the sculptures in the temple to preserve the original appearance of the carving. They then reacted angrily.”
Despite the hurt to her feelings, Rathana pointed to the need to work properly and continue to explain the Code of Conduct to tourists while maintaining her responsibilities – the safety of tourists and protecting the temple. Her job also includes rescue work, which can be dangerous.
She can be seen in the blue shirt and black trousers uniform of the agents, who stand at the corners of the temple as tourists take pictures in front of the gates while others listen to their tour guides. Photo: Touch Sovandy
No matter what she is facing, she is still proud of herself for taking care of the treasures left by her ancestors by working as a tourism agent which is now part of her life.
Destined to be With the Temples
Rathana, now APSARA Authority deputy director of tourism agents, has been experiencing her job since she was young when she got up early and accompanied her mother to work.
“As a child, I rode the bicycle with my mother from Preah Dak village to Bayon temple. We had to get up very early because we were so poor,” she said.
“We didn't even have a watch. We cooked rice and packed it to eat. This is something I will never forget.”
Rathana started working as a tourism agent at Pre Rup temple. Satisfied with her work, the authority transferred her to work at Banteay Srei temple.
“I am really happy with this job and even though I do not have money to contribute to the maintenance of the temple, I have been a part of protecting the temple left by the ancestors," she said.
“Since I did not help with anything, I could help take care of the temple that we live near.”
Standing firm to protect the temple
While working as tourism agent appears to be an easy job, it requires a lot of patience and travelling to work every day with almost no holiday. On one hand, the agent must take care of tourists while looking after the cultural heritage.
“As the old saying goes, plates in the same basket will touch each other. Some days there are good guests and some days there are bad guests,” she said.
“But we are workers and choose to work here. We have to accept whatever. It is not difficult to walk away because there is hard work everywhere.
“I enjoy doing this job and don't want to give up.”
Originally written in Khmer for ThmeyThmey, this story was translated by Torn Chanritheara for Cambodianess.