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Angkor vendors of Khmer costumes must be ‘accurate’

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People donning traditional costumes pose for photos at Angkor Wat in January. Hong Menea

Angkor vendors of Khmer costumes must be ‘accurate’

The Ministry of Culture and Fine Arts called on costume businesses in the Angkor area to follow Cambodian norms and traditions and avoid confusion by displaying non-Khmer clothing advertised as Khmer.

The call followed reactions from social media users who made comments on the traditional dressing of some vendors who were said to have “improperly dressed” their guests in traditional clothing from neighbouring countries and cultures and passed them off as Khmer – despite increasing interest in traditional Cambodian garments.

Ministry spokesman Long Ponna Sirivath told The Post on March 10 that there were now a large number of businesses supplying traditional Khmer clothes in Siem Reap, as the number of tourists had increased. Sometimes, however, tour guides dressed visitors in inaccurate traditional clothes while on tours.

“The ministry has not banned or suspended any business, but we do ask that vendors and tour guides take care to dress tourists in the correct fashion, because if they are not fitted properly, we will not allow tourists to be photographed,” he said.

Sirivath said the ministry will soon issue guidance advising businesses dressing tourists in traditional clothes in the Angkor area to do so respectfully, adding that officials were investigating these claims with cultural officials.

“Some businesses have been using the traditional costumes of neighbouring countries. The public have now learnt the reasons the authorities do not allow them. We have already instructed not just Khmer, but foreign tourists as well. If they are dressed inappropriately, they will not be allowed access to Angkor because this is a question of ethics,” he added.

Long Kosal, a spokesman for the Apsara National Authority (ANA) – a body tasked with managing the Angkor Archaeological Park – said ANA’s goal was to ensure that tourist businesses respect the traditions of the Kingdom. The ANA encouraged residents and tourists to show the appropriate respect to Khmer culture, and was happy to offer advice as to what was or was not an accurate reflection of that.

“We merely ask that costumes are accurate and not just similar. Sometimes people can be misled, because we know that the culture of our neighbours influences us, and vice versa. It is possible that some people believe that some things belong to Cambodia when in fact they do not,” he told The Post.

A vendor who rented Khmer traditional costumes to tourists spoke to The Post on March 10 on condition of anonymity that she supported the move. She asked that officials provide education and training so that vendors will correct their mistakes.

“I recognise that certain people wear a mix of clothes from different cultures. At my business, we try to dress tourists in accurate traditional costumes, but I will be the first to admit that there are limits to our knowledge. If cultural experts want to offer additional guidance, we would welcome it. It is always good to improve one’s knowledge,” she said.

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