KOH PHANGAN — A hotel on the southern tourist island on Monday bowed to international criticism for “cultural appropriation” of ancient Khmer architecture for commercial purposes.
The Le Palais Hotel offered an apology Sunday in response to criticism from some Cambodian netizens, though it maintained the decor was a result of the hotel founder’s love for Cambodia’s world famous landmark Angkor Wat.
“We’re extremely sorry for the frustration this has caused,” the hotel said in a statement. “Le Palais Hotel Koh Phangan was inspired by the greatness of Angkor Wat located in Cambodia. Cambodia is the motherland of our founder and always has a special place in his heart.”
The statement continued, “The greatness will always remain to the great Angkor Wat and will never be compared.”
The hotel, built in 2014, is located close to Rin Nai Beach. It features rooms and pools decorated with rock carvings and sculptures similar to those found at Cambodian temple ruins.
The facility is currently closed in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic. But the hotel nonetheless found its way to the Cambodian social media, where many comments reportedly condemned the hotel for appropriating their national icon for profit.
Cambodia-based newspaper Khmer Times quoted a spokesman of Cambodia’s cultural ministry as saying that the authorities have heard the complaint and they are evaluating its effect on Cambodian’s economy.
“On one hand, the hotel is helping promote Cambodia, but it didn’t ask for permission,” spokesman Long Punna Serivath told Khmer Times. “We have received this information and are looking for the exact source.”
A representative from the Ministry of Culture also visited the hotel. Speaking after surveying the property, official Yanisa Kamunee said the hotel should be careful with cultural insensitivity.
“They can do it, but they should respect the beliefs of other nations,” Yanisa said. “The cultural ministry emphasizes the importance of sacred items of other nations as much as how Thais respect Buddha images.”
According to news reports, the hotel is owned by a Cambodian couple and a Thai shareholder.
Although the two nations share a deeply rooted heritage in history and culture, netizens in Cambodia and Thailand often trade accusations against each other for “stealing” their culture.
In 2016, an outrage between Thai and Cambodian netizens erupted after Cambodian authorities asked UNESCO to recognize the Khol traditional dance as an “intangible cultural heritage.”
The international culture organization later gave the status to both versions of the dance in 2018.