It’s Christmas Day, and Paul Wallimann, the owner of a popular restaurant near the iconic temples of Angkor Wat, is nervous about serving a table of 16. Before the pandemic, his café would handle as many as 240 people a night, but after two years without tourists, his staff is a little rusty.
“I’m a bit scared for tonight,” said Wallimann, a Swiss native who’s been running the Haven restaurant and culinary training program for disadvantaged youth for more than a decade. “We’ve had no guests for so long.”
After two grueling years with few visitors, Angkor Wat and the hotels and restaurants that once thrived off one of Southeast Asia’s top tourist attractions are slowly coming back to life. With 83% of the population fully vaccinated—eighth-best in the world, according to Johns Hopkins University data—and Covid cases down, Cambodia declared itself open to visitors in November. Singapore Airlines responded with daily flights into nearby Siem Reap a few weeks later, marking the first international arrivals to the city in 20 months. Restaurant bookings are picking up, and a handful of once-empty hotels are seeing a trickle of guests.