Asean Shoppers Raise Hopes at Quiet Market

Phsar Tuol Tumpong, known to foreign tourists as the Russian Market, had a glimpse of more prosperous times during the Asean Regional Forum as visiting delegates shopped in the area’s clothing, food and trinket shops.

Vendors were reminded of the level of business they enjoyed just a few months ago, before severe acute respiratory syndrome devastated tourism in Southeast Asia.

“I’m so happy today,” souvenir shop owner Khun Srey Mon, said as shoppers walked past wearing ties and Asean badges. Even foreigners who did not buy anything raised her hopes that tourist traffic, and money, would return.

“It is a good sign for me to sell souvenirs and silk products,” she said. “I hope they will tell their friends to visit our country. They must believe that our country has no SARS.”

She estimated that between 40 and 50 foreigners had visited the market each day this week. Earlier this month, she said, between five and 10 came on an average day.

Merchants Keo Tola and Chan Thy said they hoped that the foreign ministers would also speak about security conditions here, addressing another stigma surrounding tourism.

But Oum Maly, 45, another vendor, was less optimistic. It was only a week, he said, and when the ministers left, the market would be quiet again.

For a disease that never surfaced in Cambodia, SARS resonated strongly in the country. In addition to costing merchants business, the Ministry of Tourism estimated that a thousand Cam­bo­dians have lost their jobs in the disease’s wake.

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