Tourist destinations are not born, they are made, a group of European and Cambodian officials have decided, and they say the making of three Battambang province villages as tourist sites is at last nearing completion.
The villages in Battambang district, which remain steeped in Cambodia’s agrarian traditions, with century-old houses lining the Sangke river and oxen plowing rice fields, are scheduled to open for business officially as tourist sites in June or July, officials said recently.
Villagers will take tourists on ox-cart rides, open souvenir shops and exhibit their homes, said Wat Kor commune chief Sok Chhoeuk.
“The villagers in the three villages have lived for generations without many newcomers,” said Battambang District Governor Uy Ry, whose district encompasses the villages, Wat Kor, Kompong Seima and Khsach Poy.
Khsach Poy villagers have traditionally grown oranges and other fruit, while in Kompong Seima rice and vegetables are grown without artificial fertilizers, Uy Ry said. The three villages are also close to Banan district’s Banan temple and the Komping Puoy reservoir, built under the Khmer Rouge.
Local officials have been cooperating on the villages since 2004 with European organizations assembled by the Asia Urbs program, part of the European aid agency EuropeAid, according to Asia Urbs project director Ruth Gruber.
Local administrators lack the expertise necessary to manage tourism, she said, and have been learning budget control and planning as well as tourism promotion.
Asia Urbs hopes to repeat the project in Siem Reap province’s Siem Reap district, she added.
“It’s not so important to have the most beautiful villages,” said Gruber. Most important is to instill administrative know-how in the local government so that it can be reproduced elsewhere in Cambodia, she said, adding that one Battambang district official recently suggested opening a rice museum to showcase the province’s most famous product.
Battambang District Deputy Governor Tea Mony said participation from local villagers had been good, adding that roads leading to the villages will be cleaned on May 5 in preparation for the project.
Villagers will also be required to clean their homes, said Wat Kor commune chief Sok Chhoeuk, while Tea Mony added that villagers will also be trained to greet tourists.
Wat Kor villager Bun Roeung, 65, said her 12-by-25-meter decoratively carved stilt house was built by her grandfather in 1920 and was often photographed by passing foreigners.
“They were very surprised when they saw the style of my home,” she said.