From beach bonfires to late night street revelry, options aplenty presented themselves to visitors looking to celebrate the New Year in Cambodia.
Tourists flocked to the coast, showering the surf with fireworks; partygoers packed Phnom Penh’s hotels and restaurants for loud and lavish parties; and foreigners and locals filled Siem Reap’s Pub Street area by the thousands, creating a Mardi Gras-like carnival.
Pulling out the stops for New Year celebrations is key to drawing domestic and international tourists and showing the world that Cambodia knows how to have a good time, said Ho Vandy, co-chair of the government private sector Tourism Working Group.
“It’s part of promoting Cambodia. If they don’t create this activity they might lose tourism,” he said, adding Cambodia can still do more to become a New Year’s destination by creating larger celebrations. “The New Year and New Year’s countdown is very important.”
In Siem Reap, Cambodia’s tourism capital, merrymakers crushed against one another Thursday night, filling barstools and streets, while a huge PA system led the 10-second countdown into the New Year and new decade.
The celebration appeared to be a big hit with international tourists who flew into Siem Reap, as hotels lured them with lavish dinners, traditional Khmer dancing floorshows, and more contemporary crooners.
With Siem Reap attracting as much as 50 percent of tourists in Cambodia, the incentive for lively parties is powerful, Mr Vandy said.
Most tourists Thursday flocked to beach parties in the province’s of Preah Sihanouk and Kampot, Mr Vandy said, but he pointed out that Phnom Penh had its fair share of large parties at places like Naga Casino, the Cambodiana Hotel and Wat Phnom, where half of its roundabout was closed to traffic.
Alexis de Suremain, part owner of Elsewhere and China House lounge bar and gallery in Phnom Penh, said that lakes, islands, and locations like Phnom Penh’s railway station pose opportunities for New Year’s celebrations.
“There is potential but they are not really using it. You have wonderful sites [here],” he said.
Mr Suramain said while Elsewhere lounge held a large party, China House did not partly because he was out of town at his own private party at the pre-Angkorian Phnom Kulen national park in Siem Reap. About a dozen friends gathered there with a pig roast, 10,000 candles and tents.
In Sihanoukville nearly all guesthouses booked out Thursday night as partygoers filled the beaches and shot fireworks into the sky, said Sboang Sarath, Preah Sihanouk provincial governor, adding the bookings mark a 10 to 20 percent increase over last year.
“There were a lot of local and foreign visitors here,” he said.
Those less interested in crowds and loud music filled the normally sleepy Rabbit Island where they celebrated with bonfires. With about 70 guestrooms occupied, some people found they had slept in hammocks, said Kin Silorn, owner of Yeay Orm Koh Tonsay, a bungalow guesthouse on the island.
“The visitors like to visit here because there is good water, good sand, good environment good service and it is very natural,” he said.
In Kampot, celebrators had a rare opportunity to visit the top of Bokor Mountain, which has been closed to visitors for months due to the construction of a new resort there, said Kampot Provincial Governor Khoy Khunhour.
“We decided to allow them to visit there because they celebrate there every year,” he said.
(Additional reporting by Kevin Doyle)
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