In a sure sign that peace and security are returning to Cambodia, the number of passengers traveling to Sihanoukville are increasing dramatically, officials and bus operators said this week.
Visits by foreigners to the coastal city that delivers relaxing weekends and clean beaches increased by 67 percent to 4,139 in 1999, according to Sihanoukville Governor Ith Detola, while visits by Cambodians were up nearly 13 percent.
“The number of tourists traveling to Sihanoukville have been on the increase due to political stability,” Ith Detola said.
Bus operators agreed. “Now our business is getting better,” said Teo Siew Chong, operations manager for Ho Wah Genting Transport Co Ltd. He reported that his bus service carries 300 people per day between Phnom Penh and Sihanoukville. He said he doesn’t plan to add buses, however, because other companies have joined the fray.
Ngoun Molis of GST Express Bus also said business is getting better and that buses are a popular means of getting to Sihanoukville because of the safety and comfort they provide.
A pleasant three-hour or so ride to Sihanoukville was not always possible. For years, Route 4 near Sihanoukville was controlled by Khmer Rouge forces, who sporadically robbed, abducted and shelled the area. In 1994, three foreigners were kidnapped at an illegal checkpoint on their way to Sihanoukville in a taxi, and were brutally murdered.
With new-found peace and a renovated road, the greatest threat a traveler now faces is speeding traffic: taxis, trucks and buses pass each other, horns blaring, while farmers and other rural workers move goods by motorcycle, bicycle and ox cart.
Many foreign tourists travel Route 4 to visit the beach before traveling on to Thailand via Koh Kong province because “there is security and a good road,” Ith Detola said. They also go for the clean beaches, officials said.
Since the stability after the 1998 elections, the government is expecting an even greater increase, a view supported by bus company operators.