siem reap town – Good roads are the key to Cambodia’s plan to replace missing Western tourists with more visitors from nearby Asian nations, the experts say.
So Cambodia and Thailand will launch a joint marketing effort to convince potential tourists that now is a great time to jump in the car for a visit to Cambodia.
“Good roads and cheap tour packages [will] attract more visitors to Siem Reap,” said Veng Sereyvuth, minister of tourism. Drivers can also stop at the Poipet casinos, or drive to the former Khmer Rouge stronghold of Anlong Veng to visit Pol Pot’s grave.
Last weekend, Veng Sereyvuth met with representatives from 17 Thai companies, including tour agencies, hotels, and media outlets, to discuss ways to boost tourism in the wake of the Sept 11 terrorist attacks in the US.
Tourists, especially Westerners, have been reluctant to travel since Sept 11, with airlines hit particularly hard. Business is down as much as 30 percent at high-end Siem Reap hotels like the Sofitel Royal Angkor.
Supachai Verapuchong, the Sofitel’s Thai owner, said the attacks have also frightened Japanese tourists. In past years, about 17 million Japanese traveled annually to the US and Europe, he said.
“Now, they feel scared to go,” he said. “So where will they think to go next? It has to be Asia.”
The tourism officials noted that Poipet, Cambodia’s casino town on the border, is just a few hours from Bangkok over good roads. At least 100 tourists a day arrive by road already, officials say.
On the Cambodian side of the border, road repairs have cut travel time from seven hours to three hours between Poipet and Siem Reap. And once in Siem Reap, the formerly inaccessible Khmer Rouge stronghold of Anlong Veng is only a five-hour ride up a good road.
“I’m sure many Thai people will be willing to visit that site,” said Supachai Verapuchong, especially if they can get there and back in a single day. Sights of interest include the houses of Pol Pot and former Khmer Rouge commander Ta Mok, as well as the tombs of Pol Pot and senior Khmer Rouge cadre Son Sen.
Cambodian officials are also working to improve tourist facilities in Sihanoukville. Plans also include officially making the checkpoint between Laos and Stung Treng province an international border crossing, so tourists can more easily view the rare Irriwaddy dolphins that live in the Mekong River.
Officials also want to offer packages to draw tourists to some of the less-visited Angkorian temples, such as Koh Ker and Preah Khan Kompong Svay, but the roads have not yet been repaired.
Once the roads are in shape, it will be possible to string together package tours from Bangkok to Poipet, Siem Reap, Phnom Penh, Ratanakkiri and Stung Treng. A second trip would begin in the Chhong Sangam region of Thailand, continue to Anlong Veng, then go to Preah Vihear, Preah Khan Kompong Svay, and Koh Ker temples, finishing in Siem Reap, officials said.
In the short run, officials are organizing festivals to draw regional tourists to Siem Reap. First to come is a Khmer and Thai food festival, scheduled for Mar 8-9 on the elephant fighting field in the Angkor Wat complex. During the day, officials will stage a bicycle race at the historic temple, while at night Khmer music and dancing will be featured.
They are also planning a Sound and Light Festival at Angkor some time in June. This will not be a permanent sound-and-light show on the scale of the controversial plan defeated during the 1990s, but a limited series of live performances, officials said.