Taking advantage of their time off during Pchum Ben, many Cambodians mixed the religious aspects of the festival with a chance to visit the beach, officials said.
Sihanoukville Municipal Tourism Department Director Som Chinda said by telephone Sunday that more than 50,000 Cambodian tourists visited the municipality from Saturday to Monday, a more than 20 percent jump from the approximately 40,000 that traveled to Sihanoukville last year.
“The number of the tourist[s] for Pchum Ben this year is increasing,” Som Chinda said, adding that nearly every hotel and guesthouse in Sihanoukville was fully booked.
However, in nearby Kep municipality, another popular coastal destination, the number of Cambodian tourists was down by 3 percent compared to last year, according to Chay Thoeun, director of the Kep Municipal Tourist Department.
Chay Thoeun placed the blame for the drop in local tourists on what he said was an “illegal” checkpoint on the outskirts of Kep that charged visitors between 5,000 and 10,000 riel per car and 500 riel per motorcycle.
“I heard some visitors complained and told their friends by phone not to come [to Kep],” Chay Thoeun said, adding that he would complain to the Tourism Ministry about the impromptu toll.
Kep District Governor Chan Tha said by telephone Wednesday that he authorized the two-day checkpoint to pay Kep sanitation staffers extra for working on Pchum Ben.
The checkpoint, which he said was set up Monday and Tuesday on road to the beach, collected more than 2 million riel, or $500, Chan Tha said.
He added that he had authorized five men, including two government officials and three private sector sanitation employees, to operate the checkpoint.