Hun Sen Shutters Two Firms in Siem Reap Tour Boat Trade

Two companies collecting commission from tourist-boat operators on the Tonle Sap lake in Siem Reap province have been closed down on orders from Prime Minister Hun Sen, according to the provincial governor.

Khim Bunsong, the governor, said Friday that the two companies—Sou Ching Port Investment and Sea Pac Investment—had been closed the day after receiving an April 17 letter from the prime minister regarding their operations in Prasat Ba­korng district. 

“We just want local people to create communities and serve tourists by themselves without be­­ing managed by any private company,” Mr. Bunsong said.

Tourists who want to visit the Kompong Phluk flooded forest in Kompong Phluk commune previously had to go to Meanchey commune to purchase tickets from Sou Ching.

A boat trip costs between $20 and $30, depending on the size of the vessel, plus a premium per customer. After protests by boat operators in September last year, Sou Ching agreed to drop the premium from $3 to $2.

Ning Ny, chief of Kompong Phluk commune, said that tourism to the area has fallen by some 65 percent since the site was put under the management of Sou Ching in mid-2014.

“Since this company started its operations here, local people who use their boats to serve tourists have been earning less and less and protests also happened between them and the company,” Mr. Ny said.

Before Sou Ching took over, he added, boats were making up to three trips per day but are now lucky to go out once.

Mr. Ny also said that Sea Pac was not directly involved in ticket sales, but was building infrastructure around the tourist sites and selling food and drinks to visitors.

Deputy provincial governor Kim Chhai Heang said Sea Pac was probably cooperating with Sou Ching, explaining why it had also been called out by Mr. Hun Sen.

Van Sophal, a 48-year-old boat owner and operator in Kompong Phluk, said that Sou Ching had failed to make good on its promise to drop the premiums, and that his earnings had plummeted since the company took over.

“I used to earn between $25 and $30 a day from one round trip with the tourists, on average, per day,” he said. “But now my income has dropped to less than $20 from one round trip every three days.”

Sea Pac could not be reached for comment.

A man who answered a listed phone number for Sou Ching said he did not know about the company and hung up.

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