Less than two weeks before the new millennium celebration at the ancient Angkor temples, the cash-strapped government has decided to charge visitors extra fees to view the festival’s most spectacular performances at Angkor Wat, a top festival organizer said Sunday.
Sum Manit, chairman of the Festival Angkor 2000 Committee and secretary state for the Council of Ministers, said the government will charge foreigners $20 and Cambodians 5,000 riel for performances planned at a stage inside Angkor Wat.
Sum Manit said visitors would still be admitted for free into performances at Bayon Temple and at a stadium near Angkor Wat. He noted the money collected for the traditional dance and theatrical shows performed at Angkor Wat each evening from Dec 30 through Jan 1 would help festival organizers cover expenses.
The charge will be in addition to the daily $20 admission fee for foreigners into the temple complex, he said. “We’ve collected some [money from donors], but we need more,” said Sum Manit.
The organizers have said the festival would cost roughly $500,000, of which only $200,000 would be funded from the national budget. Kong Vibol, an organizer in charge of finance and the Finance Ministry’s secretary of state, refused Sunday to comment on the organizing committee’s finances.
The government will set up 1,000 seats around the stage for visitors, in addition to another 1,000 seats for official guests, Sum Manit said. The tickets are available through the Ministry of Tourism and hoteliers in Siem Reap and travel agents, the chairman said.
Some hotel operators and travel agents say the extra charge is reasonable, but others say it would hamper the image of Cambodia. The move comes in the midst of criticism that Cambodia may not be ready to host an expected thousands of tourists. Prime Minister Hun Sen on Friday blasted the organizers for allegedly putting posters in the wrong places and hampering the prestige of Angkorian culture. King Norodom Sihanouk also recently expressed concerns about the festival.
Tourism officials noted Sunday the government has been repairing National Route 6 to Siem Reap and has upgraded and added street lights to a road from the airport direct to the temple complex. It also has arranged to deploy additional police officers for security and place 100 temporary toilets around the ancient temples, officials said. At least eight pagodas have agreed to host Cambodian visitors, the organizers said.
“We’re not claiming that our festival will be international standards. The important thing is we are doing our best to promote peace, culture and tourism,” said Tourism Minister Veng Sereyvuth.