While most Cambodians headed back to their home villages over the Khmer New Year, tourism officials said a growing number are spending the national holiday as tourists and heading for the resorts and waterfalls of the country’s northeast.
“I cannot say precisely how many tourists there are this year because it is only the second day,” Or Sary, deputy director of tourism in Stung Treng province, said yesterday. “Nevertheless, the number of holidaymakers in 2010 is more than in 2009,” he said, echoing the remarks of his counterparts in neighboring provinces.
“The number of local holidaymakers has increased during the 2010 Khmer New Year,” agreed Nget Pitou, director of tourism in Ratanakkiri province. “There have been many Cambodian tourists coming to visit Boeng Yeak Loam lake, Kateng waterfall and Kachanh waterfall.”
Mr Pitou also credited the growth of cultural performances by the region’s ethnic minorities, courtesy of the Ministry of Tourism, and better roads.
“Cambodian holidaymakers are visiting Busra waterfall because the transportation is good now,” said Ngin Sovimean, Mondolkiri province’s tourism director.
In Banlung City, Ratanakkiri’s provincial capital, Sovankiri Hotel receptionist Chi Veng credited this New Year’s spike in guests first and foremost to the paving of National Road 78.
“It is the road,” he said. “The road is very good.”
Prime Minister Hun Sen inaugurated the road with much fanfare in mid-March. Financed by the Vietnamese government to the tune of nearly $26 million, the project turned 70 km of rutted dirt running east from the city into a paved thoroughfare that ends at Cambodia’s border with Vietnam.
“Domestic [tourism] is increasing a lot during the long holiday,” said Ho Vandy, co-chair of the working group on tourism policy in the government-private sector forum.
He said he expected domestic tourist numbers in eastern Cambodia over the Khmer New Year, which ends today, to have risen by between 5 to 10 percent this year, but said they were still unlikely to match numbers reached before the global financial crisis of 2008, at least for now.
Thanks to the new infrastructure reaching the east, he said he believed the region will be well placed even to surpass earlier numbers.
“It will take time and depend on the quality of facilities,” Mr Vandy said.
(Additional reporting by Zsombor Peter)