Restaurateur: Cambodia Should Promote Tourism Abroad

Salay Sangnaveth spreads Cam­bodian culture in the US every day.

At her Phnom Penh Restaurant in Cleveland, a city in the US state of Ohio, visitors can dine on amok, prahoc and Khmer noodles.

While they savor their food, Sa­lay Sangnaveth’s 20-year-old daughter, a waitress at the restaurant, often chats with the guests, telling them about Cambodian culture and society. Many are astonished to learn of the cultural riches Cambodia has to offer.

“When Americans think of a tourist destination in Southeast Asia, they think of Thailand. Ma­ny of them overlook our wealth of ancient temples,” Salay Sang­na­veth said on a recent visit to her homeland.

“If they do know [Cambodia], they know ‘The Killing Fields,’ the Hollywood movie. Killing af­ter killing,” she said.

Many Cambodian-Americans say their country of origin is not well-known to their fellow citizens. A stronger effort is needed to promote abroad Cambodia’s rich culture, and the new image of a peaceful country, Salay Sang­na­veth said.

One of the most attractive and effective promotions for Cam­bo­dian tourism could be Khmer food. At Salay Sangnaveth’s successful US restaurant, which her family has owned since 1999, diners routinely become intrigued by the cuisine—and the country from which it comes.

“When [people] taste your food and they love it, they always will think of visiting the original land of that food. This could attract many more tourists” to Cam­bo­dia, she said.

Salay Sangnaveth and her husband, Bun Mono, are the chefs at the Phnom Penh Restaurant, and their two children work as waiters.

Bun Mono, a trained chef, was once a commercial attache with the Cambodian embassy in Mos­cow. He sought asylum in the US while visiting on an official mission in the 1990s. He later sponsored his wife and family’s move to the US.

Almost all the restaurant’s customers are non-Cambodians, Sa­lay Sangnaveth said. After chatting with her daughter, many diners become intrigued, she said.

“My daughter is very friendly, and she has attracted a lot of Am­er­icans who become interested in our culture and traditions as well as food,” Salay Sangnaveth said. “Many of them have even visited Cambodia to see Angkor Wat on my daughter’s advice.”

Her daughter keeps a collection of postcards from Angkor Wat, sent by US citizens who made the trip on her recommendation.

“They all say they feel so lucky to have seen Angkor Wat before they die. We are happy to hear this,” Salay Sangnaveth said.

Funcinpec parliamentarian Keo Remy, who spent many years as a refugee in the US state of Ari­zo­na, agreed there is little promotion of Cambodian tourism abroad.

“When I was in Arizona, I did not hear much about Cambodia,” he said. “The government should better promote our nation abroad to let foreigners know about the beautiful Angkor temples, not just the ‘Killing Fields’ movie.”

Sambo Chey, undersecretary of state for the Ministry of Tour­ism, is responsible for promoting Cambodia in foreign countries. The ministry has ideas of how to do so, but lacks the budget re­sources to carry them out, he said.

Tourism Minister Veng Serey­vuth often promotes Cambodia abroad in various meetings and ex­hibits, Sambo Chey said.

“We are thinking of promoting tourism through Khmer food and restaurants abroad, but our budget is too limited,” Sambo Chey said.

One method would be to contact Cambodian communities abroad, who would be glad to disseminate information about Cam­bo­dia in their restaurants and other shops, Salay Sangnaveth suggested.

She recalled a recent cultural fair near her home that featured people of many nationalities making presentations about their cultures. Thailand and Vietnam were represented; Cambodia was not.

When Salay Sangnaveth heard about this, she was upset. She convinced a Vietnamese man to in­clude Cambodian flags, apsara statues and paintings of Angkor Wat in his country’s display.

“Tourism is a business—you have to put money into it [to make it succeed],” she said. “We have the temples. We just have to promote them better.”


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