stung treng town – The riverside towns of Kratie and Stung Treng have retained their sleepy charm and receive only limited numbers of foreign visitors, but the government has hopes that the recent renovation of National Road 7 could turn both communities into regional transport hubs and major tourist stopovers.
If recent visitor numbers gathered by the Ministry of Tourism are any indication, Kratie and Stung Treng provinces are in for a sharp increase in tourist visits now that the renovated road connection has reduced travel times and improved access to the Dong Krolor border crossing into Laos.
A total of 4,195 international tourists visited Stung Treng province during the first five months of 2008, 86 percent more than during the same period last year, said Thok Sokhom, deputy director of international cooperation at the Tourism Ministry.
The number of foreign visitors to Kratie province during the first nine months of 2008 was up 10 percent compared with last year and stood at 9,035, with about 60,000 domestic visitors, according to Ministry of Tourism figures.
The sharp rise in international visitors to Stung Treng was mostly because of increasing numbers of tourists traveling to Laos and staying overnight in Stung Treng town, Thok Sokhom said, adding that about 45 percent of foreign tourists passing through stayed in the town.
Stung Treng Provincial Governor Loy Sophat said there has been a considerable increase in cross-border trade and tourism since the completion earlier this year of the Cambodia-China Friendship Bridge over the Sekong River.
The renovation of 200 km of National Road 7 from Kratie to Stung Treng—which began in 2003 and was financed with loans from the Chinese government—had been completed with the inauguration of the Sekong bridge on April 28, he said.
The new road offers better transport routes for export businesses in southern Laos than road connections with neighboring Vietnam and Thailand, Loy Sophat said, and many Lao business people have been visiting the province.
Before the opening of the bridge, the Sekong—a tributary of the Mekong River—could only be crossed by ferry.
Officials from the neighboring Lao province of Champasak had recently visited Stung Treng provincial offices to discuss the development of cross-border tourism and trade, he said.
Kratie Governor Kham Phoeun said his province had been receiving more Cambodian and foreign visitors since the section of National Road 7 from Kompong Cham to Kratie was completed in 2004. He said that the ongoing improvement of Road 74, which leads to Vietnam and bends off National Road 7 near Kratie town, was also boosting cross-border trade, which used to take place mostly over water.
Kham Phoeun said economic activities in the province were quickly diversifying and foreign investment was increasing because the road connections had improved.
In September, the Ministry of Tourism started the implementation of the Mekong Discovery Trail Project in Kratie and Stung Treng provinces, which aims to develop eco- and heritage tourism as well as enhance local poverty reduction and the development of local management of tourist attractions, Thok Sokhom said.
Improved road connections are instrumental in developing tourism, he said, adding that planned roads from Siem Reap to the northeastern provinces and Preah Vihear are an important part of the tourism development strategy of the ministry.
He added that many foreign visitors to the region were on their way to ecotourism attractions in Laos, so the Mekong trail project was a way to encourage such tourists to linger in Cambodia and visit similar attractions in the northeastern provinces.
Phork Sambath, owner of Chamroeun Lep Guesthouse in Stung Treng town, said that since the road to Stung Treng was completed, tourist numbers had risen sharply, adding that over the past two years the number of guesthouses and hotels had jumped from two to 10.
“I am optimistic that in the future, more tourists will visit Stung Treng because now everything is more developed and more tourist sites are also being discovered,” Phork Sambath said.