Although the tourism industry at the Preah Vihear temples has yet to fully blossom, vendors at the site have been making a steady living selling cakes, water, rice and porridge to the hundreds of soldiers and policemen deployed to the temples in recent years, officials said.
“People can live and survival by selling [food] to police and soldiers, and they also receive donations to support them living at the temples,” Chea San, Preah Vihear provincial police chief, said Wednesday.
At least 700 police and soldiers have been deployed to the Preah Vihear temples to guard both the historic site and the Cambodian-Thai border in recent years, Chea San said, adding that past tensions between Thailand and Cambodia once merited the large number of personnel in Preah Vihear.
Thailand closed the border in December 2001 after it reported that pollution from a village below the temples on the Cambodian side was seeping into a river and was making its way into Thailand.
Before the closure of the border, around 1,000 tourists a day would make the three- to four-hour trip from Bangkok to Preah Vihear. The number of tourists visiting the site has all but stopped since the border closure.
“There are two or three tourists to see the temples a day, and sometimes there is no one at all,” Chea San said.
The road from Phnom Penh to Preah Vihear has recently been completed, though, which has increased some tourism to the temples, officials said.
During the Khmer New Year in mid-April, for example, about 3,000 to 4,000 Cambodian officials—mostly civil servants—visited the site, Chea San said.
Until tourism increases at the temple, the Phnom Penh government will continue to donate food to the vendors and residents at the temple, said Bun Sovann, deputy governor of Preah Vihear.