While the temples of Angkor are bringing millions of dollars to state coffers and private businesses, Siem Reap has been left out of the decision-making loop and is suffering as a result, says the province’s first deputy governor.
Nam Tum has big plans for Siem Reap town—from a new sewage system to better roads to ferry tourists—but complains that he has no money to make improvements.
Instead, he says, all the money made from tourists visiting the temples goes to Sokimex, which handles ticket sales, and Apsara Authority, which oversees management of the temples.
“Most of the plans we want to do are only in our mind,” Nam Tum says.
“We want to develop the town to be a real tourist destination because tourism is our main economy.”
Siem Reap Governor Chap Nhalivuth agrees the town receives little revenue and could develop faster if it received more. But he also noted that Apsara represents the government.
A walkway along the river and some other improvements were made before the recent millenium celebration, but today Siem Reap remains mostly a town of dusty streets and weather-beaten buildings dotted with guest houses and restaurants. On the outskirts are close to a dozen major hotels, already built or under construction.
Ouk Sok Heng, Apsara Authority’s director of cabinet and personnel, suggests that the provincial government ask for more money from the national budget if it believes it is short of funds.
Nam Tum says he drafted a proposal for $800,000 in renovations in Siem Reap town for 1999 but has yet to receive a response from the government.
Though the provincial government does not have money for large-scale renovations, the face of Siem Reap town could be changing in coming months.
Apsara Authority, which controls 500-meter swaths on each side of the Siem Reap and Rolous rivers, is working to clean up the waterways.
Squatters living along the river in Siem Reap town have been ordered to move and the market will soon be relocated to prevent people from dumping trash in the river, Nam Tum says.
The province is providing 200 squatter families with plots of land south of Siem Reap town.
Ouk Sok Heng says the biggest change coming to Siem Reap will be a 1,007-hectare hotel complex being planned along the road leading from Siem Reap town to the temple complex.
The area, being called “the new city,” will have no buildings higher than the treetops.
The land will be leased to hotels and other businesses. Apsara Authority is working to relocate people living in the area.
Ouk Sok Heng says that the French have agreed to finance $3.5 million of infrastructure improvements if resettlement issues are resolved. That couldn’t immediately be confirmed Wednesday evening.
“Our plans for tourism destinations is not only Angkor Wat,” Ouk Sok Heng says. “In the future there will be pagodas and handicraft shops to visit. Even though we need tourists, we do not want to crowd and damage the temples.”
Sokha Hotel Co, part of Sokimex, is paying Apsara Authority $1 million for the first year of a five-year contract to collect ticket revenue to the Angkor temples. The figure will be increased 15 percent each year.
Five percent of the money goes to the Ministry of Culture for preservation work. Another 15 percent goes to the Ministry of Tourism for promotions.