Visit to Preah Vihear Intended To Boost Temple’s Tourism Profile

Tourism Minister Thong Khon led a 28-car convoy full of people working in the tourism sector up to Preah Vihear temple last weekend, in an attempt to boost the tem­ple’s profile and spur growth in the area known for being secluded on its hilltop perch abutting the Thai border.

“The Royal Government wants to show that the sacred Preah Vihear [temple] is valuable as a tour­ism destination,” Council of Min­isters spokesperson Phay Siphan told reporters at a Tuesday news conference.

Preah Vihear temple has been the focus of much attention recently, as discussions continue on how to better manage the site prior to July’s World Heritage Committee meeting, at which it is likely to be named a World Heritage Site.

Phay Siphan said the Cambodian government has recently cleared more pathways to the temple, making a total of three access roads—through Siem Reap, Oddar Mean­chey and Kompong Thom pro­vinces, respectively.

However, many of the more than 200 tourism sector workers along on the trip voiced concern that basic infrastructure—including the much-touted new access roads—were not entirely up to snuff.

Ho Vandy, president of the Cambodia Association of Travel Agents, said the new roads must be paved to prevent deterioration during the rainy season.

“Once there is a good road, we will increase the tour,” he said.

Only adventurous travelers make their way up the bumpy dirt road to sleep in bare-bones guesthouses, he said, adding that the high price of land has kept at bay those who are interested in building accommodations.

“Now, it is stuck…. Land issue is the problem,” he said by telephone Wednesday, adding that land is selling for the steep price of about $350 per square meter. Clean wa­ter, electricity and safety are also on the list of concerns, said Ho Vandy.

Thong Khon could not be contacted Wednesday, but Ty Yao, president of the Preah Vihear National Authority, which was formed in June 2006 to oversee the temple, said the roads to the temple would soon be paved.

Preah Vihear was denied World Heritage status in July 2007, in part because of the objections of Thailand, but Thai Prime Minister Samak Sundaravej voiced his support during a visit to Cambodia earlier this month, saying he had no problem with the temple being listed as a World Heritage Site.

Ty Yao said Preah Vihear is surrounded by 2,642.5 hectares of protected territory, and the authority is working on demarcating boundaries in order to prevent confusion over land use.

He said that signage and parking lots would be added and that some renovations to the temple itself are also planned. The authority is still looking for an appropriate place for a 60-person police post for those guarding the temple, he said.

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