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Tourists flock to temple

TOURISTS visiting Cambodia’s Preah Vihear Temple increased nearly sevenfold in the first half of this year, as the area benefited from better infrastructure and reduced tension with Thailand.

Preah Vihear Tourism Department chief Kong Vibol said yesterday that from January to June this year 46,400 tourists visited the Preah Vihear temple complex.

The figure is a dramatic leap from the 5,940 tourists recorded over the same period last year. Foreign visitors were also being drawn to the site – they increased by 85 percent to 480 from 260.

“Most tourists are local, and the temple has attracted more of them due to good roads and infrastructure. It is easy to travel to, guesthouses and restaurants are available, and local security is strengthening while tensions with Thailand are diminished,” he said.

The Preah Vihear temple complex has been the subject of a long-running dispute between Thailand and Cambodia. Although the International Court of Justice awarded Preah Vihear temple to Cambodia in 1962, the ruling did not determine the ownership of a 4.6-square-kilometre area of scrub next to the ruins, leaving considerable scope for disagreement.

Tensions have flared since July 2008, when UNESCO approved Cambodia’s bid to have the Preah Vihear temple named a World Heritage Site.

Hang Soth, director general of the Preah Vihear National Authority (PVNA), highlighted the effect on tourism last year when poor relations intensified, culminating in a fatal clash last April, which saw troops die and the local market burn down.

“There were fewer visitors due to escalating confrontation with the Thais,” he said.

But officials hope that as the situation cools, Preah Vihear’s temples draw more international visitors.

Last week, the PVNA set up new working groups to promote the temple to tourists and attract investors to the site in order to preserve historic buildings and develop the area.

“We have created the groups of technicians, researchers, document compilers, media communicators and investor-attractors,” said Hang Soth.

“In the future, Preah Vihear Temple will become the second-largest tourist destination after Siem Reap’s Angkor Wat – as roads and infrastructures around the temple have been developed.”

However, he added that some visitors still hesitate to visit the temple complex, where admission is free, because of security concerns.

In the first half of 2010, the province as a whole received 80,700 tourists, more than double the 34,553 during the same period of last year.

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