The rehabilitation of Sihanoukville airport should spur major development in the
south of the country, the government says. Thong Khon, secretary of state at the
Ministry of Tourism (MoT), says construction at Kang Keng Airport by Malaysian
firm Ariston should be finished before the end of the year.
need to renovate the runway, extend it by 100 meters and add a small terminal,"
he says. Once that is done the airport will be able to handle 737 aircraft from
Bangkok, Singapore and other regional cities.
MoT Minister Veng Sereyvuth
says significant development is simply not viable without the work. The
strategic plan for tourism focuses on the triangle of Siem Reap, Phnom Penh and
the area around Sihanoukville.
"We can't land tourists from Phnom Penh,
Siem Reap or other parts of the country, and tourists can't fly to other parts
of the country from Sihanoukville," he told the Post ahead of the ASEAN Regional
He says that Sihanoukville is the key to the government's
plan of attracting more visitors to the southern attractions of Kep, Bokor
National Park and Koh Kong.
"From Sihanoukville you can cover a whole
range of activities in the National Park of Bokor, in Kampot and Kep, but it
will not be viable without [an airport] and it will not take place because no
major investor will come there."
The airport development is part of a
long-delayed $1.3 billion agreement signed in Kuala Lumpur in January 1995. The
original deal included development of a power plant, infrastructure facilities
at the port and an island hotel and casino resort at Koh Pos, which lies 800
meters off Victory Beach. It was due for completion in December 1997.
the coalition government squabbled over the plan in 1997 with then co-Prime
Minister Prince Norodom Ranariddh declaring void two contracts Ariston had
signed with Sok An, Minister of the Council of Ministers and also
co-vice-chairman of the Sihanouk-ville Development Authority.
Nen, vice-president of public relations at Ariston, says the company still plans
to complete the huge development, although full details are not currently
available. He adds that a hotel complex adjacent to the golf course, which the
firm is currently constructing, will also be "coming up very
Tourism authorities are looking to the pristine islands in the
Gulf of Thailand as well as the beaches of Sihanoukville and Kep to develop
tourism beyond the Angkor Wat temple complex.
"It is very clear the
seaside is where tourists can relax, so Sihanoukville has to be the hub of
tourism development in the whole region," says Sereyvuth.
began life with the dissolution of French Indochina in 1954. Cambodia's
traditional trade route had been through the Mekong Delta which, with
independence, came under the control of Vietnam.
The port then played a
vital role in the Vietnam War as a depot for supplies for the NVA. In the early
1990s, the town boomed again, with thousands of UNTAC personnel, who were in the
country to oversee its transition to democracy, converging on the
Sereyvuth wants to combine the resources of the airport with the
fact that Sihanoukville has the country's only deep-water port.
talking about very big business in the region through cruise ships," he says.
"They amount to about 7 percent of tourist arrivals in the region and you can
load them up with two, three or four thousand people.
Cambodia, all of ASEAN's ports have been doing very well on this - so why can't
we?" he asks, adding that an air link to Siem Reap is essential to attract large
Other developments in the area are already well underway.
There are three casinos on the mainland, and the Independence Hotel, a towering
modernist building boasting its own theater and ocean views, is being
refurbished after falling into disrepair in the 1970s.
Hill has boomed as a popular spot for backpacker hostels since the Koh Kong
border crossing opened in 1998.
The islands are also attracting
investment, following the success of such tourism in Thailand, which attracts
around 10 million people each year. The islands off Sihanoukville remain some of
the least spoiled in the region.
A Las Vegas-based developer is studying
the feasibility of a $100 million resort for Koh Rung Sonleum and Koh Rung, 25
kilometers off the coast. Another is being considered by French developers for