The beaches and mangroves of Cambodia’s Koh Kong province and the ancient Preah Vihear ruins will be the focus of a government push to promote tourism beyond the Angkor Wat temple complex, Tourism Minister Thong Khon has said.
“It is not all about Angkor,” Khon told the Post by telephone, referring to the World Heritage-listed temples in Siem Reap province that remain Cambodia’s greatest tourist attraction.
Koh Kong, a coastal province bordering Thailand in Cambodia’s southeast, is home to beaches, as well as tens of thousands of hectares of mangrove forest that have caught the government’s growing interest in eco-tourism, Khon said.
The area, long viewed by the masses as a seaside backwater, is already growing as a tourist destination, attracting 3,000 visitors over Khmer New Year in April, said provincial Deputy Governor Ben Samol.
He added that the completion of a 155-kilometer highway spanning four bridges through the province would further reduce Koh Kong’s isolation from the rest of Cambodia.
“I hope both local and foreign tourists will visit several eco-tourism sites in Koh Kong after the four bridges officially open,” Samol said, adding that by 2009 the province will need 3,000 hotel rooms to accommodate the tourism sector.
In the country’s north, the mountain top temple of Preah Vihear remains the focus of a border dispute between Cambodia and Thailand.
But Khon said despite the uncertainty over the land around the ruins’ ownership, Cambodia has begun construction on several roads to the temple.
Better infrastructure was key to opening up other parts of the country to increased tourism, he said.
“The opportunities for more tourism are coming and the government has built many roads to eco-tourism and heritage tourism sites,” he said.
More than two million tourists visited Cambodia last year, officials said, adding that they hoped Cambodia could push through the three million mark by 2010.