More than 115,000 tourists visited Siem Reap last year according to the
province's tourism department - a record high which has provided a boom for
businesses but has tested the city's ability to cope with high levels of
Most of the tourists flew in: 76,000, up from 54,000 in 1998,
according to figures released by the tourism office. And another 40,000 made
their way there by land or boat.
But while the numbers flying in from
Phnom Penh were almost static at about 45,000 each year there was a massive
increase in the number of people flying direct from Bangkok: 28,525 in 1999, up
from 10,243 in 1998.
And the trend looks to continue, with other
airlines keen to take advantage of Cambodia's "open skies"
Bangkok Airways and Angel Airways were the first foreign carriers
to take advantage of the relaxed regulations while Vietnam Airlines is the
latest. It began flying to Siem Reap in mid-February five times a week and as
the Post went to press there were rumors of an imminent announcement by
Singapore Airlines of a new Siem Reap service.
But while getting to Siem
Reap is being made much easier, the rapid increase in the numbers of tourists is
stretching resources to the breaking point.
Tea Franna, Siem Reap Tourist
Development Advisor and manager of the local Diethelm Travel branch, told the
Post that Siem Reap's facilities are now frequently overwhelmed by
"The number of tourists have increased so much that we have
problems getting tour guides, drivers and even a spare bed in a hotel," he
Meanwhile tourist companies are busily lining up to fill the gaps
in Siem Reap's tourism infrastructure. The Sofitel Royal Angkor will open this
year, and there are also rumors that the famed Club Med chain is planning to set
up in Siem Reap in the near future.
Siem Reap is having to learn
extremely quickly about how to deal with tourists lured to the province's
In the past ten years hotel accommodation has gone
from effectively nothing to rooms ranging from $2 to $1,900 a night. At the same
time there has been pressure to sort out critical infrastructure problems such
as reliable electricity supply, which has improved in recent years. The manager
of the Chao Say Guesthouse said that as late as 1995 Siem Reap was limited to
three hours electricity each morning and evening.
are springing up and prospering in spite of the problems.
restaurants and bars, including the first "24 hour" establishment, have now
opened offering a range of cuisine from Indian to Pizza.
Vannin, who runs
Smiley's Guest House, is just one of many of Siem Reap's hoteliers who is
reaping the benefits of the boom.
"Our first house had twelve rooms," she
said. "Seven months ago we moved to another building with forty rooms and we're
full every night."
According to the manager of the Chao Say Guest House,
not a long time ago people came only to see the temples, but now they have more
opportunities and it is not unusual that visitors stay five or six days, some
even stay a month.
The one thing that can possibly slow down Siem Reap's
tourism explosion is the horrific state of the roads connecting the town to both
Thailand and the rest of Cambodia.
However, Siem Reap's Provincial
Governor, Chap Nhalyvoud, said help is on the way.
"Siem Reap and
especially Angkor Wat represents Cambodia and its people," he said. "The roads
will be improved as soon as possible."
Nyalyvoud added that the
government of Siem Reap has also started its sixth official training course for
locals interested in becoming tour guides in the area, with classes being taught
in Japanese, French, English, German, Chinese and Spanish.
plans for the future include banning vehicular traffic from the center of Siem
Reap town in favor of the creation of a green "pedestrian only"
Under the plan, tourists will transfer from buses running between
the temples on the perimeter of Siem Reap town to special shuttle buses that
will travel to various hotels and guest houses in the area.