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Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - Green light: governor sees bright future in eco-tourism

Green light: governor sees bright future in eco-tourism

The Sopheak Witt Waterfall, a popular trekking destination.

The scenic landscape around Anlong Cheuteal.

GOVERNOR Loy Sophat is clear: “Eco-tourism is the future for tourism in Stung Treng. Tourists come here to see our natural resources. We have lots of good islands which can be developed.”

According to the governor, tourism is only second behind agriculture in importance for the province’s long-term economic growth. Last year saw a 13 percent increase in the number of tourists coming to the province compared to 2009.

“The most important things are to improve our infrastructure and services,” he says. “Our places are good but our service is not.”

Kim Ty is not so convinced that the province’s tourism industry is heading in the right direction. The manager of the popular Riverside Guest House and Restaurant has run tours from Stung Treng for eight years. He believes that tourism in on the wane.

“It’s getting not so good,” he says. “Before lots of tourists came and we arranged 10 or 12 trips each month. Now sometimes we don’t have any trips in a month.”

Tourists heading south from Laos tend to pass straight through the province en route to destinations such as Angkor Wat.

Those coming from Phnom Penh stop overnight before continuing their journey north. “They don’t have time to visit our town,” he says.

For Kim Ty, improved infrastructure has had a negative impact on tourism. “Before we only had a boat trip, it was interesting,” he says. “Now the bus is cheaper than the boat. It costs $10 to travel from here to Phnom Penh.”

Those tourists who do stay longer are drawn to the mighty Mekong, trekking to the Sopheak Mitt Waterfall and watching the elusive Irrawaddy dolphin at Anlong Cheuteal.

One initiative aimed at increasing eco-tourism within the province is the Mekong Discovery Trail. Published by the Ministry of Tourism, the World Tourism Organisation and Dutch Development Organisation SNV, this free brochure maps out bike trails from Kratie to the Laos border.

It indicates homestays along the route as well as spots where tourists might catch a glimpse of the rare dolphins.

Khut Ma, 66, runs a homestay in the village of Anlong Svay. Her beautiful garden affords relaxing views across Anlong Cheuteal, and her house is spotless.

She is clearly someone who takes pride in her home.

“I am happy when tourists come to stay in my house,” she says.

Like Kim Ty, she has noted a downturn in tourism. Visits to the eight homestays inside the commune of Preah Rumkel, are allocated according to a strict rota.

Some months she will have a group stay at her house, other months she will not. “Tourists now come, look at the dolphins and then they go,” she says.

Phov Vanna, 44, has a similar story to tell.

The boatsman has been taking tourists to the Sopheak Mitt Waterfall since 2000. As with the homestays, boat trips are allocated by rota. “Sometimes I have two trips per month, at other times none,” he says.

Nowadays, most of his custom comes from taking local youths out to see the dolphins at sunset.

He charges them 2,000 riels (50 US cents) each.  According to Phov Vanna, the waterfalls on the Laos side of the border are far more accessible than Sopheak Mitt. TRANSLATION BY RANN REUY

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