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Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - Siem Reap: the building of a tourist city

Siem Reap: the building of a tourist city

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siemreap.jpg

The report emphasizes Angkor as the most important cultural heritage site in the country.

I t's the year 2020, and Siem Reap is the foremost jewel of Southeast Asian tourism. It's a cultural magnet, attracting visitors from around the world - not just to the famous temples, but to a beautiful city, where a thriving population conducts business in harmony with the environment.

This is the feel-good vision described in a final draft report of the Siem Reap Master Plan conducted by JICA (Japan International Cooperation Agency) in cooperation with Siem Reap officials and the APSARA Authority.

The plan, designed to develop the economy, build necessary infrastructure and maintain the quality of tourism resources and environment in Siem Reap town, will be ready to submit to the government in March.

"It is a good and lively plan, so I expect that it will be accepted," Siem Reap Governor Sim Son told the Post after the final draft report was presented at a seminar on February 2.

The nearby ruins were the capital of the Khmer empire for about 700 years during the Angkorian period and are a symbol of Khmer history and culture.

With this legacy in mind, the report addresses Siem Reap's unique status within Cambodia. It emphasizes the monuments of Angkor as the most important cultural heritage site in the country, the location's accessibility for travelers and the support of the government, including the APSARA Authority's role in protecting the monuments of Angkor and providing technical support for urban development.

By 2020, Siem Reap will have become a "beautiful and unique tourist city based on a harmony of history, arts and Khmer culture," the report states in its strategic vision. "It will have learnt from the implications of Angkorian wisdom for sustainable development and cultural diversity in the 21st century; it is to be realized through participation of all the people, both local and international; it is not just the seat of physical monuments but the source of universal spirit being conveyed to the rest of the world; and it will be a cultural magnet in Southeast Asia."

Bun Tharith, Chief of Siem Reap City Hall, said that $300 million would be needed to implement the Master Plan by 2020.

"We want to make Siem Reap the best province in Asia by 2020," Tharith said. "The main challenge in Siem Reap province is the environmental problems."

According to the report, "The strength of Siem Reap is based on tourism. Without having a good environment in the city, visitors will not come to visit; and without benefits to the local economy, it will be hard for people to look after the environment."

Tharith said the development of Siem Reap is proceeding well considering it only emerged from civil war in 1998 with the arrest of Ta Mok. It has had only a short time to develop and had done so remarkably.

According to the draft report, the number of visitors reached 750,000 in 2004. When indirect multiplier effects were taken into account, this was estimated to generate employment for roughly 55,000 people, out of a total population in Siem Reap district of 127,000. The report said tourism in Siem Reap contributed almost 40 percent of the amount of foreign currency necessary to import oil.

But the report warned that Siem Reap faced several problems, including "a heavy dependence on mass tourism, limited local economic benefits, poor urban environment and amenities, uncertain environmental sustainability, insufficient infrastructures, and weak local capacity to manage development."

Vann Molyvann, renowned Cambodian architect and former Minister of Culture, said most tourists come to Cambodia just to visit Angkor Wat.

"They [tourists] will not come to Phnom Penh," Molyvann said. "If they have five days for a vacation, they would spend all the five days in Siem Reap, not Phnom Penh, Takeo or elsewhere."

Molyvann said Thailand is good at attracting tourists to their country, and Cambodia could learn from its example. Eight million tourists visited Thailand a year, but only one million visited Siem Reap, he said.

"[I] ask how [we] can attract two to three million tourists more who have visited Malaysia, Thailand and other countries to visit Cambodia?" Molyvann said. "It is not difficult at all. To get big planes from Korea, Tokyo and others, the Siem Reap airport has to be enlarged."

Sim Son said he did not know for sure whether the airport needed to be enlarged or not. However, he said he would implement the majority of the master plan.

"If it benefits people, we will implement it [the master plan]; but if we find some aspects of the plan are not working, we will reevaluate our plans based on the current situation." Son said. "It doesn't mean that we have to follow the plan to the letter."

Jeon Eunok, 19, said she came to visit the temples from her native Korea. Eunok said it was her first time in Cambodia and that her chartered tour was visiting Siem Reap for three days.

"I don't have enough time to see other parts of the country," Eunok said.

She said she liked what she had seen in Siem Reap but said she found it "a little dirty."

An American couple, George and Margot Katz, said they had visited Thailand before they came to Siem Reap.

"We only had less than a month and we really wanted to see Thailand, so we went there first," Margot Katz explained.

(Additional reporting by Melinda Marshall)

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