Cambodia and Indonesia have found a special connection, with recent tourism statistics revealing that visitors from the ASEAN’s largest economy have risen to seventh place among the top 10 tourists to Cambodia, marking a near threefold increase over the past year.

Thong Rathasak, secretary of state at the Ministry of Tourism, highlighted the enormous growth. “Cambodia is proud to announce that the number of international tourist arrivals in Cambodia has surged by an impressive 409 per cent in the first half of 2023,” he said.

Rathasak added during the recent Indonesia Trade and Tourism Promotion event, among the top 10 markets, Indonesian tourists ranked seventh, with 63,970 visitors, representing a remarkable 195.5 per cent increase compared to the same period last year.

“This surge in Indonesian tourists has significantly contributed to Cambodia’s growing tourism sector,” he said.

The numbers indicated strengthening tourism ties between Cambodia and Indonesia. While many Indonesian tourists see the Kingdom’s Angkor Wat as a top attraction, and vice versa for Cambodian tourists and the resort island of Bali, both governments are working to promote beyond these destinations.

Cambodia’s rich history, captivating landscapes and architectural masterpieces such as Angkor Wat attract global visitors. The charm of these sites has not escaped the notice of industry insiders like Meidyna Bundiman, executive assistant manager of Indonesian tour operator Bali Megah Wisata.

Bundiman enjoys visiting Angkor Wat during her promotional visits to Cambodia and expressed her curiosity about local offerings.

“I have no idea what to eat in Cambodia. What is Cambodia’s local food and what to bring from Cambodia back to Indonesia? Something like that,” she said, reflecting the thoughts of many first-time visitors.

Many Indonesians seem unaware of Cambodia’s recent progress. Lauti Nia Astri, the chief of mission ad interim of the Indonesian embassy in Phnom Penh, observed this perception gap.

“They think of Cambodia as it was 10 or 20 years ago, but when they arrive at Phnom Penh International Airport, they witness something miraculous has happened,” Nia Astri commented.

In recent times, Cambodian tourist destinations have seen an uptick in promotion through influencers and travel bloggers. Bundiman acknowledged this trend, noting that her tour company has also expanded its offerings to Cambodian tourists, showing a mutually beneficial relationship blossoming between the two nations.

For many, Angkor Wat symbolises Cambodia just as Bali does Indonesia. Meidyna Bundiman, who knew little about Cambodia before her first visit, found herself eager to explore more.

“Cambodia is quite small, but not as small as Singapore, compared to Indonesia,” she remarked, seeing the potential for discovery in both the Kingdom and Indonesia’s diverse destinations beyond Bali.

Rathasak of the tourism ministry celebrated Cambodia’s allure, focusing on drawing tourists through international events like the recent 32nd SEA Games and 12th ASEAN Para Games. Yet he recognised a disparity in Cambodian tourist numbers to Indonesia, a gap both nations are actively addressing.

Lauti Nia Astri also acknowledged this disparity.

“When Indonesian tourists visit Cambodia, Angkor Wat is a must-visit destination for them, even though they have to travel six or seven hours by bus from Phnom Penh to Siem Reap,” said Nia Astri.

Both countries now realise the importance of promoting diverse destinations. Many Cambodians visiting Indonesia are confined to Bali, unaware of Jakarta’s vibrant life or West Sumatra’s breathtaking beauty. Nia Astri emphasised strong bilateral relationships in business to help in strengthening tourism ties.

World Pop Travel and Tour has been pivotal in directing Cambodian tourists to Bali, Indonesia’s premiere tourism destination.

Sambo Piseth, an agent at World Pop, clarified why Bali is a favoured destination for Cambodian tourists.

“Bali appeals to Cambodians as it offers temples and beaches, as well as islands with a focus on culture and traditions that emphasise conservation and nature, including the famous gates of paradise,” he said.

Despite the pandemic’s lingering impact, World Pop continues to foster Cambodian interest in Bali. They offer personalised services for couples, providing an exclusive and intimate experience.

The agency’s media communication manager Chea Phalap described it as “much more special than a package tour because it looks and feels like a VIP tour”.

Special packages treat Cambodian tourists to a five-day journey from Phnom Penh to Singapore, then on to Bali. Along the way, they revel in rice fields, the sculpted village of Nusa Penida Island, and Bali’s natural and cultural wonders.

With hopes for global tourism’s revival, the agency is also eyeing package tours across various Indonesian regions and islands, reflecting a bright future for shared discovery and appreciation between the two countries.

The compelling history and culture of Cambodia will surely continue to charm more Indonesian visitors, while the varied splendour of Indonesia beyond Bali stands ready to draw more Cambodians.

As both countries cooperate to boost tourism and foster mutual appreciation, they are laying down a path to a brighter future. It’s a future filled with cultural exchange, strengthened bonds and a growing friendship between Cambodia and Indonesia, enriching the lives of travellers from both nations.