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At Preah Vihear, tourists undeterred

Tourists visit the 11th-century Preah Vihear temple earlier this year
Tourists visit the 11th-century Preah Vihear temple earlier this year. SCOTT HOWES

At Preah Vihear, tourists undeterred

Not even the imminent threat of war could quell tourists’ appetite for historical sites – at least at Cambodia’s Preah Vihear temple, which was the subject of a highly contentious ruling at the International Court of Justice yesterday.

While government figures show that local tourism to the 11th-century ruin has declined some 36 per cent in the first nine months of 2013 compared with the same period in 2012, foreign visits were up more than 50 per cent in the same time frame. And despite the fact that analysts had predicted a fiery Thai reaction to a ruling on the land surrounding the site, local and out-of-town sightseers over the past two days remained undeterred.

“I don’t see that they show any concern about the situation because both foreign and local tourists are still visiting here,” said You Sovan, the deputy director of the Preah Vihear Provincial Tourism Department. “I already checked with my staff at the temple; more than 100 tourists, both locals and foreigners, are visiting there [on Monday].”

Jean Philippe Lepage, who manages the Preah Vihear Boutique Hotel, said yesterday that his establishment hadn’t seen any change in bookings in the lead-up to the ruling.

“Actually, it’s been OK. Today we had two rooms only, but yesterday [Sunday] we had a lot,” he said. “But we did not have anyone delay their booking or cancel their reservation.”

“We have more journalists, of course – yesterday and two days ago,” he added.

Some tourists, though, had their concerns, like Chey Cheng, a 22-year-old monk who had been unaware of the coming ruling when he visited on Sunday.

“I am worried when I hear about that news, and if I had known in advance I would not have come to visit,” he said.

Other tourists at Preah Vihear were well aware of the border tensions, and had decided to visit anyway.

Bill Housworth, who lives and works in Siem Reap, said Sunday that he had gone through with plans to visit the temple despite the imminent verdict, though he did consciously decide to visit the day before the ruling.

“We thought about it, but we thought that if there was any violence it would happen tomorrow, not today,” he said.

Likewise, Dutch national Daniel Meyer said that residing in the Middle East had somewhat inured him to the threat of war breaking out.

“I’m more worried about dengue and malaria than some border conflict that doesn’t seem to escalate that quickly,” he said, glancing back at the temple. “I guess it’s worth fighting about – or almost.”

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