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Tourist entries from Thailand plummet amid political turmoil

Tourist entries from Thailand plummet amid political turmoil

As anti-government mobs wreak havoc on Bangkok, tourists are turning to Vietnam as an entry point to Cambodia, officials say

POLITICAL instability in Thailand has led fewer tourists to use the country as an entry point to Cambodia, with foreigners now choosing to instead go through Vietnam, tourism officials say.

"Since the former Thai prime minister put Bangkok under emergency rule, foreigners have been cancelling trips to Bangkok. Many are re-routing to Malaysia and Vietnam before flying to Siem Reap," said Kousoum Saroeuth, secretary of state for the Ministry of Tourism.

He said the number of flights and road arrivals from Vietnam has increased since fighting between Thai police and the royalist People's Alliance for Democracy (PAD) broke out earlier this week.

He added that more Western tourists are visiting Cambodia, but that tourism in Thailand had fallen by 30 percent.

Kousoum Saroeuth also said the Ministry of Tourism has reassured Western and Asian tourists that Cambodia and Thailand will not go to war over the Preah Vihear temple dispute, which began in July.

"We have run advertisements on CNN, and world travellers know that Cambodia is a safe place to visit," he said.

He added that Cambodia aims to see 2.3 millions visitors by late 2008 - an increase of  13 percent over last year.

Visitors drop in September

The Tourism Ministry's statistics officer, Kong Sophearak, said in August some 30,000 travellers arrived in Cambodia via Bangkok. But that number fell below 30,000 in September as tensions flared between the Thai government and anti-government protestors.

By contrast, travellers entering Cambodia from Vietnam rose to 32,000 during September.

"Since Bangkok issued travel warnings, the number of tourist coming to Cambodia by road declined, while those from Vietnam rose," Kong Sophearak said.

Ho Vandy, president of the Cambodian Association of Travel Agents, said direct flights from Vietnam to Siem Reap increased from just a few flights per day last year to eight flights per day in recent months.

He said a new road leading to the Preah Vihear temple, proposed by the government in August, should be completed quickly in order to facilitate access to the World Heritage Site, and urged Asian travellers to consider direct flights to Siem Reap or Phnom Penh instead of transiting through Bangkok.

"Thailand seems to be creating unnecessary problems for travellers attempting to enter Cambodia through the international checkpoint at Poipet," Ho Vandy said. "Thai immigration police are asking tourists for several unnecessary documents. Entering from Vietnam is much more convenient."

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