The seventh edition of the annual River Festival is set to be held from March 8-10 this year in Kampong Thom after a two-year Covid-19 hiatus, presided over by Prime Minister Hun Sen, which pundits say will throw the spotlight on the province’s tourism endowments.

Motivated by improved control of the epidemiological situation, the government moved ahead to hold the festival this year, in Stung Sen town along the namesake river, with the possibility of extension into March 11-12 which fall on Saturday and Sunday, Minister of Tourism Thong Khon affirmed, according to a statement by his ministry.

The minister was speaking while chairing a preparatory meeting at Kampong Thom Provincial Hall on January 6, along with Kampong Thom provincial governor Nguon Rattanak, the statement noted.

Khon suggested setting up an exhibition of locally-made regional specialities at the event to draw in crowds, as well as securing as large a selection of eye-catching produce and handicrafts as possible with a view to promote overseas sales of items with promise.

The choice of the location was motivated by Kampong Thom’s position on the road from southern areas such as Phnom Penh and Kampong Cham to key tourist destinations in the north such as Siem Reap and Preah Vihear, as well as the presence of the Stung Sen, a major tributary of the Tonle Sap Lake, he explained.

To encourage interest and active participation among the general public, the minister advised the authorities to establish teams centred on areas such as: art; sport; decoration and beautification; festival promotion; tourism-related support infrastructure; and marketing for relevant businesses.

Pacific Asia Travel Association Cambodia Chapter chairman Thourn Sinan sees the upcoming River Festival as a shot at a post-Covid tourism revival in the province, and as positive publicity for local entertaining trip options geared towards both locals and foreigners.

Despite its high tourism potential, Kampong Thom is often overlooked by travellers on their way elsewhere, he lamented.

“The upcoming river festival will, without a doubt, attract tourists to Kampong Thom, and in so doing, lift economic activity to a certain extent,” he said.

Sinan voiced support for the minister’s exhibition proposition, but cautioned authorities to think thoroughly about which goods should be displayed, and to not allow advertising of alcohol and certain other potentially objectionable products at too large a scale.

Provincial Department of Tourism director Seng Ann also believes that the River Festival “will bring loads of benefits to the people of Kampong Thom”.

He commented that security, orderliness and environmental-friendliness at the province’s eco-, agro- and other tourism offerings has seen significant improvements as of late, listing as top travel hotspots: the Prey Pros lake, Sambor Prei Kuk Temple Zone, Phnom Santuk hill, Stung Chinit river, Bronze lake, and Kuha Nokor temple.

As of the beginning of 2023, there are nine hotels and 57 guesthouses in Kampong Thom with 416 and 878 rooms, respectively, Ann said, adding that the province tallied 36,113 visitors to major tourist destinations over December 31 and January 1 – or 35,662 national and 451 foreign travellers.

The River Festival has been held annually, save for 2021 and 2022, since its first edition was hosted by Kratie province in 2015, and subsequently by Stung Treng (2016), Kampong Cham and Tbong Khmum jointly (2017), Kandal (2018), Kampong Chhang (2019) and Battambang (2020).

Kampong Thom had been chosen for what would have been the seventh edition in 2021. However, the event was postponed due to Covid-19 concerns.