With just three weeks before the official "Angkor 2000" millennium celebrations
are scheduled to begin at Angkor Wat, hospitality industry representatives and tourism
officials alike are expressing concern about the festivities' potential success.
"I'm afraid it's going to be a catastrophe," said one Siem Reap bar owner.
"They expect so many people to come here, but the facilities and preparations
just aren't ready."
The government has touted the Dec 30- Jan 2 Angkor 2000 celebrations as a world class
venue rivaling New York Times Square and the Egyptian Pyramids to celebrate the advent
of the millennium. Critics including King Norodom Sihanouk have derided the millennium
plans for Angkor Wat and neighboring Siem Reap as unrealistic, pointing out that
hotel and on-site toilet facilities fall far short of those needed for the hoped-for
"I don't know if they'll even be enough food to go around in Siem Reap if the
thousands of people expected actually show up," one worried Siem Reap restaurateur
told the Post.. "We've already begun stockpiling food and supplies, but I haven't
noticed many other people doing the same."
Attempts by the Post to get details of the official preparations for the Angkor 2000
celebrations from officials in Siem Reap were unsuccessful. Government tourism officials
referred enquiries about the celebrations to the official Apsara Authority responsible
for Angkor Wat. Apsara officials claimed to have no information about preparations
for the festivities and referred the Post to Siem Reap Governor Chap Nhalyvuth, who
is currently on vacation in France.
Travel agents in Siem Reap expressed frustration at the lack of information provided
by tourism officials about the planned festivities. "Nobody's told us anything
about things like whether there'll be separate admission fees to the events and what
exactly will happen," a travel agent complained. A spokesperson for Indochine
Travel Services told the Post that international holiday season bookings for Siem
Reap were lower than those of previous years.
Cambodian Tourism Minister Veng Sereyvuth confirmed that there were official doubts
about Siem Reap's capacity to absorb what he predicted would be "tens of thousands,
perhaps more than 100,000" revelers at Angkor Wat, but insisted the show would
"I actually worry that the crowds will over-strain the area," he said,
adding that he expected thousands of Cambodians from all over the country to descend
on Angkor Wat for the millennium. "But at this stage we can't tell people not
Matthieu Ravaux, owner of the Chez Sophea restaurant opposite Angkor Wat, warned
that poor planning for the celebrations may damage Cambodia's long-term tourism development.
"I'm happy about the millennium celebrations and I really think they will work
one way or another, but I worry about the aftermath," Ravaux said. "I'm
afraid that visitors will see the problems of Cambodia [arising from inadequate preparation
for the festivities] and go back to their countries with bad opinions of Cambodia."
Sereyvuth, however, rejected suggestions that millennium celebration snafus could
damage Cambodia's still-nascent tourism industry.
"There'll be shortfalls, for sure, but the majority of people who attend will
know already that Cambodia itself has shortcomings," he said. "I don't
think people will back off because [the celebrations] don't measure up to international
Seryevuth also confirmed that the government's plans to inaugurate a fleet of 300
Korean-made electric vehicles as the exclusive mode of transportation between Siem
Reap and the Angkor Wat complex had been postponed until at least January.
The government's initial announcement in October that private vehicles would be banned
from the Angkor Wat complex upon the implementation of the electric vehicles had
caused outrage in Siem Reap, where approximately 1000 people make their living as
taxi and motorcycle taxi drivers for tourists visiting the temples.