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New travel agent eyes study market

New travel agent eyes study market

Y OUNG entrepeneur Sophana Pich believes in making a splash.

He had no hesitation in plunging in to start his own travel agency when the opportunity presented itself. And when the 22-year-old took his staff for a Mekong cruise on Sept 26 to celebrate the opening of the Cambodia Travel Group he was the first over the side of the boat into the murky brown waters for a celebratory swim.

Phana stepped in to take over the clients of the Cambodia Australia Travel Group when owner Stephen Griffiths decided to leave the country.

He and partner Therakoan They sunk $11,000 each to start the new company and switched premises to the prime location of 128 Street near the Central Market.

"I've been thinking about having my own travel agency since I was 12. I thought it wasn't going to happen until I was 30 or 40 but it happened a lot sooner than I thought. But then that's often the way with me," said Phana, a father of two.

He will be looking to keep the old company's close links with Australia and claims to offer the cheapest returns there in town at $780 with Qantas.

The company is also unique, Phana says, in offering special packages to send the children of the well-heeled to college in Sydney, Australia, in what he sees as an increasing trend as Cambodia develops in prosperity.

The package includes visa, air ticket and one year's study at the New South Wales Business and English College but isn't cheap at something approaching $8,000. There is also a scheme to lodge the students with Cambodian families in Cabramatta for $125 a week.

Another area with potential, Phana believes, are cruises along the Mekong for foreign tourists. The opening party cruise took in Kep Thmay 16 km south of Phnom Penh which has become a popular spot for weekending Khmers but is virtually unknown to outside visitors.

There are a profusion of riverside restuarants and picnic huts set in picturesque surroundings which are normally accessed by car. The area is named after the famous seaside retreat in Kampot and is itself noted for Banh Chaew a light omelette stuffed with beef and bean sprouts, topped off with a tangy peanut sauce.

Phana is considering starting daily cruises there for $25 a head, including three meals.

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