Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - Tourist visits double at Preah Vihear

Tourist visits double at Preah Vihear

Tourist visits double at Preah Vihear

THE presence of machine guns and rocket launchers hasn't kept proud Cambodians from making a pilgrimage to Preah Vihear to pay their respects to the mythic 11th-century temple and its new hoard of guardians.

Thai and Cambodian soldiers remain locked in what looks set to be a prolonged standoff in and around the temple's grounds.

But domestic tourism to the site has more than doubled since its UNESCO World Heritage listing on  July 7, said Pheng Sameoun, assistant to the general director of the Preah Vihear National Authority.

"Since Thai troops entered the temple, there have been fewer foreign tourists, but the number of locals visiting has doubled," Pheng Sameoun told the Post on Sunday.

According to Pheng Sameoun, the dispute has stirred such a torrent of interest in the temple that, if the surrounding infrastructure  such as roads were developed considerably, it could come to rival the Angkor Wat temple complex as the leading domestic holiday destination among Cambodians.

Chheang Solina, 22-year-old Phnom Penh high school student, said she was shocked last Sunday when she saw Thai and Cambodian soldiers occupying the temple, but was reinvigorated walking through its corridors.

"When I arrived at the top of the temple, and breathed in the fresh air, I had a feeling of great pride to be born as a Khmer," she said.

She added that she was happy because the Naga statues seemed to eat the Thai troops.

Bad roads and high transportation costs didn't stop Seng Vireak, 19, and his family from making the daylong trip from the capital, bearing food and supplies to hand out.

Khmers living overseas have joined the wave, making the trip from Europe or the United States to set foot on the temple, whose symbolic value seems to appreciate every day troops occupy it.

Many were seen making donations of money to monks and soldiers living there. 

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