Raising sheets of white paper with numbers written on it, Chheav Taing Kouch a travel agent from Peak DMC Cambodia calls each one as he assembles his group prior to trekking inside the Angkor archaeological park.
This was the first-ever trekking journey organised by the Cambodia Association of Travel Agents (CATA) on November 4, in the park and its jungle fringes that’s located beyond the famous Angkor temples.
As the trekkers progressed through each of the 12km journey, sweat began to soak their t-shirts. The heat of the morning sun added to the strain of their long walk.
The first-ever organised journey through the park served to promote and expand tourism packages beyond the temples. It also included planting trees and a charity fundraising for the Angkor Hospital for Children, says CATA president Chhay Sivlin.
“We want to extend our tour packages by introducing trekking to tour operators. This way, they can arrange packages for visitors apart from just exploring our beautiful temples,” Sivlin says.
Fifteen temples in a small circle and seven others, including Banteay Srei have always been the main attractions in the Angkor area, says Meas Sopha, a tour guide in Siem Reap.
Speaking to The Post as the group walked along a small path in the jungle, Sivlin expressed pride at the attitude of younger Cambodians who are keen to discover more than what is usually offered.
“Our initial aim to include trekking as part of the Angkor tour was to attract foreign visitors with a zeal for exploration. But it was an eye-opener when we noticed more locals turning up to join this maiden trek. Our youths seem keen and excited to explore something out of the ordinary,” she says.
Sivlin says in planning the trekking adventure through the park, the organisers did not expect almost 300 participants to turn up. All of them were from the hospitality sector, such as hotels and restaurants. Tour operators were the main targets though, considering the event was to introduce new tourism packages.
Sitting at the Ta Nei temple complex, the smile of Taing Kouch’s face spoke of his sheer elation at being part of the maiden trek.
“I am so very surprised,” he says, of the overwhelming success of the first trek through the park and jungle. “At first, we did not expect that this event would attract such a huge number of people. Surely, this success will encourage the organising team and promote trekking for years to come.
“We are thinking how we can transform this experience into a programme within our regular tour packages for Angkor. We are confident of attracting more foreigners if we promote it correctly,” he says.
Having seen first-hand the huge participation of youths from the hospitality industry, Sivlin expressed her intention of setting up a trekking adventure in the future.“We plan to promote trekking and introduce it to our new and more experienced tour guides so that they too can experience the trek through the park and jungle before organising their own tours,” she says.
After breaking for lunch at Angkor Bridge, the participants had a joyful time planting trees.
As the trek ended, there was a good feeling throughout as $5,000 was raised for the Angkor Hospital for Children in Siem Reap from the $12 fee that each participant paid for the privilege of joining the day’s event.
The park received 2.45 million foreign tourists last year, earning a record-high $108 million in revenue from ticket sales, according to the state-owned Angkor Enterprise.