Big increase in tourism at Preah Vihear

PHNOM PENH – Almost 90,000 tourists have visited Preah Vihear temple so far this year – an 87% increase on the first 11 months of 2011.

Cambodian soldiers stand guard at Preah Vihear temple in this file photo from Feb 2011. Photo by Jetjaras Na Ranong.

Foreign tourist numbers increased by 147% from January to the end of November, with 6,396 foreign visitors. Cambodian visitor numbers were up by 84 per cent, with 86,953 visits.

“Causes for the increase in visitor numbers are a result of good security along the border area making it easier to visit,” Kong Vibol, a director of the Tourism Department in Preah Vihear province told the Phnom Penh Post.

“Another factor is that the national roads from Siem Reap and Phnom Penh have improved,” he said.

A 4.6 square kilometre area along the Thailand-Cambodia border around the centuries-old Hindu ruins remains under dispute and the temple has been a flashpoint for clashes between troops from both sides. 

Relations between Phnom Penh and Bangkok have improved under Yingluck Shinawatra’s government. Officials from Preah Vihear province met with their counterparts from Ubon Ratchathani to discuss opening a new border in August.

“The gateway does not only serve economic and commercial purposes, but also serves the tourism sector,” Vibol added. 

“We know Preah Vihear temple is an attractive site and there are good link roads from Siem Reap and from Phnom Penh. There will be more visitors in 2013.”

A Thai-Cambodian Joint Working Group to solve border disputes, especially the area around Preah Vihear, is next scheduled to meet in Bangkok on Dec 17.

Preah Vihear was listed as a Unesco World Heritage Site in 2008 but the move was opposed by Bangkok, which accused Phnom Penh of acting unilaterally while border issues remained unresolved.

The Joint Working Group has followed up on recommendations made by the International Court of Justice in its 2011 ruling on the Preah Vihear dispute. The court wanted the two countries to withdraw their troops from a 17.3 sq km area that includes the temple while it considers Cambodia's request for a verdict on the disputed border area.

Related search: Cambodia, Preah Vihear, tourism, border dispute