The cool season is in full swing here in beautiful Cambodia, and as temperatures fall, the number of visitors is riding high. Increased numbers of tourists have visited the country this year, crowding the riverfront and local markets with pale limbs garbed in shorts and t-shirts. While visitors bask in the warmth of the Cambodian sun, however, locals may be seen pulling on sweaters and jackets to be comfortable.
Comfort and security are just what the country wants folks to experience when they touch down at Pochentong Airport for the first time or return home from a life's worth of work. Whether you're a visitor or a Cambodian national, the government is working hard to ensure that Cambodia's borders are welcome to all but terrorists. On the heels of a fear-dominated year following the Bali bombings in October and the September 11th attacks in New York and Washington, Minister of Tourism Veng Sereyvuth vowed to allay the myth of an unsafe Southeast Asian region. He promised to review international travel advisories and work with fellow members of the Association of South East Asian Nations (ASEAN) to publish a Web site offering visitors safety and security information. Sereyvuth joined other ASEAN Tourism Ministers at the Sixth ASEAN Tourism Summit, hosted by Phnom Penh between Jan 20 and Jan 28, to implement the ASEAN Tourism Agreement that was signed at the ASEAN Summit in November. Approximately 1500 delegates traveled to Cambodia from Brunei Darussalam, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, Burma, Philippines, Singapore, Thailand and Vietnam, plus China, Japan, and South Korea. All aimed to strengthen cooperation between the ASEAN countries and promote the region as a multi-faceted single tourist destination. Travel will be facilitated by a groundbreaking decision made by the ministers to establish visa exemptions for ASEAN citizens traveling throughout the region by 2005. When not making history, delegates perused a market of regional and individual tourism products of ASEAN member countries.
If new products are what keep first-time guests and long-time visitors coming back, tourism is heading up, up and away at Angkor Wat, where visitors are climbing aboard a new hot air balloon to catch a bird's eye view of the famous temples. Sokimex has invested more than $1 million to fund the balloon, which holds up to 30 tourists at a time. Foreigners will spend $10 to touch the clouds, while Cambodians may pay $5. The ride was approved by the Aspara Authority, which manages the Angkor Archaeological Park. The balloon hovers 200 meters in the air for ten minuets but never flies over the temples, so as not to disturb the preservation of the historical site. If the ride is successful, Sokimex will consider investing in a second hot air balloon.
Congratulations too are in order for Mekong Airways. They took delivery of their first aircraft, a Boeing 737-500 furnished with 104 seats, on 24th January at Pochentong airport.
The plane made its historical flight straight for Siemreap on 28th January much to the delight of the first planeload of passengers. Mekong Airways flights will soon also be flying Kuala Lumpur, Singapore and Hong Kong.