The year is 1945 and Cambodian men are packed into traditional longboats, ready to race each other in an event that “has been going on for more than 1,000 years” at the annual Water Festival in Phnom Penh.
The number of international tourists visiting Cambodia has continued to rise steadily despite the political uncertainty following the July 28 national election, with a 16.9 percent jump in foreign visitors in September compared to the same month last year.
According to the latest figures published by the Ministry of Tourism, there were 283,787 visitors to the country in September compared to 242,747 the year before. The first nine months of this year saw 3,057,211 visitors to the country, an 18.6 percent increase compared to the same period in 2012.
Neighboring Vietnam continues to send the largest share of visitors to Cambodia, with 644,579 arriving in the first nine months, compared to 579,886 in the same period last year.
China is next on the list with 339,894 tourists, marking a massive jump of 45 percent year-on-year.
South Korea, which was third on the list of visitors, saw a small increase of about 4 percent, while tourists from Laos, fourth on the list, have jumped by 70.7 percent since 2012 to more than 300,000, with 40,000 visiting in September alone, a rise of almost 55 percent compared to last year.
Prior to the July 28 national election, Minister of Tourism Thong Khon said that international tourism would not be affected, despite predictions of post-election unrest.
“Foreign tourists are confident in the country’s good security and political stability,” he said.
Though sporadic unrest did materialize and mass protests have continued in the wake of election irregularities, tourist numbers have continued to climb steadily.
Currently, nearly half of all visitors travel to Siem Reap, with most of the remaining visitors going to Phnom Penh. Tourism experts say Cambodia must now diversify its tourism sector so that visitors travel to other areas of the country.
Part of that diversification is aimed at islands off the coast of Sihanoukville, but so far very little development has occurred in those areas.
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