Thousands Flock to Sea Festival in Sihanoukville

Cambodia held its fifth annual Sea Festival in Sihanoukville over the weekend, with hundreds of thousands of festival-goers—including the prime minister—in attendance, officials said on Sunday.

Hosted in different coastal locations every year in an effort to boost tourism, the event attracted about 100,000 people on Friday and doubled to 200,000 on Saturday, according to Taing Sochet Krisna, director of the Preah Sihanouk provincial tourism department.

Revelers gather at the Sea Festival in Sihanoukville on Saturday night, in a photograph posted to Prime Minister Hun Sen’s Facebook page.

He did not yet have the visitor figures for Sunday, though he hoped they would be even higher. About 70 percent of the tourists who turned out for the festival—featuring live music, boxing matches, traditional dancing performances and craft and food stalls—were Cambodian, he added.

“We have promoted the event nationally and internationally in order to attract both more local and foreign guests to visit as we have organized standards of hotels and assured security and safety with more [police] forces,” he said. “And training of tourism operators, including even massage ladies at the beach.”

Mr. Sochet Krisna said about 80 hotels and 300 guesthouses quickly filled up in the coastal city, and many visitors were put up in relatives’ houses or camped out in tents.

Prime Minister Hun Sen said in a speech at the festival—held in Kampot province last year and in Koh Kong province in 2014—that maintenance and development of the area was a top priority, “after peace.”

“The second task is to build connectivity infrastructure to and in the coastal area,” he said. “The beach of Cambodia is really beautiful.”

Mr. Hun Sen also called for citizens to be environmentally conscious along the country’s coastline. “The environment needs to be protected, including water, wind and nature—solid and liquid wastes must not be put into the sea and there should be no permit for building industrial factories that have impacts on the environment and the coastal area,” he said.

Authorities in Sihanoukville have struggled in recent years to combat crime, from petty theft on the beach to brawls between foreign businessmen, leading the Interior Ministry to send a special police team to the coast in March last year to try to turn things around.

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