Opinion: Will Vaccination and New Infrastructure Help Siem Reap’s Tourism Rebound?

Photo taken on May 24, 2021 shows a view of the Angkor archeological park in Siem Reap, Cambodia.

While the number of tourists remains low at this point during the pandemic, Siem Reap City is undergoing a transformation.

As vaccination rolls out across the heavily affected areas of the country, a feeling of relief slowly surfaces from time to time. After more than one year at more or less a standstill, the city of Siem Reap is seeing a gradual feeling of relief among people. In disasters, there usually is a small scope of opportunities emerging. With the number of tourists low at this time of the pandemic, Siem Reap is taking the opportunity to undergo transformation.

A rainbow usually comes after the rain. The provincial town is, of course, filled with debris and dust from the 38 roads being repaired or rebuilt. Small particles of dirt block the sun, prompting automobile drivers to turn on their headlights during the day to navigate more safely near construction zones.

With the scorching temperature, the yet-to-be-paved roads become bone dry and dusty as vehicles pass by. Daily commuters must plan their route in advance so as not to drive along streets where construction is underway. Mask over the nose and helmet on the head with visor over the eyes. Sand and dirt are not pleasant stuffs when they douse your eyes and nose as you try to keep your hands firmly on your motorbike handles.

Excavators, dump trucks, bulldozers and rollers have temporarily become the main characters on the streets. This team of diesel-powered heavy-duty machines works in unison to deliver the work on schedule. Layers after layers, different materials are laid horizontally in place. Concrete, tarmac, gravel and sand… From one area to the other, streets become comfortably smooth and commuting becomes much more manageable. The freshwater stream, which runs across the provincial city of Siem Reap is also being taken care of.

The bank and the stream bed are cleared of debris while the width of the stream as a whole is being widened to give it a more attractive look when colorful light ornaments are installed during festivals and celebrations. Dusty air and sandy streets can sometimes incommode commuters in the area. However, this temporary situation will soon lead to a much nicer scenery of well-paved roads and renewed environment along the beautiful Siem Reap River.

Amidst the pandemic, the smile of the Bayon and the vivid gestures of the apsaras still bring beauty upon Siem Reap. The sunrise behind Angkor Wat, the sunset seen from the Bakheng, the vibrant light and music of Pub Street, the food vendors along the illuminated streets at night, a jazz lounge with cocktails, the distinctive aroma of traditional Khmer food, a female deity apsara shown dancing on the walls of the temples and a  Khmer classical dancer performing the same movements on stage, the quiet roads of the small and big archeological-park circuits, the playful monkeys jumping around the trees, the newly-built bicycle trail as well as the floating village along the bank of the gigantic Tonle Sap lake are all being missed by both local and international tourists.

The province, through this renovation, is preparing itself for the return of tourists once the pandemic has faded away. The Cambodian Ministry of Tourism has also brought up the idea of fully-vaccinated foreign tourists being able to visit the province in the upcoming months. If this idea materializes, this city with its ancient temples will bloom once again in the not-too-distant future.

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