Routes To Cambodia
By: Heng Raingsy ( June, 2001 Volume 1 No.2 )

For those seeking to really sample the exotic, the Temples of Angkor and the Cambodian way of life are perfect ingredients for your palate. Besides traveling by air, there are other routes to take into Cambodia. To really experience the sights of this marvelous country, one can also chose to travel by river, sea or overland. By Air: Visitors can land at either of the two major airports, the Pochentong Airport in the capital Phnom Penh or the Siem Reap Airport in the province of Siem Reap where the famous Angkor temples are. The Pochentong Airport in Phnom Penh is currently being upgraded. The airport will have a new passenger terminal with four air-bridges by the end of this year and a fully modern second terminal will be ready in the year 2002. By which time, the airport will also be equipped with aerial radar control system to monitor all flight activities over the Cambodian air territorial integrity. According to a civil aviation source, the present three-kilometer runway is reinforced and sturdy enough to handle any airliner on its 40 meter width. Tourist arrivals through the Pochentong Airport have increased by nearly 35 percent this year and the airport is expected to see bigger numbers in the future. With better facilities, the new Pochentong Airport will have no problems handling the increase in passenger arrivals. Among the most innovative routes, Bangkok Airways now offers direct flights from Koh Samui and Pattaya in Thailand.

Last year, passenger numbers on direct flights to Siem Reap increased three-fold on 1999 figures. As renovation work continues on Pochentong Airport, the authorities have not overlooked Siem Reap Airport. Plans are on the board to upgrade the facilities and to give it a new face-lift too. The 2.5 kilometer by 45 meter runway has since December 1999 been made more active following the implementation of the "Open Sky" policy recommended by Prime Minister Hun Sen. At the moment about 70 flights operated by local airline companies and at least 10 other international airliners are keeping the airport bubbling. Local carriers, in alphabetical order, are President Airlines, Royal Air Cambodge, and Royal Phnom Penh Airways. A new player, the Royal Khmer Airlines, is planning its launch soon. International operators by alphabetical order are Air France, Bangkok Airways, China Eastern Airlines, China Southern Airlines, Dragon Air, Korean Airlines, Lao Aviation, Malaysia Airlines, Mandarin Airways, Shanghai Airlines, Silk Air, Thai Airways and Vietnam Airlines among others. The other provincial towns of Battambang, Koh Kong, Mondulkiri, Rattanakiri, Sihanoukville (Kampong Som) and Steung Treng each has their own respective domestic airstrips.

By 'Water': To meet the increasing number of tourists, the government recently granted permission for visas to be issued to tourists at three border checkpoints. These are at the international seaport of Sihanoukville, the Ka-am Sam-nar checkpoint bordering Vietnam in the province of Kandal and the Chamm-yeam checkpoint bordering Thailand in the province of Koh Kong. Very soon, an alternative access to Siem Reap town will be made available as a construction project on the Phnom Krom Wharf is currently underway. The road leading from the vicinity is in the meantime also being reconstructed and paved. The crossing on the Mekong River between Laos and Cambodia north of Steung Treng was also recently declared open in both directions.

Overland: The two existing border checkpoints by land are the Bavet Checkpoint of the southern province of Svay Rieng bordering Vietnam and the Poipet Checkpoint of the northern province of Banteay Meanchey. From Thailand, the drive from the border town of Poipet to the province of Siem Reap and the Angkor Temple Complex is now a casual one and a half hour trip. The Temple on the Preah Vihear Mountain in the north has long been a strong attraction luring a very large number of tourists.

The railway provides another option for tourists in case they so wish to travel by train to the capital city from whichever point of entry preferred. For people coming in by sea through the port at Sihanoukville, the journey by train to Phnom Penh is an interesting 266 kilometer trek through farmland and sometimes thick forests. Enroute, the tourist can take in postcard scenes of farmers tending to their crops and fishermen hauling in their nets. Men scaling the towering sugar palm trees is another common sight. Local folks tap the sweet juices from the palms for palm sugar and palm wine, a delicacy loved by many tourists as well. From Poipet to Phnom Penh is about 385 kilometers. This route meanders by many paddy fields where water buffaloes plough and beautiful white herons peck busily away as they pass their day.

Many national roads linking the border check points to the capital city and other resort sites are under reconstruction. However, the road leading from the airport in Siem Reap to the Angkor Wat Temple is a good stretch. Reconstruction jobs on the roads surrounding the 'Small Circuit' has been done and the access leading from the Angkor Wat Temple to Prasat Banteay Srei is now paved. All the bridges in the vicinity are being upgraded. In view of the many reconstruction jobs underway around the country, it may be wise to plan ahead before embarking on any trip as the time required to cover certain distances may take a little longer than usual.