During the weekend, Koh Kong welcomed 180,000 visitors coming to the province to attend the Sea Festival, which ended yesterday.
Koh Kong tourism department director Bun Beav said the province received more than 160,000 visitors during the first two days of festivities alone, adding that the number of visitors this year is considerably larger than when the province last hosted the event, in 2014.
“Now, we have many new attractive tourist spots and we have repaired National Road 48 and will expand it to four lanes soon,” he said.
“Koh Kong is not like Preah Sihanouk province. The price of products and hotel and guesthouse rooms are under control. We are now allowing prices to skyrocket,” Mr Beav said.
Speaking at the opening ceremony on Saturday, Prime Minister Hun Sen said the event serves as a mechanism to guarantee that the four coastal provinces – Kep, Kampot, Koh Kong and Preah Sihanouk – are kept to high standards of security and hygiene and do not lose their spot in the ‘World’s Most Beautiful Bay Club’.
“The event represents a coordinated effort from all provinces in the country, with delegations, traders and investors arriving from every corner of Cambodia.
“It gives companies the opportunity to showcase their products and achievements, while allowing certain institutions to conduct important studies.
Mr Hun Sen said Koh Kong will become the number one province in the country in terms of foreign tourist arrivals once the expansion of the airport in Kiri Sakor concludes and the Dara Sakor resort – together with its new airport – opens its doors.
“We continue to encourage ecotourism initiatives like the Dara Sakor resort that do not contribute to deforestation. Koh Kong is already a hub for ecotourism projects such as Kiri Sakor, Areng, Chi Phat, the Trapeang Rung community, the lower Tatai ecotourism community, and the Peam Krasaop tourism community,” he said.
“We must expand and strengthen the sea corridor from Koh Kong to Preah Sihanouk province, Kep and Kampot. It is the best way to attract tourists,” the premier said, adding that they are now working to expand National Road 48 to four lanes and improving the roads to Pursat and Battambang.
Koh Kong Governor Mithona Pouthorng Pouthang, said “Koh Kong now has full peace, political stability, investment, as is home to three hydro-power dams and special economic zones.
During the three-day festival, 350 local companies and 150 foreign firms showcased their products, she said, adding that most foreign exhibitors were from Thailand and Indonesia.
Taking advantage of easier access through the border crossing as a result of the Sea Festival, Cambodian tourists flocked to Thailand during the weekend.
“Most of them are going for sightseeing and shopping. We have opened up the border with Thailand so it is easier for them to visit the country,” Kem Sophat, deputy director of the Cham Yeam border checkpoint told Khmer Times.
During the Sea Festival, the government has eased procedures at the border checkpoint with Thailand, with citizens from both countries only having to produce their national identity cards to cross the border.
“There have been more than 2,000 tourists crossing the border during the first two days of the festival,” Mr Sophat said.
“They entered Thailand in the morning and came back in the afternoon, with some staying overnight.”
He explained that Cambodian authorities are not charging a fee for crossing the border by foot or car, but that Thai border officials are charging $0.25 per tourist.
“In terms of security, we are working hard to make sure everyone is safe,” Mr Sophat said.
“We are checking cars, passports, border passes, and identity cards.
“In downtown Koh Kong there are many activities that visitors can enjoy, including sports, concerts and shopping. However, for those that want to do something new, they can also go to Thailand,” Mr Sophat added.
This is the seventh time that the Sea Festival is held, but only the second time that it takes place in Koh Kong.
The Sea Festival is held on a rotating basis on one of Cambodia’s four coastal provinces.
Dok Mom, a resident of Phnom Penh visiting Koh Kong for the festival, said he will take advantage of the border crossing policy and go to Thailand for the day.
“I will go to Thailand in the morning and come back in the afternoon,” he said. “We would have had a lot of difficulties finding a room there if we hadn’t booked in advance.
“Compared to Preah Sihanouk province, I think Koh Kong is better in terms of security, hygiene, and prices,” Mr Mom added.
Sim Na Na, a vendor at the Cham Yeam checkpoint, said business was good because the number of people crossing the border was much higher than usual.
“There are lot of tourists, but we haven’t changed the price of our products. I do not know how much they are charging for a room in a hotel or guesthouse,” Ms Na Na said.
Mr Beav said that the Cambodian government reserved 600 hotel and guesthouse rooms for Cambodians in Thailand, and that 100 booked out.
“We have nearly 2,000 rooms in hotels and guesthouses for tourists in Koh Kong,” Mr Beav said.
This year’s sea festival in Koh Kong was held under the under the slogan ‘Beautiful Bay, Happy Citizen’ which points to a focus on ecotourism and other forms of sustainable tourism.
Tourism Minister Thong Khon said Koh Kong will welcome about 90,000 international tourists and 600,000 domestic tourists by end of the year.
The coast will receive more than 930,000 foreign tourists and 3.5 million domestic visitors this year, the minister added.