Cambodia may not be the first place cruise liner passengers think of as the perfect luxury layover, but officials are determined to change all that

Cruising Cambodia has never been so luxurious - Feature
Posted : Tue, 26 Feb 2008 06:30:01 GMT
Author : DPA

Phnom Penh - Cambodia may not be the first place cruise liner
passengers think of as the perfect luxury layover, but Cambodian
officials are determined to change all that. With its pristine white
sand beaches, some of the best diving in the region, inexpensive
seafood delicacies and legalized gambling, Cambodia's main problem in
the past has been that its ambitions have outstripped its

But all that is changing, says tourism minister Thong Khon.

"So far we have 1,000 rooms in Sihanoukville, but we are planning to
have 1,000 more by 2009," he says. "The ministry, the private sector
and local authorities are all working hard to improve infrastructure."

Sokha Hotel Group, owner of the 5-star Sokha Beach Resort, has just
announced plans for a second 5-star resort just a few beaches away.
Like its sister hotel, the resort also plans a private beach.

The developments appear to be paying off. So far this year five
cruises carrying US, Asian and European tourists have docked in
Sihanoukville, bringing 4,832 visitors, equal to the entire 2007
total, according to the port's general director Lou Khim Chhun.

The country's only deepwater port, Sihanoukville Autonomous Port is
located about 240 kilometres from the capital and Chhun says that
although the lack of infrastructure caused cruise ship visitors to dip
by half last year, 2008 is already shaping up as a bumper year.

The port, touted to be one of the first companies listed on a
Cambodian stock exchange planned for 2009, has already constructed a
special dock dedicated to cruise liners.

Chhun admits he is rubbing its hands at the prospect of wealthy
tourists entering the country by sea, taking advantage of the newly
refurbished airport at Sihanoukville to fly to the ancient Angkor Wat
temples, and returning to wine, dine and enjoy the several plush

"We have the capacity for four to five cruises to pass through per
week, which equates to 4-5,000 visitors. I believe Sihanoukville is
ready to extend its services as a cruise port. We certainly plan to
host more and more," Chhun says.

Opportunities for day trips abound. The area's mushrooming dive
companies speak of whale sharks, rare pink dolphins and untouched
coral reefs.

Dugongs are known to inhabit areas near the municipality. Nearby Ream
National Park's virgin forests teems with wildlife.

Sokha Hotel Group just announced yet another luxury resort for the
former French hill station of Bokor in nearby Kampot province and with
oil from offshore reserves expected to begin flowing within two years,
infrastructure looks set to continue to develop rapidly.

Cambodia has won over some powerful allies. Royal Caribbean Cruises
has named Sihanoukville as a prime layover for its flagship Rhapsody
of the Seas and is enthusiastic about it on its website.

"Cambodia is best known as the occasional side trip to Angkor Wat ...
on your way to or from Thailand. But all that is changing with the
revitalization of Sihanoukville, Cambodia's one and only beach
resort," the cruise giant gushes.

Royal Caribbean Cruises Asia-Pacific managing director, Rama
Rebbapragada, has predicted Cambodia will also benefit as a port of
call from Hong Kong's planned new cruise terminal.

As people rediscover the charm of cruise holidays, the 10-member
Association of South-east Asian nations of which Cambodia is a member
continues to push itself as a major player.

ASEAN Cruise Working Group chairman, Kevin Leong, estimates the sector
in the Asia-Pacific is expected to grow by more than 40 per cent from
1.07 million in 2005, to 1.5 million by 2010, reaching 2 million in

Cambodia's ambitions are slightly more modest, but no less integral to
its plans for its already booming tourism industry.

"This year is the first time we will attract more than 5,000 cruise
visitors. It's a big step forward and we are very optimistic about our
future," Thong Khon says.