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Angkor Wat ‘virtual’ half marathon hopes to draw ‘actual’ visitors

Tom Starkey / Khmer Times Share:
2019 half marathon. This year’s race has gone ‘virtual’ in light of the pandemic, creating uncertainty around expected footfall from an event that usually draws some 20,000 participants. KT/Khem Sovannara

Amid concerns over the virus, the already postponed half marathon will go ahead on Saturday but ‘virtually’, meaning runners can compete with or without travelling to Siem Reap.

The virtual run will see participants downloading a Manulife app to participate.  The app will track their category run, allowing them to cover the distance on any route of their choice in order to reduce crowding.

The marathon usually welcomes some 20,000 visitors to Siem Reap and therefore the news of its delay came as a blow to the host town, which is currently surviving from event to event because regular pre-pandemic footfall  is down up to 95 percent.

General Manager of Navutu Dreams Resort & Wellness Retreat Jeremie Clement said he hopes the flexibility of the event being virtual will result in people still visiting, especially considering the number of attractions Siem Reap offers beyond just the race. “In Siem Reap there remains so much on offer in terms of cultural, natural and culinary experiences. This year the marathon will give runners the option of running where they wish, but that doesn’t mean there is no reason to come.”

The message on the marathon’s official Facebook page is that participants are welcome to run in the Angkor Wat area. The page even stated that foreigners will still receive a card to access the course free. However they would not be allowed to enter the temples.

One person commenting on the announcement on the Facebook page replied: “For those interested, Siem Reap is still open! And the amazing temples are still here!”

This comment was echoed throughout the thread, by locals and businesses alike.

Clement added his resort has many facilities to attract the active traveller and he is still hoping to be at full capacity. “We are set up as a wellness retreat with swimming pools, yoga shalas, a fully dedicated spa, holistic treatments and have been selected among the top three most sustainable resorts in Cambodia. Between this and our regular live events, we still have a lot to offer guests.”  Tour operator Meng Anan said although people may be upset the race has gone virtual, it could be a positive for inbound tourists. “At the moment, the level of COVID-19 in Cambodia is low and the city is quiet, so it’s a good time to come, especially to visit the temples because there are no crowds. There are no queues and people can get into the bars. I find tourists are enjoying it more. I know some people have cancelled their trips. However, people come to do more than just run and there is so much more on offer. Also, I think businesses have tailored to local tourists more, so there are more domestic tourists this year.”

Local resident Andy de la Fontaine does, however, say he takes some comfort from the Cambodian authorities’ approach.

“It’s impressive that in the face of the most fearful pandemics of our lifetime, the authorities are working in harmony with new technology and private enterprise to show that there is an ever increasing fortitude, desire and commitment to be creative and resolute in a time of hardship. This virtual marathon is a powerful and motivating symbol that Cambodia will win the race against the pandemic and it is determined to cross the finishing line, come what may.”

The Angkor Wat International Half Marathon started in 1996 and takes place inside the ruins of Angkor Wat, a World Heritage Site. It is held annually to support victims of landmines and encourage the end of their use.


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