Ongoing Construction Turning Off Tourists

Allison Ludtke / Khmer Times No Comments Share:
Sections of National Road 6 under construction from Phnom Penh to Siem Reap are outlined in black. (Ministry of Public Works and Transport) (Ministry of Public Works and Transport)

PHNOM PENH (Khmer Times) – National Road 6 (NR6) is one of Cambodia’s major roads. At 416 kilometers (258 miles) length it connects the Phnom Penh with Banteay Meanchey province and premier tourist destination Siem Reap.
This route is crucial for tourism, the transport of agricultural goods, and road travel from Cambodia to Thailand.
Shanghai Construction Group secured the $248.8 million contract to refurbish, and to widen the road to between seven meters and twelve meters. The contract, funded by the Chinese government, began in 2013 with an estimated 42-month completion time.
This is not the first time NR6 has undergone construction – September 1999 and the mid-2000s multi-million dollar construction jobs plagued this road, desperate for completion. 
There seems to be a pattern of slow construction and speedy destruction of roads in Cambodia. 
Radio Free Asia cited National Road 7’s poor condition in 2012 as an example of questionable workmanship. It had previously been renovated by Chinese companies, which left Cambodians skeptical of these companies’ sub-contracting practices. 
Clouds of dust fill the air as traffic struggles to fill a strip of tarmac. This sliver of pavement transforms to gravel and dirt leaving motorbikes and vans engulfed in dust. Swerving vehicles dance in a horizontal shuffle to avoid holes. Mild breaks of pavement offer a small relief. This is National Road 6. 
Ly Srey Neang, 34, sells produce 30 km north of Phnom Penh on NR6. “The food is very dirty from the road work. People don’t want to stop to buy anything.” She says there has been a decrease of tourists and overall traffic on the road – negatively affecting her income. 
Sen Sokol, whose home stands directly on NR6 said, “Trucks are very disturbing. Construction has been going on for years. My breathing and my business have suffered from the dust.” 
Multiple interviewed residents said they have pleaded with the government to speed up construction.
An expat who has lived in Cambodia for a year and a half and asked for anonymity said his experience with the roads left him “refusing to ride them until they are fixed.” 
“My last two trips, I have flown both ways, willing to trade cost for comfort and time.”
Angkor Air flights between Phnom Penh and Siem Reap (about $100 per trip) are enticing tourists by avoiding the alternative an eight-hour road trip. 
“Cambodia Airports” shows 52,137 people flying from Siem Reap to Phnom Penh this year compared to 30,967 in the first six months of 2012. The Phnom Penh-Siem Reap route shows 43,754 domestic arrivals this year, compared to 27,842 in 2012.
The 2014 Tourism Statistics Report showed 4.2 million tourists visited Cambodia in 2013. Double the amount of tourists arrived in Siem Reap (620,998) versus Phnom Penh (376,732) in the first five months of 2014. 
Nou Sotheavy, a business owner on the Phnom Penh riverfront, thinks the roads are limiting Phnom Penh’s tourist base. “My business has only been open for eight months, but I hear from customers that part of the reason people don’t come to Phnom Penh is the roads.” 
Jacob Montross, founder of Giant Ibis Transport – known for luxury bus service between Phnom Penh and Siem Reap, called the ongoing construction “an annoyance and inconvenience.”  
“A trip that used to take only six hours can take up to eight hours now depending on the road conditions.” This route should take about four and a half hours under “Western” conditions. 
Sopheak Ouch, a local Travel agent in Siem Reap, said people still take the buses because of the reasonable prices, but “customers complain of the long rides, uncomfortable conditions and annoying construction.”
The question remains, what hidden gems of Cambodia are tourists missing because of inaccessible transport, and is Cambodia’s economy taking a hit? 
“We need a new road fast” – the words of NR6 resident Ly Srey Neang.

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