While Thai officials work to diversify foreign tourism beyond sexpots, including considering 10-year visas for super-rich investors and retirees, Cambodia is gearing up for a massive influx of international visitors. Hun Sen, Cambodia’s prime minister, and strongman has already liberalized immigration laws by eliminating mandatory medical insurance, pre-flight medical screenings, and even on-arrival health exams for fully vaccinated foreign tourists. But that’s just the beginning.
In and around Siem Reap, the entry to the Unesco-listed Angkor Archaeological Park, more than 100 kilometers of new roads have been built. The thoroughfares now have contemporary street lighting, traffic lights, and security cameras thanks to a $150 million investment. The visitor in 2022 will be utterly unfamiliar with much of the old town, though the internationally recognized Pub Street will remain. Hun Sen has referred to Siem Reap province as the kingdom’s rising star, citing the ancient temples as attracting 2.2 million international visitors in 2019 and generating US$100 million in ticket sales alone.
Meanwhile, a new 700-hectare international airport is being built by Yunnan Holdings, a Chinese investment firm, and is expected to open late next year around 50 kilometers from Siem Reap. According to press releases, it is intended to protect the Angkor Wat World Heritage Site – the current airport causes too much environmental damage and damages temple foundations – and increase tourist numbers and establish Cambodia as the “new Thailand.”
A new US$1.5 billion airport for the city, Phnom Penh, is also being built and is expected to open in 2025. It will be the world’s seventh-largest airport in terms of area. There are also plans to modernize Sihanoukville International Airport, which serves as a beach resort and acts as the country’s casino hub. Cambodia’s tourism ministry forecasts a total of 12 million international travelers by the mid-decade, more than double the current figure.