Cambodia has opened a new airport to service Siem Reap and the ancient temple complex of Angkor Wat.
The brand new Siem Reap-Angkor International Airport (SAI) sits 40 km (25 miles) from Angkor Wat, to the east of the historic site. The old airport which, in contrast, lay just 5 km (3 miles) from the temple, is being retired, amid fears flight operations there were causing structural damage to the centuries-old temple foundations.
Congratulations on the successful test operation of Siem Reap Angkor International Airport (SAI) with the arrival of non-commercial flights!#CambodiaAirways #SAI #siemreap #Cambodia #aviation pic.twitter.com/OJhduZgiqU— Cambodia Airways (@CambodiaAirways) October 5, 2023
Shaking the foundations?
One of Cambodia’s premier visitor sites, the Angkor Archaeological Park comprises impressive Khmer Empire vestiges dating back to the 9th century including the famous Hindu-Buddhist Temple and others. Overall it makes up the largest religious monument by land area in the world and attracts thousands of visitors a year – though not as many as Cambodia would like, especially since the pandemic.
Cambodia welcomed 3.5 million international visitors in the year to August, just over half its pre-pandemic figures. The new airport, with capacity to throughput 7 million passengers per year, is sure to play an important part in the nation’s post-Covid-19 recovery plan.
Costing around $1.1 billion (1.04 billion euros), work began on the new airport in 2020, under a 55-year Cambodia–China so-called “build-operate-transfer” or “BOT” scheme, With its 3,600-metre (11,810-foot) runway, it takes up 700 hectares (1,730 acres) of land.
Sometimes referred to as the Belt and Road Initiative, and considered a cornerstone of Chinese leader Xi Jinping’s foreign policy since 2013, China is investing huge sums and assuming a greater world leadership role in global infrastructure development under its “Major Country Diplomacy” strategy.
The first flight to land at the new airport was a Bangkok Airways flight from Thailand, according to the AP. There will be connections available to several regional hubs, including Bangkok, Ho Chi Minh City, and Singapore.
The official inauguration of the airport will not take place until mid November and is due to be attended by Prime Minister Hun Manet and top Chinese officials. It is being hailed as a “turning point” for Cambodian tourism.
The launching and commissioning of the first commercial flights to SAI is a turning point for Cambodia in promoting tourism development in its historic territory, with the largest international airport within the Siem Reap Angkor region.Vongsey Vissoth, The Deputy Prime Minister and Head of the Council of Ministers,
Plans are already afoot to increase the new airport’s passenger handling to 12 million per year from 2040.
Chinese funding is also behind another new $1.5-billion airport (1.4-billion-euro) under construction and due to commence operations serving the capital in 2024. Phnom Penh international airport, or “Techo (Takhmao) International Airport” to give it its proper name, occupies 2,600 hectares (6,425 acres) south of Phnom Penh.