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38 ROADS & BEYOND – Travel Asia


The Road to Angkor

2021 is going to be a big year for Siem Reap. Work is already underway on several major projects that will change the shape of the city forever. Known as a small town with the UNESCO World Heritage Site of Angkor Wat located just 7km away, pre-Covid Siem Reap and ruins were often packed with large groups of (mostly) Asian travellers. It was not unusual for congestion at popular locations such as Pub Street, or indeed at the main temples. With narrow streets, poor driving skills, and one-way systems being blatantly ignored at times, chaos ruled. Add on rubbish piled up in the side streets and some dirty waterways, then visitors did not always have a favourable image of Siem Reap.

Whilst still manageable it was quite easy for Western travellers to avoid the crowds though with further growth in the number of tourists there would have certainly been fewer options to do this.

Covid-19 has devastated the tourism industry in Siem Reap and left the city desperate for tourists, it has also given the authorities some breathing space in order to move ahead with modernisation at a rapid pace. When the days of mass tourism resume the hope is that Siem Reap is better prepared to manage large numbers of tourists in a better way.

A summary of current and future projects:

Siem Reap Road & River Development


Already well underway the challenge is to build and renew more than 100km of roads in order to make the city more accessible and reduce bottlenecks. The project includes pavements, cycle paths, new drainage, enhanced public spaces and utilisation of the Siem Reap River. From the design renditions then it will be quite a different city to get around. Let’s hope the remorks (tuk tuks) don’t disappear as they are also a fun way to get out to the temples. The completion date is end of 2021, which despite rapid work at the moment, is still a little optimistic.

Artists rendering of new traffic schemes and walkways.


Construction on a new international airport began in March 2020 and 30% is already complete. The airport is located approximately 40km to the east of Siem Reap and is a $880 million Chinese led investment. It is expected to be complete in 2023 and able to ‘handle 10 million passengers in 2030 and 20 million by 2050’.

Sketch of the new Siem Reap International Airport


Development plans have been unveiled for the construction of a new city, tentatively called Grand Siem Reap, in close proximity to the new airport. Ostensibly, this is as the current city would not be able to manage the 10s of millions of tourists expected in the future. This ties to an already released masterplan for development for 2020-35, which includes 20 major investment projects. Construction dates and detailed plans are lacking so this is a long way off…


Currently in Siem Reap Province there is only one wastewater treatment plant that can treat up to 8,000m³ of contaminated water daily. A new wastewater treatment plant and an enhanced sewerage network will ensure 80,000m³ of water can be treated by 2040.


The company behind the NagaWorld Hotels and Casino in Phnom Penh has received planning permission for a $350 million leisure complex with high-end hotels, bars, shopping, a water theme park, an indoor hi-tech theme parks and extensive MICE facilities. Importantly, there will be no casino or gaming allowed. This integrated resort will be located outside the main Angkor Park and is expected to be completed by 2025. It will also contain a ‘Siem Reap China Town’ which gives it a clear clue to its target market. There is also a clear objective to attract visitors to both NagaCorp businesses in Siem Reap and Phnom Penh, hence gaining gaming revenue in the capital at least. We are expected some kind of Disney World for Asians at the ‘Angkor Lake of Wonder’.


The Angkor Wildlife & Aquarium is a $72 million joint Cambodian-Japanese venture, in association with a US company which designs and operates aquariums and marine parks globally. Partly entertainment centre, and partly world-class education institution for wildlife conservation and environmental protection, the centre is located 30km east of Siem Reap.

The first phase of the project is expected to open mid-2021. Though understandably this date might be pushed back a little.

Construction of the new acquarium, photo c/o ICM International Concept Management Inc (ICM).


In the last few months, the Angkor Wat Archaeological Park has seen significant enhancements. We now have a lovely cycle path around the temples and through the forest. This certainly opens new doors for active tourists to explore the ruins. The esplanade leading to the main entrance of Angkor Wat is now tree and plant lined and parking areas have been revamped. New, Western-style toilets have replaced some of the ‘older models’.

Furthermore, in the not-too-distant future, QR codes will be rolled out for entrance tickets. It will be possible for independent visitors and travel agencies to pre-pay Angkor passes online and avoid the need to go to the ticket counter. We have discussed the practicalities with Angkor Enterprise who manage the ticketing and it will be straightforward to purchase, though complicated for refunds/date changes…so a little more compromise is required to make it user-friendly for everyone. With QR codes it will be easier to manage ticket numbers at temples and we will be able to see in real-time how many visitors are at a temple at any one time. This will help with tourist flow and avoid overcrowding. It will take some time for visitor numbers to go back up and then there will be real data that can be managed by the authorities.

Esplanade to Angkor Wat, photo c/o Apsara Authority


Return visitors to Siem Reap will have a shock when they return. Will the city have lost its charm? Hopefully it will lose a few dirty, stinky canals that tourists sometimes encountered. Will it all be concrete and wide roads? Or will the river development and flowing walkways bring a new reason to stay longer in Siem Reap? We are keeping an open verdict. What is clear is that things did need to change in Siem Reap and the next 6-9 months will be quite messy. However, after that things will be better.

Artists rendering of a new public space in central Siem Reap.

Thanks to Ranuth Yun for the lead photograph with his drone photo of Siem Reap today.