Cambodia hopes to encourage visitors to the famous temple site after tourist numbers fell due to the pandemic.
Flights have just started arriving at Cambodia’s newest and biggest airport.
It is designed to serve as an upgraded gateway to the country's biggest tourist attraction, the centuries-old Angkor Wat temple complex in the northwestern province of Siem Reap.
Commercial operations began Monday when a Bangkok Airways flight from Thailand was the first to land, with 16 additional flights scheduled for the first day of operations at the Siem Reap-Angkor International Airport.
The airport, which was built at a cost of about $1.1 billion (€1 billion) on 700 hectares of land about 40 kilometres east of Angkor Wat, boasts a 3,600-meter-long runway.
Why has Cambodia built a new airport?
Construction began in 2020 to replace the old airport, about 5 kilometres from the temple site. It is being retired in part because of fear that vibrations from frequent flights were damaging the temples’ foundations.
The old airport could support 2 million people a year while the new airport can handle 7 million passengers, with plans to increase this capacity to 12 million passengers annually from 2040.
It was constructed under a 55-year build-operate-transfer (BOT) program between Cambodia and China.
Tourism is considered one of the main pillars supporting Cambodia’s economy.
According to the Ministry of Tourism, Cambodia received some 3.5 million international tourists in the first eight months of 2023. During the whole of 2019 - the last year before the coronavirus pandemic - it received some 6.6 million foreign visitors.
Visitor numbers at the Angkor Wat temple complex have also fallen since the pandemic. Currently, around 1,000 to 1,500 people visit each day compared to up to 9,000 before the pandemic, according to local media reports.
Cambodia is planning to build more new airports
Deputy Prime Minister Vongsey Vissoth, who headed the ceremony marking the start of operations, said the new airport will be officially inaugurated on 16 November by Prime Minister Hun Manet and top Chinese officials.
Another Chinese-funded airport is being constructed at a cost of $1.5 billion (€1.4 billion) to serve the capital Phnom Penh.
The new Phnom Penh International Airport, formally known as the Techo International Airport, is set on 2,600 hectares of land and is scheduled for completion in 2024.