Roads to Hospitals, Markets, and Temples

Upgrades to Cambodia’s national highway have not only made health care more accessible, they have boosted trade and tourism

Banteay Meanchey, Banteay Meanchey Province - For 10 years, Yonn Van has hired out his mini-truck and his own services to those wishing to transport goods to the district town from surrounding villages. He has just finished a journey of 55 km in an hour and a half: Before the national highway was upgraded under the Greater Mekong Subregion (GMS) Cambodia Road Improvement Project funded by ADB, it would have been a 4-hour, bone-rattling trip.

With travel times down so much, he can do more trips in a day and earn more money. However, Yonn Van faces more competition than before. “There are more people in the road transport business now that the road is so much better,” he said ruefully.

Phum Salob and Ya Kim Sour both sell statues along the highway that connects the tourist town of Siem Reap to the Thai border on one side and the Cambodian cities of Phnom Penh and Battambang on the other.

Both women have benefited from the road, which is bringing more domestic and foreign tourists since it was completed in mid-2009.

The stone is quarried nearby, so the statues are special to this region. Phum Salob sells small stone Buddhas and other statues. Foreign tourists driving along the national highway often stop to take home mementoes from Cambodia. Many of these are tourists who enter and leave Cambodia from Thailand, driving through the border crossing at Poipet. Ya Kim Sour sells larger-than-life statues, most of them Buddha images, to domestic tourists.

The highway has made the temples of Angkor accessible by road, not only to domestic but also to foreign visitors. Budget guesthouses like the Naga Guest House, less than 1 km from the national highway, have seen a steady stream of tourists who travel from Thailand by road.

Even the recent global recession did not put a dent in visitors to his guesthouse, said owner Sao Yukun. Most of his guests are budget travelers from Europe or North America who come to Cambodia by road after visiting Thailand.

The magnificent 12th-century temples of Angkor Wat and Angkor Thom attract tourists from all over the world, but until recently poor infrastructure deterred many potential visitors. Roads were a particular drawback.

Nida Ouk, ADB’s senior project implementation officer for physical infrastructure, remembered many unexpected delays along the route from the Cambodian–Thai border at Poipet to Siem Reap. “Only a few years ago, we had to wait 3 hours for a bridge to be repaired along the national road,” he recalled. Even without such mishaps, the journey took 4 to 5 hours. “Now, it takes only 1.5 hours,” he said.

The improvements to the national roads leading to Siem Reap, in northwest Cambodia, follow an early project under which ADB supported repairs to roads in the east going to Viet Nam. National Road 1, completed in 2005, helped increase travel and trade, including bus services between the neighboring countries.

Now, with a good network in both parts of the countries, tourists are also visiting Siem Reap from Viet Nam. Looking ahead, the Japan government will support the construction of a bridge over the Mekong River at Neak Loeung to further improve links between Cambodia and Viet Nam. At the moment, the only way across is by ferry or by a road that follows a much longer route. The bridge will shorten the route and ease traffic on the old road.

ADB supports improvement to these national roads under its GMS program that brings together Cambodia, the Lao People’s Democratic Republic, Myanmar, Thailand, Viet Nam, and Yunnan province in the People’s Republic of China. The GMS program, which boosts regional cooperation for greater development impact, also supports border agreements that create a one-stop shop for all clearances at border crossings. Together, better roads and easier border crossings help support travel, trade, and tourism.

Aside from the national roads upgraded under the GMS program, ADB has also built or improved 600 km of rural roads in Cambodia, providing farmers with access to markets, and linking villagers to hospitals, schools, and other essential facilities.