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Recently, thousands of Cambodian migrant workers left Thailand to return home. Thailand’s new military government has instilled fear in the hearts of many Cambodian workers. There is debate as to whether they were forced out by the new Thai government or if it has to do with mass fear. Approximately 84,000 workers returned to Cambodia in the past month. In terms of living or traveling to Thailand and Cambodia, the tables have turned, and Cambodia seems to be a safer destination than Thailand in 2014. It has become a popular tourist destination, with people looking for a cheaper, more rural travel destination as an alternative to Thailand. This is interesting when examining the history of Thailand and Cambodia. Thailand has historically been a very popular tourist destination, whereas genocide and political unrest in Cambodia due to the Khmer Rouge left Cambodia with a reputation for being a very dangerous place to live and visit.
Until the 2000s, Cambodia was a tumultuous destination. The political group the Khmer Rouge, led by Pol Pot, gained power in the 1970s, during the end of war between the United States and Indochina. What followed was a period of government censorship, mass killings, and poor treatment of the Cambodian people. It is estimated that nearly 2 million Cambodians died during the Khmer Rouge era, which terminated in the late 1990s after the first democratic election facilitated by the United Nations. Their deaths were due to genocide, starvation, forced labor, and disease, killing off approximately 1/4 of the Cambodian population. Even after the Khmer Rouge publicly fractured and Pol Pot committed suicide in the late 1990s, factions of the Khmer Rouge continued to make Cambodia a terrifying and deadly place. The United Nations launched one of its biggest human rights efforts in attempting to set up a democratic government in 1996.
Cambodia still continued to struggle with violence and political unrest, but now, Cambodia has grown to be a much safer country. With some dispute, Cambodia has an established democratic, relatively peaceful government under Prime Minister Hun Sen. As the country has become safer, Cambodia has also become a more popular tourist destination.
There is still contention about the current Prime Minister’s intentions and landmines littered around the country that continue to claim innocent lives. However, for the intrepid traveler looking to go off the beaten path, Cambodia has become a “global hotspot.” With beautiful beaches, rolling countryside, magnificent temples, and cheap hotels, tourists are looking to vacation in Cambodia. The tourism industry has increased significantly. Cambodia’s Ministry of Tourism commented that tourism is growing at such a substantial rate that there have been issues finding enough skilled workers to host these new travelers. An employee at the Ministry Kong Sopheareak remarked, that the tourism industry has a serious lack of skilled workers, including housekeepers, cooks, and tour guides. The numbers of tourists increase every year, enough so that there is a labor shortage.
It is interesting that Cambodia and Thailand are starting to switch places from a global tourism perspective. Thailand is entering a period of unrest with its new establishment of a military government, making many tourists cross it off on their desired destinations. On the other hand, tourism in Cambodia is growing rapidly, with more people feeling that it is a safer place, making it a popular country to travel to in South Asia.
By Louise Webster