Siem Reap a World Heritage bargain

SIEM REAP, 29 November 2019: Fresh on the heels of its October reopening, Grand Hotel d’Angkor introduce a new signature restaurant last week appropriately named ‘1932’ the year the hotel welcomed its first colonial guests.

Raffles Grand Hotel d’Angkor reopened for business 1 October following a six-month renovation of the classic French colonial-style property.

Today’s travellers, regardless of the hotels they book, are more likely to fly on low-cost airlines to Siem Reap from cities around Asia,  a far cry from the kind of travellers who first journeyed to this tiny village to explore the now world-famed Angkor Wat. 

In its early days, “The Grand” served as a base for archaeologists, explorers and visitors to the rediscovered kingdom of Angkor for less than USD25 a night.

Today, rooms at Raffles Grand Hotel d’Angkor start from USD230 and guests are more likely to be wealthy Asians rather than European aristocrats and explorers.

Siem Reap, home to the UNESCO World Heritage Angkor Historical Park, competes with Luang Prabang in Laos and Bagan in Myanmar for the attention of travellers who are keen to explore Southeast Asia’s iconic World Heritage destinations.

Particularly for residents across Asia, the first consideration is the airfare. While each World Heritage town has its distinctive appeal for the short-break leisure traveller, direct flights and low fares are often the deciding factors.

Siem Reap

From the Bangkok, Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh gateways, Siem Reap has a wide choice of direct flights with return fares as low as USD162, while from Kuala Lumpur and Luang Prabang return fares start at USD146. Singapore has the highest fare on flights to Siem Reap at USD345. Travelling from Danang in central Vietnam the roundtrip fare starts at USD209.

Bagan

Bagan, a more recent recipient of the UNESCO World Heritage badge, drops the ball when you compare fares with Luang Prabang and Siem Reap. Its out-dated domestic airport is served by direct flights from just Yangon, Heho and Mandalay with a fare of around USD170.

Forced to fly through Yangoon or Mandalay’s international airports to pick up a domestic flight to Bagan, the fare is costly and the travel time varies from eight to 11 hours. A traveller living in Bangkok is going to pay around USD311 to get to Bagan and waste a day in either direction.  Out of Singapore, the fare averages USD488 and from Kuala Lumpur, it is even higher at USD581, and you will face an 11-hour trip.

Luang Prabang

World Heritage town Luang Prabang turns out to be a competitive option with direct flights from Bangkok and fares starting at USD177. There are direct flights with lead-in fares of USD202 out of Hanoi and USD212 out of Ho Chi Minh City. Out of Singapore, the fare costs USD297 (direct flight on the outbound sector with a stop on the return via Vientiane). Out of Vientiane a direct roundtrip domestic fare to Luang Prabang starts at USD112.

Bottom line

Siem Reap has cheaper fares and more international direct flights than either Luang Prabang or Bagan. Hoteliers resident in Bagan must be heaping the pressure on authorities to allow direct international flights to Bagan.  If not they are calling for a significant increase in domestic flights that connect Bagan with flights arriving in Yangon from gateway cities around Asia. If it doesn’t happen the newest World Heritage site in Southeast Asia will miss out on short-break leisure travel from the region.

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