Wall sculptures at the Bayon Temple, part of the Angkor temple complex outside Siem Reap (Simon Roughneen)

Getting from backpacker favourite Phnom Penh to the iconic ruins of Angkor Wat could be about to get easier, with Air Asia Cambodia gearing up for its first flights in May.

The airline, a joint venture between Malaysia-headquartered Air Asia, south-east Asia’s biggest budget carrier, and Cambodian business Sivilai Asia, will connect capital Phnom Penh with Siem Reap and Sihanoukville.

Siem Reap is a north-western town considered the “gateway” to Angkor Wat, a massive complex of centuries-old Hindu and Buddhist temples that draws millions of visitors each year. Sihanoukville is a beach and resort town on Cambodia’s southern Gulf of Thailand coast.

Air Asia has for decades been operating flights to Cambodia, including to Siem Reap and Sihanoukville, from outside the country.

According to Air Asia Cambodia chief executive Vissoth Nam, the setting up of a local branch “will improve connectivity and encourage travellers to stay in the country longer.”

Ticket sales opened on March 18, with one-way fares starting at $49. The first flights are scheduled to lift off on May 2, using two Airbus aircraft stationed at Phnom Penh International Airport.

The capital is to get a bigger international airport in 2025, with construction taking place around 20 kilometres from the centre of the city. A new Chinese-built airport was opened near Siem Reap in late 2023.

Before the Covid pandemic, tourism contributed around 12-15% of Cambodia’s gross domestic product. Visitor numbers are expected to return to the pre-lockdown level of over 6.5 million by 2025.

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