Even during the rainy season, Angkor Wat is usually thronged with visitors (Simon Roughneen)

Getting to Cambodia has just become easier with the opening of the country’s biggest airport at Siem Reap, the gateway town to the temple complex of Angkor Wat, one of the world’s biggest tourism attractions.

Costing around $1.1 billion, the Chinese-built Siem Reap-Angkor International Airport opened on October 16 and can handle large, long-haul aircraft, meaning it should soon be possible to fly directly from Europe and North America rather than connect via bigger cities and airports in the region such as Bangkok or Singapore.

Built during the 12th century, Angkor Wat is the world’s biggest religious structure, according to the Guinness Book of Records. The ruins of the 400-acre Hindu-Buddhist temple complex are a popular stop for tourists visiting Cambodia, with over 2.2 million visitors a year recorded in 2019, before Covid pandemic border closures and lockdowns.

“On the first day of official operation, Siem Reap Angkor International Airport received a total of about 17 flights, respectively from China and Thailand,” the Chinese embassy in Phnom Penh said on October 16.

The new airport has a 3.6-kilometre runway and is described as being able to handle 7 million passengers a year. The downside is that it is around 40 kilometres from the temple complex, a bit of a trek compared with the smaller and now-defunct Siem Reap International Airport, which was part of the French VINCI Airports Group, operator of the country’s other main hubs in capital Phnom Penh and Sihanoukville, a coastal town known for its beaches.

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