A Bed For The Night

Phnom Penh has emerged from its years of deprivation with a bright smile that says ‘welcome’ with a range of new generation boutique hotels. As the capital grows in stature as one of the region’s economic powerhouses, so its range of budget to affordable, luxurious to boutique accommodation grows with it. The Khmer Rouge days are a distant memory and Phnom Penh is now geared up to welcome the cream of the travelling public. Even notoriously picky Hollywood stars such as Angelina Jolie and Matt Dillon have found read luxury in the capital’s hotels.

Adventurous parents with children and retirees spending their hard – earned money on themselves now their kids have graduated, has meant a welcome increase in tour-ists keen to explore the kingdom’s wonders in the face of the world’s financial woes. So starting from the top down, what exactly can travellers and holidaymakers expect when they leave Phnom Penh International Airport and head into the city?

The latest addition to the cityscape is the Sofitel Phnom Penh Phokeethra over-looking the confluence of the Sap, Bassac and Mekong rivers. and is the first five star hotel to open in many years. It joins the star-encrusted likes of the Raffles hotel Le Royal, Cambodiana, NagaWorld and the Hotel InterContinental, where high-end and expense account heads rest on downy pillows. Expect to pay puwards of $100 a night in any of these properties.

A comparatively new phenomenon in the capital is the rise and rise of the business and/or boutique hotel, which is aimed at people who want the internet and flat-screen TVs as part of their mod cons. Most of them are carefully restored colonial piles located in quiet back streets such as Pavillon and Villa Langaka, or airy and modern like Le Marais,Villa Paradiso features uniquely designed “theme” rooms like a Japanese suite, the sheikh suite, Balinese Garden suite & more.

Closer to the cation but still tastefully decorated to a high level of comfort include The Quay and River 108 on Sisowath, Lebiz close by the Central Market, the Almond on Sothearos, the 60′s and 90′s Frangipanis on St 252 and 71 repectively and Anise near the Independence Monument. Many of the aforementioned hotels have pools, some have spas and workout ereas. And even if you’re not staying with them, several hotels make their pools available to outside guests wanting to escape the tropical heat-see page 61 for a election.

Moving down the price scale to the $20 to $60 a night level nets a wider choice of resting place from chains such as the Boddhi Tree’s Aram Umma ,respectively on streets 244 and 113, to guesthouses such as Bright Lotus 1, near the National Museum which has excellent rooms,some with a balcony and  view of the chaos that is Sothearos during the morning and evening rush hours.Nearby, Nawin Guesthouse offers clean rooms with AC for around $20 a night.

Quayside living is a treat if you want spectacular, uninterrupted views of the Sap and Mekong rivers and ranges in price from $30 to $150 a night. The Amanjaya Pancam on the quay opposite Wat Ounalom is the start of a trip of places offering rooms with a view from the Bougainvillier to the Cara, the Paragon to California 2 with lots in between.

One of the many advantages of the capital hotels and guesthouses is the warm and friendly welcome they offer and the cornucopia of travel advice that’s on tap. Most places have their own trusted coterie of tuk-tuk and moto drivers and are happy to give you an idea of how much a journey to, say, the Killing Fields should cost and advice on other trips in and around the capital.

Most of them also carry the full range of Pocket Guide editions of Drinking and Dining and Out & About ( this one ) as well as our very popular Tourist Map.

Dry Season Advice

As the dry season begins there are a few factor which come in to play which can have an adverse affect on your health, so please keep in mind these tips…

Hydration: while it may not be raining, it is still very humid in this corner of South-east Asia and it is really easy to get dehydrated. You tend do lose the most water through sweating and more than you think! You need to drink plenty of water (clean, filtered or bottled water) and it is always best to bring it with you, because you cannot rely on a lean water supply wherever you go especially while traveling.

Take especial care when exercising in hot humid weather. your body is working much harder to maintain the same level of intensity that you are used to. Choose a cool, shaded place to exercise outdoors to avoid overheating, take more breaks and drink extra water.If you get muscle cramps, get dizzy or nauseous, you need to stop exercising right away, hydrate, and get to a cool place. These are signs of the beginning of heat stroke and you may need medical attention if the symptoms don’t improve.

Skin: When you are out and about in the sun,fair-skinned people will be at risk for sun-burn.You can get sunburned even on a cloudy day, so don’t be fooled. A good practice is to wear a moisturizer which contains 10-15 SPF every day and then if you know you’ll be in the sun for an extended period of time, wear a stronger 30-60 SPF sunscreen. If you make sure to reapply every 2-3 hours.A hat and light, long-sleeved shirt are a great idea to avoid having to reapply sunscreen when you’re out for a prolonged period.

If you do get sunburned, make sure you continue hydrating yourself. You will lose more moisture through broken and damaged skin. You can use a burn relief gel or cream, but if you have blisters,do your bets not to disturb them while applying. If you are shivering or in a lot of pain and have blistering, this can be serious and you should seek medical attention. If is easy for burns to get infected in this instance.

In the dry season, you also continue to be at risk for skin infections.If is easy to get a scratch or a small cut and with extra dust and dirt in the air, for it to be infected. To guard against this, wash any cuts or scratches promptly with warm soapy water, dry well and apply antibiotic ointment.cover with a bandage especially if on an exposed area. If you cut your foot,it is best to wear close-toed shoes until the wound is healed.

Swimming in lakes,rivers, or the ocean if you already have a wound, is a bad idea as there are many bacteria in these waters also. A cut is usually infected if there is redness on the surface,feels warm,or has yellow or white fluid coming from it. If you see these signs, you should see a doctor. These infections can quickly worsen and often need oral antibiotic.

Asthma and Respiratory Illness: Because of the lack of rain, there is an increase in dust in the air and since it is still humid, molds and pollen also abound. These can be very bad conditions for asthmatics and those with allergies. In order to avoid exacer-bations, try to stay away from construction zones and heavy traffic.Use a face mask (and embrace the local culture) to keep dust out of your nose and watery eyes. Come in to the doctor to be checked.

Although not usually serious, medicines and advice can help a lot and keep you hap-pier and healthier. In the dry season, most people will be in air conditioning a good deal more. Air conditioners that have not been leaned properly can spread bacteria and allergens into the air and cause infections or asthma-like symptoms. Check with your hotel or landlord to make sure that the AC units are cleaned periodically and if you or your housemates have persistent coughs or recurrent respiratory illnesses, seek medical attention.

Riverside Retreats

Set in the heart of lush, green countryside, Cambodia's second city is in the coun-try's abundant garden province. It's a prosperous town that feels confident and lively, yet much calmer and more peaceful than Siem Read or Phnom Penh. Several bus companies ply the route from Phnom Penh  (see pg 74-75). The journey usually takes about five hours and should cost $5. Taxis from Phnom Penh take around four hours and cost about $50,though price hikes may occur during the tourist season.
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There are numerous hotels catering to most budgets. Maisons Wat Kor is a new ties. The extensive tropical garden is home to three chalets, with ten rooms and a swimming pool.In town, Bambu Hotel has a gorgeous blend of strong modem architectural styling softened by French colonial and Khmer traditional elements.

At Au Cabaret Vert you'll find six elegantly decked out chalets in an environ-mentally conscious resort that includes a natural water pool. If you're on a tighter budget, Phka Villa has ten lovely bungalows in a garden that's bursting with tropical flowers and trees.The King Fy Hotel boasts spectacular views of the city,especially if you manage to snag one of the fifth floor riverview suites.Furthe south you'll find Vy Chhe Hotel,centrally located along the riverside. It has large rooms decorated with a mix of traditional and modem inspiration.Another highflyer is the five-storey Seng Hout Hotel whose rooftop is a great place to catch a sun set.

There's no shortage of places to eat and drink. Most of the hotels offer a range of good quality fare but several restaurants have sprung up to meet the new demand posed by visitors. At La Pomme d'Amour, you'll find a creative fusion of Khmer and French cuisine, accompanied by a sophisticated and international wine list. Up the road, there's also Madison Corner, a popular pub open until late into the night and offering a friendly family atmosphere.

If you're looking for a souvenir, for something special, check out Blue Lotus on St. 2, featuring a stunning selection of clothes and accessories with unique textiles made from lotus roots, papyrus, orchids, and plain old silk. The lotus root comes from Kampong pouy reservoir, about 15km outside of town, and the fibre is extracted by a unique process requiring 8000 stems to produce just one metre of fabric.

The BTB Shop on St.2.5 has a lovely selection of genuine.Cambodia made prod-ucts, from soaps, ceramics,spices,teas,peper, clothes, shoes, oils, creams, cards, and furnishings. As the list indicates,you could spend more than a little time in here.

Activities: Battambang provincial authorities have designated a heritage protection area around Streets 1 and 3, in which you'll find 800 historic buildings.The Gov- ernor's Mansion has also been restored, the grounds of which are open to visitors. Khmer Architecture Tours organises walking tours that take in the town's architec-tural highlights. Visitors can also drop in to view some traditional style 100 year old 'ancient' wooden houses near Wat Kor.

It's impossible to talk about Battambang without mentioning Phare Ponleu Selpak, the arts and circus school. There is a regular schedule of evening performances now, get there early to have a wander around the visual arts studio and grounds.

The beautiful countryside outside of battambang is an art-form in itself, and can be enjoyed by the Bamboo Train,or by hiring a bicycle. A day's hire should be $2, though mountain bikes will cost a little more.If you like, you can also take part in daily cycling tours that take in sites.For a little more local flair, Why not try the cycle tours organised by Au Cabaret Vert. The audio guided tours are about two and a half hours long and take in many of the town's highlights. Tuk-tuk tours to the pagodas are also recommended, with prices up to $20 for a day's hire.

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Tickets To Ride

The good news is that most of these attractions are now pretty easy to get to. So why not get up and go?

The route between Phnom Penh and Siem Read has the most options with buses leaving hourly from 6:30am- 2:30pm. capital Tours, near Orussei Market and Sorya Transport, near Central Market are base grade choices, while on the riverside near St 104 there are deluxe buses with AC, snacks and toilet – Giant Ibis and Mekong Express are popular choices.

A few companies now offer fast Transit van buses carrying fewer passengers that do the journey in less time. It’s good to get tickets a day ahead as their schedules are more limited.

Guesthouses and travel agencies can sell you a boat ticket to Siem Read. Many years ago, when the roads were bad, it was a popular choice but it’s relatively expen-sive (a bout $35 one way) and, if you choose to sit on the roof,the view quickly becomes monotonous and you risk getting sunburnt and deafened  from the noise of the engines. Take a hat, sunscreen, plenty of water and some earplugs.

Negotiating a taxi ride is all about haggling.Stars your negotiations at the north-west corner of Central Market.A one-way trip to Siem Read will cost upwards of $60, depending on the quality of the car and driver, as well as the time of day ( early morning tends to de cheaper as the driver can get a return fare back to PP).

There is also the option of renting a motorcycly, which offers the most freedom for your journey. You will need to leave your passport as collateral and keep in mind that you are responsible for the bike. Driving in Cambodia poses it’s own set of chal-lenges and you should read up before hitting the highway.

 

Getting Down To Business

As hubs go, southeast Asia has been crying out for a more modestly priced place to do business within the region’s booming economies. The capital is growing outwards and upwards. Mixed use office and residential buildings are reaching for the sky as Diamond Island City and Camko City’s shape and size begin to emerge, the stock exchange goes from drawing board to reality and the capital’s forthcoming vital role in the region is an important one that signals an increasingly brighter future.

Welcome to 21st-century Phnom Penh: an emerging commercial and financial hub that it is hoped will become a magnet for incoming business which will underline the increasing demand for sophisticated facilities. A mere five years ago such thinking was purely aspirational. Many streets in the capital were still unpaved and poorly lit at night, the internet was very slow and unreliable, power-outager were an almost daily occurrence,especially in the hotter months, and the range of international flights were limited. That’s no longer the case, however, and the city has made great strides forward. Internet speeds of 1MB/s and more are now commonplace and free Wi-Fi is the norm at most of the capital’s better hotels. Air France now flys to Phnom Penh (via Bangkok) and it’s rumoured that direct flights to the Gulf will be a reality within the year.

Hotels, for many years highly dependent on the government’s advertising budget for the Kingdom of Wonder, have grasped the nettle and expanded their offer-ings to the business traveller,Many now offer meeting rooms, conference faccili-ties, Wi-Fi,secretarial services, commercial reference, libraries,private meeting and dining rooms and special deals for long-stay businessmen on the cusp of that one big and profitable deal.

Across the capital smartly uniformed concierges and efficient check-in staff are drilled in the necessities of smiling welcome and encyclopaedic knowledge of their city and its transports options. From Raffles Hotel Le Royal to the Inter Continental,the sunway to the Sofitel, Lebiz to the Almond, hotel profits have improved.

Sofitel has recently opened its 201 room Phokeethra Phnom Penh hotel and busi-ness travellers are expected to make up a significant proportion of its guests. All of them have business centres geared for research and a raft of facilities from fax machines to photocopying, interpreters to printing,executive suites to conference and business packages the equal of most others in the region.

The capital also boasts a number of short-and medium-stay apartment build-ings and a seemingly ever-increasing number of small ( up to 30-room) boutique hotels offering the comforts and facilities of a business centre with the more personal touches offered by their smaller and more intimate size. So if you’re looking for somewhere to not only lay your head but also go head-to head with business partners and colleagues, please turn to the table overleaf for a selection of business facilities available at 10 leading hotels in the city.

In terms of getting around and familiarising yourself with the highways,byways and no ways of the capital, most people who visit and even those who live here swear by rather than at our range of handy pocket-sized guides. We currently publish three guides in Phnom penh entitled Out & About ( this one). Drinking & Dining and After Dark, which are free and available across the city, together with our Tourist Map which is available alongside the other guides.

If you’re planning to stay in town for a while you may also find our Street Wise city guide and directory to be an invaluable $3.50 investment for getting around (call us on 023210407 for a copy).

 

Activities and Entertainment

Impress the folks back home with amok, spring rolls or sculpted vegetable decora-tions by taking a cooking course at frizz on streets 240. there usually include a guided market trip, introduction to the herbs and spices that make Khmer cuisine unique and hands-on experience of making ethic dishes.

Happy snappers can improve their skills with advice from a professional to get memorable pictures on a photography tour. Call Nathan Horton on 092526706 for details of his classes and guided tour.

Phnom Penh is also the perfect place for pampering. Indulge yourself with a massage, facial or treatment at one of the many spas, leaving you relaxed and rejuvenated for the road ahead (see pages 93-100). And if you just want to relax, the city’s hotels offer plenty of choice for a leisurely swim-just choose a pool to lounge around from our selection on page 61. The Water Park, on the road to the airport, is the place for splashing and slides, while serious swimmers should visit the Olympic Stadium’s 50m pool and 5m diving board.

Sports fans will find something to do at the stadium every morning and late afternoon, with tennis courts, a climbing wall,ball games, aerobics and martial arts to choose from.At the city’s street parks near dusk you can join in fitness classes as instructors demonstrate moves to the accompaniment of a boom box sound system-the riverfront north of Street 154 is especially popular. Bring badminton rackets for a gentle workout or try to learn the ancient game of shuttlecock.

Golf fans can practice their swing at one of the city’s driving ranges, pitch and putt at the course in Tuol Kork or take in a full 18 holes at a country club or golf course. Just remember to wear sunscreen and a hat.

Parkway Centre’s upper floors have 10-pin bowling (from $3 for 30 minutes), disco bumper cars and 3D golf. There’s even a driving range on the roof and a weekend kids’ puppet  theatre. Sovanna, Sorya,and Pencil Supercenter shopping centres have entertainment zones with arcade favourites, driving game and jungle gyms. Paragon Mall on St 214 is now home to Monkey Business, an indoor children’s party venue. At sorya mall, you can hire inline skater to jump over ramps in the rooftop skate park. And if your need for speed requires an engine, Kambol Kart Raceway may be the answer, though it’s 18km from town so you’ll need at least half a day to make a worthwhile trip out of it.

Koh Pich (Diamond Island) is under development to become the capital’s hottest entertainment district. There’s funfair rider and game with cuddly toy prizes and an ice-show of sculptures made from the cold stuff. Head back over the bridge and the new  dreamland funpark has opened opposite Naga World, offering a similar range of adventure rides. Fancy a film? The Flicks and Meta House show English-language movies and documentaries, and the two recently opened cinemas at Sorya and City Malls are the closest you will get to a western experience, with occasional 3D showings.

No trip to Phnom Penh is complete without a river cruise, which gives a new perspective on the city. It is particularly beautiful at sunset.Along the riverside and down towards the Japanese Friendship bridge there are plenty of tourist boats for hire for groups large or small by the hour, some including dinner. one of the better options is the Kanika Catamaran which  is moored at the Himawari Hotel-call 089848959 for details.

The more adventurous can rent a bicycle and catch the ferry behind the Cambo-diana hotel to explore Kandal Province. Out of town, visit animals who’ve been given a second chance at the Phnom Tamao Wildlife Rescue Center. Over 1,200 guests, including tigers, elephants, monkeys, gibbons, and sun bears, make it well worth the $5 enterance fee.

Market Mayhem

Phnom Penh has been for mary years a shoppers’ paradise where bargains have to be fought over and in the majority of cases locally made means put together round the corner,but bewere of imitations.

The most dominant of the capital’s marketplaces is Psar Thmei, the Central Market. Prior to 1935 the area was a swamp called Beng Decho, which was prone to flood-ing during the rainy season, The lake was drained and construction of what is now a marker designed by Jean Desbois and engineered by Louis Chauchon began in 1935.

As a landmark in the kingdom of wonder it gradually became more and more scruffy over the years and the capital’s city fathers welcomed an offer by the French Development Agency to return the site to its former, pristine glory.The work was pretty well finished in 2011 and the stallholders have returnd,although the rental of their sites has gone up and prices have risen accrdingly.

Not that many people complain as they haggle over handi and not so handicrafts on display.After all,what would a trip to Cambodia be without a scarf of three in different colours and either lovingly made with pure silk or cotton? Souvenir T-shirts,too,are a must-buy from simple designs with the Khmer alphabet and flag to Tin-Tin and imagery of Angkor Wat. On the so-called craft stalls it’s still possible to buy handcrafted pagodas, buddhas and other souvenirs, but check their undersides for Made in Vietnam stickers.

The central area is a wonder of design and engineering with a domed core and four wings radiating outwards.Under the cupola, watches, precious and semi-pre-cious stones, gold and silver jewellery dominate accompanied by lines of stallholders selling clothing for Khmer tots, teens and twentysomethings to barangs looking for presents for themselves or loved ones, Its outside stalls have been transformed from a rag-tag collection of haphazard areas specialising in everything from clothing to cooking utensils,electrical goods to fresh from the sea fish and crustaceans to more ordered assemblage of product areas.

In a city where rumours abound and often overtake the truth, people are cur-rently giving great credence to the suggestion that the road around the market and several of the feeder streets to its core will in the future be pedestrianised. Earlier interviews suggested that close on half the stallholders were going to more to other markets where the rent was less steep. A straw poll a few months back, though,even with the reported downturn in tourist numbers,painted a very different and more encouraging picture.

A recently finished but not yet popular market is a stone’s throw from the Sorya Centre called, inevitably, the Golden Sorya Mall, which majors in shoes and clothing for the ever fashion-conscious Khmer youth, Mostly catering for the younger set, it also sports juice bars, fast food outlets and coffee bars.

There have been few changes at the Russian Market since the movement of the many and scruffy outside stalls, except for the several merchants who have adorned their premises with fancy signage. Famous for its Aladdin’s cave of bootleg software, CDs and DVDs plus just about everything a budding yuppie would want to be seen with, it’s a steamy, clammy rabbit warren of colours and noise reminiscent of an Ara-bian souk.Its popularity,though, has enlivened the streets radiating off its four sides where bars, bistros and restaurants,ice cream shops and snackeries have reached out to the mostly heat-exhausted shoppers.

Orussey is another reliable standby with a vast selection of dry bulk foods, fruit, vegetable, fish and cut flowers in addition to kramas, T-shirts, sneakers, underwear and household electrical goods,Psar Chas offers a wide rage of fruit and Olympic has wholesale fabrics of all hues and designs by the mile.

Happy Painting Gallery

Fountains and statuary, offerings to and celebrations of buddhism in a graceful manicured setting encourage most sightseers to learn more. And there’s nowhere better than the national museum, which has a large and impressive collection of artefacts tracing Cambodia’s rich history in vaulted splendour.

Whereas Siem Reap might lay claim to being the “cultural capital” of Cambodia. Phnom Penh still has plenty to offer those wanting to enjoy the arts scene during their stay. There are a seemingly ever-increasing number of galleris across town,showcasing ted work of local artists as well as expatriate and other international painters, sculptors and photographers.Exhibitions are held regularly at venues such as jave cafe and gallery on Sihanouk Bvd, Meta House on Sothearos Bvd and the FCC on the riverfront at the corner of St 178.

The FCC building also houses the Happy painting Gallery, owned and managed by long term French expat Stef.A few blocks from the river on St 178 you will find another gallery, this one belonging to local Khmer artist Asasax.While the artist exhibit markedly different styles,both are well worth seeking out if you’re looking for an interesting gift or a souvenir.

Please see our listing on the following pages for details of other outlets.

Bring On The Brands

Phnom penh’s reputation as a place to shop is developing quickly.As well as homegrown retailers.big brands are arriving in the city.so check out our guide to international shopping and reap the benefits of the exchange rate.

Head for Sihanouk boulevard – tipped to become the city’s answer to oxford street in London or Singapore’s orchid road,which now boasts mango,VNC,Axara of Paris, skechers and bYSI among others.

Much loved Spanish brand mango opened its doors earlier this year (44 Sihanouk boulevard).prices are a little more reasonable than its other Asian stores,but you may still need to bring the plastic.the selection of clothes and accessories is the same as you’d find in any of their outlets,although larger sizes are sometimes difficult to find.

Next door,Axara of Paris,housed in a renovated colonial – style villa,transports you into a world of club of music,mirrors and bright lighting.the store is stocked with small and medium standard European,UK and US sizes,with international price tags to match.you’ll find a range to suit most climates from winter to breach wear.

The motto of VNC (31c Sihanouk Boulevard) is that little things make a big dif-ference. Bringing current season bags, purses and fashion. The classy white decor and sofas make trying on a treat. Next door,E.pse is a subsidiary of Eclipse,one of the best known names in Malaysian fashion,offering feminine clothes that are suitable for hotter temperatures.

Singapore favourite bYSI (50B Sihanouk Boulevard) has a selection of fun and functional ladieswear in sizes up to UK 14 (size 16 US), although you might find some items are a little on the short side if you’re taller than the Asian standard. Pedro (13 Sihanouk Boulevard) is another well-known Singaporean retailer, sell-ing smark classical shoes, handbags, belts, wallets and ties with fashionable twists. Last but not least, don’t miss out on the authentic trendy Parisian brands at the Le Marais on St 222.

If you forgot to pack enough shoes ,you’ll find a range of comfy footwear for men, women and kids at Bata shoes (also at 84 St 143) and Skechers (46 Sihanouk Boulevard) close to Independence Monument.

For authentic brand name leisurewear,make your way to the fist floor of lucky Department store (37-39, St 217, opposite City Mall) to pick up Levi’s and Lacoste products,and to CityMart on the top floor of Sorya Mall to the south of central Maker. The authorised Adidas stores (164 Norodom Boulevard and 201 Mao Tse Tung Boulevard) stock footwear, swimwear, sports clothes and equipment for golf, basketball,football and athletics.

If it’s electronics you’re after, canon shop on Sihanouk Boulevard is a multi-storised multimedia delight. Nokia has a retail outlet just down road close to authorised Apple resellers iOne,who can also be found in Canadia Tower (St 110) and at Sovanna Mall.

Fake watches are available in every makers in the city, but if you want something that might last more than a few days, better to pay more for the real deal.Genuine watches can be snapped up at the Swatch store (37 Russian Federation Boulevard). Rado and Omege products are waiting for you at boutiques at the Cambodia Hotel (Sisowath Quay) and official Longines store is at 171,St 130.

To make sure you look good in your holiday photos, authenticated Revlon prod-ucts are available at the Revlon shop in Sorya Shopping centre and Sydney Shopping Centre. Snap up health and beauty supplies from Malaysian brand Elianto at their City Mall outler, alongside natural products at the Face Shop (also at 110 Sihanouk Boulevard).

Cambodia’s tourism grows

Qatar-Airways

PHNOM PENH, 18 July 2013: Cambodia’s tourist arrivals registered a 25.3% growth in May according to the country’s statistics and tourist information department.

The country welcomed 292,115 visits compared to 233,220 during the same month in 2012.

Released by the Ministry of Tourism, Monday, data showed neighbouring Vietnam was the top supplier with 71,956, an increase of 21.7% from 59,148 visits in May last year.