Although Siem Reap has a dark history, it has come into the light in recent years. Now a popular tourist attraction, it can sometimes be difficult to know how be an ethical traveller and leave a positive footprint.
We have compiled the below tips as we are passionate about ethical travel, and advocate for local empowerment.
Support Social Enterprises
There are countless for-purpose businesses to support in Siem Reap that train people from marginalised backgrounds or support charities with their profits. Shop, dine and stay at social enterprises or ethical businesses so that the employees are able to stay in stable employment and break the cycle of poverty. It is a great way for you to be involved in the skill building of these people whilst also getting some benefit!
Don't Buy From or Give To Street Children
When you give to a child, they see the benefit then and there. An issue in Cambodia is that many people do not see the benefit of studying; they see the benefit of getting money immediately. So when you give to a child, that child will put 2+2 together and see that if they are on the streets begging instead of in school, they will be able to support their families now; they won't care about the future when they are not 'young and cute' anymore and have no education to back them up. Don't be part of the problem, be part of the solution - find reputable NGOs to support with your tourist dollar instead.
Buy Locally-Sourced Products
Find out where your food and souvenirs are made, so you can ensure you are supportng the local economy. And should you choose to support an NGO with supplies they need, try your best to purchase those supplies in-country rather than bringing them from home, so you can lift up a small business at the same time.
Give Poverty Tours a Miss
Poverty tourism has exploded in recent years, with many tour companies encouraging people to participate in poverty tourism. When we go into the 'slums' or poor villages, we are going into people's homes. We are taking photos of their day-to-day living and intruding in their lives.
Be Careful with How You Interact with Animals
In 2016, an elephant died from exhaustion after years of carrying tourists up a mountain in Angkor Archaeological Park. These animals should be free, but they are forced to work so their owners can earn money from tourists. The best way you can interact with animals when travelling is from afar, observing them in their natural habitats. You can also support animal-free circuses such as Phare, the Cambodian Circus.
Pay Attention to the Culture
You don't want to inadvertently offend the local people by not adhering to their local culture. Make sure you pack appropriate clothing for your destination, read up on the cultural do's and don'ts, and even learn some basic words so you can show respect to your host country. It will enhance your experience and ensure you are leaving a position footprint.
Be Respectful When Taking Photos
Cambodians are very photogenic, so we understand why you would want to take photos of us! However, out of respect, ensure that you ask people before taking their photos, and don't take photos of children as you don't have their parent's permission. Make sure to portray those who give their permission in a positive light, not in vulnerable situations.