Responsible tourism: Angkor Temples short break photography tours, Cambodia
Whilst touring Angkor temples for the most part we use Tuks Tuks which are perfect for us as photographers and have the benefit of natural air-conditioning For longer trips around Siem Reap we tailor the mode of transport used to the size of the group. If it is a small group of up to three people we travel by car. Our regular driver has had his car modified to use LPG, which is recognized as having lower carbon emissions. Electricity is an expensive commodity here in Cambodia and is sometimes prone to failure. So as to minimize its use and so not put too much pressure on the supply we ask that our guests use it sparingly, making sure that lights, air-conditioning etc., is switched off when they are not in their hotel rooms. We do have to have a balance between comfort and the use of electricity but feel that a gentle reminder will help to ensure that our guests are mindful of how precious this resource is in a developing country. On all our tours we either ask our clients to bring water bottles or we provide them so that water can be dispensed from larger bottles or other potable sources.
Our mission statement on responsible travel is to: ‘Offer the enthusiastic photographer the opportunity to improve their photographic skills and take memorable pictures whilst getting a privileged insight into the country that they are visiting’. Nathan has been running tours in Cambodia since 2006 and has built up strong links with the community. All of our team has made Cambodia their home and because of this we are able to give our clients insights into the local way of life and customs. We start every tour with a brief on the ethics of travel photography and ask that our clients step away from the notion that we ‘take’ or ‘ capture’ photographs. Rather we encourage the concept of ‘creating’ photographs and engaging with local people in a positive ways. We also take prints back to the villages and people we visit. This never fails to delight and further build the relationships with people we are likely to visit again in the future. We also hope that the style of photographs we take will enhance a positive representation of a country that rarely gets good press. All our journeys through the countryside are very much a part of the tour. On these journeys we often make spontaneous stops at the roadside when we see something of interest to photograph or see a roadside stall offering something unusual to eat. Our driver has been trained to spot photographic opportunities as they appear. Both Nathan and our driver are well rehearsed in breaking the ice between our photographers and potential photographic subjects. An important element of our photography tour is that our clients get out and about amongst the people, Our itinerary not only visits the iconic sites but also goes out of the way to stop at markets in small towns along the route and go to villages rarely visited by tourists. We buy the local products and we encourage our clients to bring materials suitable for the schools we regularly visit. We find that we are warmly welcomed by the people who do not normally benefit from the tourist dollar Nathan believes in supporting the people he meets on his tours around Cambodia and over the years has donated and encourages donations to those people. Here are just two examples.
There is monastery at Lolei set among the temples of the Roluos Group near Siem Reap. Nathan has been taking his guests there for many years to meet Hun, a monk who teaches English to the young monks and village children. He has always been impressed by Huns sincerity and obvious good cause and so both donates himself and encourages his guests to make donations. The monies donated have been used to buy books and computers. After many years of negotiation with the Apsara Authority (the body that runs the Angkor sites) the monastery has obtained permission to build a school. Future donations by the guests will now be used to fund the building of that school.
On an early visit to Angkor Nathan met the head monk. He was surprised to learn that they receive no money from the ticket sales at Angkor. Over the years he and his guests have donated enough to buy a generator and build a toilet facility. The monks now generate revenues for themselves by charging tourists a small amount for the use of the toilets.
Accommodation is chosen carefully to give a reasonable degree of comfort and is, where possible, locally owned. Similarly local restaurants are the preference for eating. This again puts money into the local economy and gives the client a taste of the local cuisine. At the end of the tour it is hoped that the clients go away with a greater knowledge of travel photography, a set of fantastic photos and have had a sympathetic experience of the country they have visited on the way.