Responsible tourism in Cambodia
As a tourist to Cambodia you are inextricably a part of this complex equation, and your actions here can never be neutral. In Cambodia even the most well-meaning intentions can have disastrous consequences, so be sure to inform yourself before you go to ensure your holiday has a positive impact, and makes life even just a tiny bit better for those who have made your holiday so memorable.
People & culture
Orphanage volunteeringCambodia is a poor country and there are an enormous number of underprivileged children, as well as a large number of orphanages. In spite of this, volunteering at an orphanage is often not only an ineffective solution – it actually makes matters worse. Not only does it cause further emotional damage to the children in care, it can also, ironically, create more “orphans”. Responsible Travel, in collaboration with organisations such as Save the Children and ECPAT, launched a campaign against unqualified and/or unnecessary orphanage volunteering. The issue is a complex one - please click on the link for our guidelines for volunteering abroad with children. We’ve also highlighted some of the key points below:
Responsible Travel does not promote orphanage volunteering placements, other than for experienced, qualified volunteers who can commit to a minimum of a one month placement. We also do not promote day trips to orphanages or school when the children are present. As well as disrupting lessons, this presents children - often vulnerable children - as a tourism attraction, which is not something we would ever encourage.
All volunteers are advised to ask a number of questions to the volunteer organisation in order to ensure they are acting ethically and responsibly, and taking the correct measures to ensure child safety. See our 10 questions to ask your volunteer company.
Stamping out child sex tourismUnscrupulous orphanages are sadly not the only threat to Cambodia's children. Over a third of the people connected with sex tourism in Cambodia are under 18. We have rightly been advised by campaigning organisations not to refer to these minors as sex workers or prostitutes. They are victims of rape and abuse. End of. And even worse, the law does not specifically prohibit children being used for prostitution purposes. Or, in other words, if you pay for sex with a child, it somehow legitimises the crime. The silver lining is that tourism - and tourists themselves - can have a huge impact on reducing this number and encouraging vigilance within Cambodia to stamp out this practice.
What you can do
ChildSafe is one organisation working with tourism businesses to educate them about the sexual exploitation of children for tourism and deter them from allowing prostitution per se on their premises. Many of the operators listed on Responsible Travel use hotels certified by ChildSafe, meaning they will not allow tourists to bring local children into the hotel, and will report anyone seen with a local child.
ChildSafe also has a very useful list of tips for travellers on how to spot illegal and unethical behaviour in this regard. Take time to read these at the ChildSafe link above.
“You might think that it would be easy to spot and so it can’t possibly still be going on – but it is. Even at a 4-star international resort I stayed at, I saw someone at the breakfast table with a young girl. I think there’s also a tendency to squirm and ignore it, but visitors need to keep an eye out and actively report things that make them uncomfortable to hotel owners – that’s going to be a powerful incentive to change. You can also speak to your tour operator and mention it on TripAdvisor, but beware of making unsubstantiated accusations. Reporting it to the hotel owner raises their awareness of the situation and gives traction to the efforts of other organisations to stop it.”
Investing in the next generationThere are a number of excellent social initiatives in Cambodia, which, as well as supporting local people, are actually fantastic experiences for visitors as well. These include several social enterprise restaurants, such as Lotus Blanc and Romdeng in Phnom Penh, and Sala Baï in Siem Reap. We highly recommend a visit.
“The restaurants do amazing work like rescuing kids from scavenging in rubbish dumps, training them in hospitality and helping them start a career. It’s not just short-term poverty alleviation - it’s very sustainable. One story that stuck in my head is a girl who, when she started, had no idea what a tap was because she’d never had running water in her village. By the end of the course she’d gone on to work at a top 5-star hotels. It’s such a fantastic way to help realise the potential of local kids while you enjoy great food and great service. You don’t need to be a volunteer to help, you just spend your money on a sustainable, responsible tourism service that does good in a very direct way. I’m a big fan!”
Learn about landmines & support their victims
What you can do
A thoroughly heart warming addition to your Cambodia itinerary is a visit to the excellent Cambodia Landmine Museum near Siem Reap. As well as being a museum, founded by Aki Ra, a former child soldier in the Khmer Rouge, it is also a safe house for injured children and adults, providing them with a home and an education. In recent years, the facility has opened up to care for children who suffer from abuse or disabilities, not just landmine victims. Although tourists are not allowed into the children’s home, volunteers can come and help run the museum – you must apply in advance. And if you’re not planning a holiday to Cambodia just yet, you can still donate to this fabulous cause.
Wildlife & environment
Water & the wats
What you can do
Signs in hotels around the world ask you to reuse your towels and sheets, and to take short showers. Now is the time to pay attention to them. Siem Reap’s water insecurity is a direct result of tourism, so as a tourist you are well placed to ease the strain. Choose a hotel with an active water policy: recycling of grey water, reuse of towels, economical flushing systems and low-powered shower heads, and – sorry – no swimming pool. Save your splashing about for the sea.
Read more about the issue in The Guardian