How to be a Responsible Traveler in Cambodia

Local children of Cambodia.
••• Local children of Cambodia. Photo by Michaela Guzy.

Increasingly, travelers are looking to connect with the local communities which they are visiting. In destinations like Cambodia, the extreme poverty and resulting hardships inspires many to want to help. It is up to you, the traveler, to take the responsibility to research and evaluate credible NGO's and organizations that are sustainably supporting their local communities.

Before visiting, I'd recommend reading Elizabeth Becker's chapter on Cambodia in her book, Overbooked which provides an overall summary of the recent history effecting Cambodia, from not-so-distant civil war, the mass genocides and the international land grab that has further pushed many Cambodians into poverty.

At first glance, visitors see countless children pleading to join them for a performance back at the orphanage. The begging is overwhelming at tourist sites like the UNESCO World Heritage Site, Siem Reap, and even your tuk tuk driver will take you for a ride for a few extra bucks.

The mentality that "oh it's only a couple extra dollars and they need it more than me," is exactly what perpetuates the poverty cycle. By enabling begging, these children won't go to school and adults will not seek sustainable jobs like farming, a micro loan, or even a position at an international hotel company like Shinta Mani Resort.

The part boutique hotel, part resort property is more than just luxury accommodation for international travelers. The company’s philanthropic arm, the Shinta Mani Foundation, plays a much larger role in its community. Watch OTPYM's interview with Christain De Beor, the General Manager of the Shinta Mani Resort to learn more about the Shinta Mani’s commitment to its employees and the villages they come from, whether it’s building water wells, schools or farms, or providing the best healthcare in the country to its employees.

It is organizations like the Shinta Mani Foundation that are positively impacting the international traveler’s footprint for the local people.

By choosing to stay at a hotel that embeds themselves in their community and employ local people, you are directly supporting the staff, their families and villages' access to jobs, education and medical assistance.

Culturally conscious companies like Aqua Expeditions sustainably introduce their guests to the communities along the Mekong River, from the floating markets, the farmers in the rice fields and even a conversation with a local Buddhist monk to discuss the significance of his journey from childhood to monkhood in this poverty-stricken country- watch this interview with Monk Chhin Sophoi.

Sadly human trafficking, sexual abuse and the sex industry are issues currently affecting the people of Cambodia. Many young women and children, despite having limited choices, have survived their individual circumstances from rape, prostitution and human trafficking. Organizations like together1heart are working to empower these women and children who have survived violence, abuse, rape, exploitation or trafficking, or who are at high risk of becoming a victim, through recovery, outreach, education, training and economic freedom.

Watch our video on How to be a Responsible Traveler in Cambodia to learn more about issue affecting the women and children of Cambodia.

Organizations like ConCERT work to match travelers who want to participate and give back, with local sustainable organizations whose operations have been vetted.

To learn more about Cambodia's recent history and current socio-political landscape, I recommend reading Hun Sen's Cambodia by Sebastian Strangio.

For more information on how you can help and how to be a traveler who makes a positive impact, check out OhThePeopleYouMeet.