Destin-Nation Cambodia: Treating Wounds Outside the Temples

Posted Jul 14th 2011 10:30 AM


Tourists come to Cambodia to see the temples at Angkor Wat. Yes, some people make it down to the beautiful coast or even out to the pristine islands in the Bay of Thailand, but thanks to a lack of infrastructure (and imagination) this country has remained a one trick pony.

And what a trick it is. Angkor Wat, which is perhaps most familiar to Westerners as that beautiful place Angelina Jolie destroyed in Tomb Raider, doesn't disappoint. The ancient Hindu and Buddhist temples here are intricately carved, incense cloaked and filled with orange-clad monks. It is no wonder that Siem Reap, the city that services the temples, is becoming an increasingly popular tourist attraction.

Unfortunately, the chronically poor Cambodians who have been eagerly anticipating the flow of tourist capital into their pockets for the last decade are still waiting and will likely have to continue waiting for some time. Even as Asian tourists flock to their beautiful religious sites by the busload, Cambodians have woefully few ways to profit from a tourist trade controlled by foreigners. Further exacerbating the problem are the numerous questionable charities that solicit funds from travelers: Donations evaporate into thin air and the needy do not receive any help.

Visitors to the temples at Siem Reap, the capital of Phnom Penh, and the beautiful Bay of Thailand coast who want to help Cambodia, a country still dealing with the scars of a horrific Communist experiment, will have to be careful. In the last few years, investigators discovered that at least two charities using tourist volunteer labor to help poor children were being run by pedophiles and that a handful of other charities really weren't charities at all. Determining which organizations are real and which are not is difficult because many of the would-be experts, the workers at large international charities, are in the country on short term contracts and lack expertise. All things considered, it would be best for volun-tourists to stay on, or pretty near, the beaten track.

Charity here can also be about the decisions travelers make. Cambodians are trying to build a tourist infrastructure that will bring much-needed money into the country, but many industries are struggling to get off the ground because, thanks to the purges of Pol Pot, there are few experts left in the service industry. Tourists who frequent training restaurants and hotels will be doing a good thing and will likely have more intimate and positive interactions with the people looking after them.

One more piece of advice for the philanthropic: Splash out. Cambodia has its own currency, but over 90% of the money in circulation in the country is in U.S. dollars and everything, specifically hand-crafted goods, is cheap. Getting money to artisans or even merchants is a good deed.

Getting to Cambodia is shockingly easy. Flights from California through Taipei or Seoul on Eva Airways and Air Malaysia typically cost $1,600 and very cheap flights on discount carrier AirAsia connect Phnom Penh to Bangkok and Kuala Lumpur.

Travel Around Cambodia
Filed Under: Destin-Nations

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soluy hansen

Um...on be half of Cambodian people, who live in Cambodia but was race by multiple nations expats almost half of my life so far.
I have traveled through this kingdom more then 10 years, so I wish to give the comment of this article, which I think it is a bit negative and might be just see in Siem Reap and Phnom Penh or other tourism places. it is a bit too short to presume what Cambodia is.
So far every one call Cambodia is the kingdom of genocide from Pol Pot regime 30 years ago, the country develop very slow and also corrupted officers every level in the government. There are big gap between rich and poor through out the country, eviction happen every where when the foreign investment wanted to to develop or run their business not much money go to the locals or sometimes the locals got hurt by those rich people. yes these are the bad point of this kingdom.
The other hand there are a lot of Young Khmer people who fight hard for their own people for the better change, I have met a lot of Khmer people who tried hard to reduce worked abuse, trafficking, there some bad orphans but also where those kids should be if there are no shelter for them. some of orphans are good they even say no to tourists who wanted to take advantage on kids.

There are always good and bad in the world but as this is the developing country so the perspective of the people also not too high.

Siem Reap

July 15 2011 at 12:24 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

"Cambodians have woefully few ways to profit from a tourist trade controlled by foreigners"

Please do not go into the "foreigners siphon off all the money" routine as it is not true.

Who collects all the entrance fees and has not contributed a single Dollar to state coffers? A Khmer.

Who grabs all the land, kicks off the poor, and drives around in his/her obscenely expensive Lexus? A Khmer.

On whose orders are the vendors around Angkor harassed and beaten? A Khmer's owner.

Who owns some of the most notorious "orphanages" that send kids dancing on Pub Street late ate night? A Khmer.

Yes, Cambodia has lots of problems but in many instances these would be worse without some foreign involvement. Better research next time please.

July 15 2011 at 4:39 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to Hanno's comment

I'm guessing you have never been to Cambodia...

I worked there for 2 years (finished summer 2011) and can tell you a different story

Almost all tourists attractions, hotels, and venues are owned by foreigners (especially Vietnamese and Koreans). This includes the Angkor temples, that were leased to Sokha for 20 years (a Vietnamese man who owns hotels (Sok San hotels), gas stations (Sokimex), and huge garment factories throughout the country). When you buy your temple pass it pays DIRECTLY to Sokha--who gives kickbacks to the government, of course. Most of this money is leaving. Even the elephants that you can ride around on are owned by him.

Land grabs are happening all the time, but it usually not on behalf of Cambodians. It's for foreign corporations trying to build factories, hotels, or take advantage of natural resources. USAID, World Bank, IMF, and other developers are also a problem as they alot money for these huge development projects. This is a huge problem, but it's still related to foreigners who are investing in Cambodia without care or concern.

I agree about orphanages though and most Cambodian run non-profits. Most Cambodian run orphanages are corrupt--ie the owner of them is taking more than they should. ACODO was a big one in Siem Reap and the owner had 3 wives and families. Everyone knew this but none of the employees said anything out of fear of loosing the job.

Still, Foreigners make a kiling and a lot of the money leaves the country. They share profits through "taxes" with Cambodian officials and the major political party, CPP. Walk around Pubstreet and you will only find one Khmer owner, thought. The others are owned by Koreans, Americans, Australians, and Vietnamese.

October 02 2011 at 9:28 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
Biank Contagious All

Unfortunately, the chronically poor Cambodians who have been eagerly anticipating the flow of tourist capital into their pockets for the last decade are still waiting and will likely have to continue waiting for some time...

July 14 2011 at 10:45 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply