Introduction to Responsible Travel
Nobody sets out on a trip with the goal of being an irresponsible tourist. Yes, some people just want to have fun without thinking about the consequences. Still, it is pretty much unheard of to plan a vacation with the intention of harming the people and the country you are about to visit.
Quite the opposite is true-most of us think of ourselves as responsible and ethical tourists, concerned about the wellbeing of the people we meet. In fact, an increasing number of people travel with the hope that their actions, money and conversations with people will be helpful. This introduction to socially responsible travel will help you know what to do, how to act and where your dollars will be best spent on your trip to Cambodia.
Simply put “responsible travel,” “socially responsible tourism,” “ethical vacations,” “intentional travel” and similar terms mean noticing and decreasing the negative effects of your visit while increasing the positive ones. Cambodia Tourism puts it this way: “Travelers take responsibility for their actions and behavior to ensure that their visit to an area is mutually beneficial both for travelers and local people.”
Responsible travel considers social and cultural responsibility, environmental protection and economic sustainability. These values, known as the “triple bottom line” or “people, planet, profit” are recognized by the United Nations and have been ratified as a standard of accountability. In turn, you can be accountable for your own choices and actions. Where the focus of your trip is sightseeing or volunteering, attention to these principles makes your trip more meaningful for you and for the communities you visit.
How each traveler takes responsibility will depend on a great variety of factors, but there are many ways to show respect and make sure that your trip benefits the communities you visit. These include some straight forward considerations such as where to stay, where to eat, how to get around, the educational programs and entertainment to attend, where to shop and local travel arrangements. They also include more complex choices about how you act and interact.
It’s nice to know that you can do the right thing just by spending your money intentionally. A dollar goes a long way in Cambodia and your choice of a socially responsible meal or necklace purchase may do more good than you would think.
You need to sleep somewhere, so why not stay where your payment makes the best economic and social impact? Some hotels are owned by big corporations or entrepreneurs from more affluent countries. Money spent at those hotels may leave Cambodia.
Locally-owned hotels are more likely to provide an economic, benefit to local people and communities. Also, some are non-governmental organizations (NGOs). An NGO is a local organization that is not affiliated with the government. These are often not for profit and focused on humanitarian causes and projects. You’ll also find hotels run by NGO affiliates and other programs that train or employ local people who are underprivileged, at risk or have been exploited in the past. Spending your money at these hotels provides local people with on-the-job education and a chance for a better life.
Unfortunately, sex tourism is still prevalent in Cambodia. One way you can help combat the sexual exploitation of women and children is to patronize hotels that work actively against the sex trade. You will learn more about this later in the book.
You will also want to consider the hotel’s environmental and ecological practices. Some hotels have a reduce-reuse-recycle policy that will look familiar to many Americans but is a new idea in Cambodia. Since there is not a national plan or infrastructure in support green hotel management, this requires a big commitment and a lot of creativity on the part of the hotel.
For a real up-close and personal experience that benefits a family directly, you might even consider a home stay instead of a hotel. There’s no better way to meet a Cambodian family and learn about their home life and culture.
Travelers are accustomed to thinking about what they eat, but don’t always think about why they eat where they do. Restaurant decisions are often based on cost, perceived cleanliness and convenience. While these are reasonable considerations, it is also useful to gather more information about the restaurant’s social practices. In the same way that some hotels provide training and employment for disadvantaged groups, some restaurants are also NGOs or hire the graduates of NGO restaurant training programs. Some are located in socially responsible hotels while others are independent.
You will have your choice of many clean, inexpensive restaurants, so narrow it sown by looking for information describing the restaurant’s relationship with an NGO, other training program, or local ownership. Choosing these restaurants sends a message that these practices make a difference.
#74 St. 174, Phnom Penh.
Serving authentic Cambodia cuisine with a modern twist and set in a beautifully decorated house and garden. Students at the restaurant are former street youth who are now studying hospitality. All proceeds from the restaurant go to French international (NGO) projects for street children.
#215 St. 13, near National Museum, Phnom Penh.
Both restaurants are run by an organization that teaches former street kids in the principles of hospitality. Romdeng is set in a lovely colonial building with an atmospheric garden and serves Khmer food, whereas Friends is famous for its Asian and Western food served in a tapas style.
Lotus Blanc Restaurant
#402 Trea Village, PSE Vocational Training Center, Stung Mean Chey District, Phnom Penh
Lotus Blanc Restaurant
#152, Street 51 (Pasteur road), Beong Kengkong, Phnom Penh
This restaurant is worth a visit owing to the fact that the food here is prepared and served by students from the PSE (Pour un sourire d’enfant) vocational training centre that supports these children who can’t afford education due to poverty. Offering dishes from both the French and the Asian cuisines, this restaurant has become quite a popular neighborhood hub. In addition, the restaurant also caters and delivers food. So don’t miss out on this unique dining experience!
Boddhi Tree Umma Restaurant
#50 Street 113 Opposite Toul Sleng Museum Phnom Penh
A cool lush garden restaurant offering a wide selection of tasty and well presented Khmer and continental dishes. A welcome reprieve after visiting the Toul Sleng Museum. A Child Safe member and supporter of local NGOs.
Le Cafe du Centre
#214 street 184 (off Monivong) in the French Cultural Centre, Phnom Penh.
Located in the gardens of the Friends Cultural Centre. The cafe serves a selection of crepes, salads and light meals, as well as khmer cuisine. All proceeds from the cafe go to Mith Samlanh project for street children.
#155 Phoum Tapoul, Siem Reap.
Hospitality school training young Cambodians from poor family backgrounds in order to give them a future. The students prepare Khmer and Western meals and guests will have the opportunity to talk to chat with them.
There is no shortage of transportation options in Cambodia. Taxis, cyclos (bicycle taxis, motorbike taxis and tuk-tuks (motorized rickshaws) will offer you a ride even if you’d rather walk! If you decide to hire one, look for the ChildSafe logo. You’ll find it on the driver’s hat, shirt or helmet. This logo signifies that the driver has passed a training course in child protection. You can learn more about the ChildSafe Network, which also works with hotels and other businesses, at www.childsafe-international.org/index.asp.
Educational and Cultural programs
You can be a responsible tourist and at the same time learn about Cambodian culture, history and arts. Look for programs offered by non-profit organizations and museums. You will also find events that benefit non-profits, NGOs and other training programs, schools and medical services. These might include educational talks, musical performances, or traditional Cambodian dance.
It is possible to visit NGOs to see their program in action, as well as find tours that visit local schools, rural communities and markets. Ecological and environmental tours are also available. Notice who is sponsoring the activity and where the profits will go.
More interactive programs give you an opportunity to talk with local people who are famillar with tourists and may have a good idea of what you don’t know about their country or community. Do not hesitate to have conversations with people who can serve a s cultural “translators.”
You may want to be an ethical traveler but have a hard time putting together a complete vacation experience because you are not familiar with local businesses. Let one of Cambodia’s socially responsible tour companies do the planning (see list in the back of this book). Look for tour operators associated with non-profit organizations or NGOs.
For a rich experience of Cambodia, join one of Friendship with Cambodia’s responsible trips to Cambodia. They visit many of the places listed in this book, as well as their humanitarian projects.
The idea of environmentally-focused tourism is relatively new, though some travelers have always enjoyed visiting unique landscapes and habitats. According to the International Ecotourism Society, the term ecotourism refers to “responsible travel to natural areas that conserves the environment and improves the well-being of local people.” Ecotourism in Cambodia provides an alternative way to make a living, one that preserves the environment. Instead of cutting down forests or poaching endangered wildlife, some Cambodians now work to save Cambodia’s ecosystems. Some learn to lead bird-watching and nature tours, while others who live near national parks offer meals, oxcart rides, guided nature hikes and boat trips.
On some Cambodian streets, it is hard to find a shop where your purchase does not benefit someone local or in need. Many NGOs run gift shops serve as training programs, or sell products that are made in training workshops, or both. In some, you can see artisans at work dyeing silk or weaving baskets. In others, product tags might inform you that the spices are grown and harvested in a rural community that practices sustainable agriculture or participates in fair trade, or that the handicraft is made by people who have been injured by land mines. Take advantage of Cambodia’s distinctive offerings to choose gifts that are not only unique, but also socially responsible.
Artisans D’Angkor & Silk Farm,
Road Nº.6, 16Km west of Town, Siem Reap.
The Silk Farm is a fascinating farm/workshop where you can see the entire silk creation process including growing the food for the silk worms (mulberry bushes), breeding the worms, silk extraction, spinning and refinement, traditional ikat dying, pattern creation, and looming. Its’ a very interesting and educational tour well worth the time to drive out to the silk farm. Retail silk/souvenir shop from Artisans D’Angkor.
#215 St. 13, near National Museum, Phnom Penh.
A colorful shop offering a wide range of products designed by Mith Samlanh/ Friends-international (NGO) students in training and by parents of former street children. choose from hand-crafted purses, clothing. necklaces. hand bags and recycled products as well as a selection of second-hand goods. The Nail Bar, located in Friends ‘n’ Stuff, is run by students from Mith Samlanh’s beauty class.
Friends @ 240
#32 street 240, Phnom Penh.
A creative and interactive fashion studio for chic clothing and accessories, ready-to-wear And made to measure. Products made by former street youth in training. A project run By Friends-International (NGO).
National Center of Disabled Persons(NCDP)
#3Norodom Boulevard Corner of street 110, near Wat Phnom, Phnom Penh.
An NGO retail shop carrying unique silk. wood and paper gifts. NCDP’s focus is on improving the standard of disabled people. especially land mine victims and women with disabilities. The organization provides support in design, manufacturing , marketing and quality control.
Rehab Craft Cambodia
#10 Street 322, Between street 57 and street 51, Phnom Penh
Producing a range of high-quality carved wood, silk and silver products. Visitors may see the artists at work by making an appointment in advance. This NGO provides training and employment opportunities and support to Cambodia people with disabilities. All earnings from product sales are re-invested in training and employment program for Cambodia with disabilities. Fair wages and staff benefit program supports each artist’s individual needs. All expenses related to disabilities ( such as prosthetics or wheelchairs) are fully paid by Rehab Craft.
Watthan Artisans Cambodia
Wat Than, #180 Norodom Boulvard, Phnom Penh
A worker-run cooperative that help Cambodians with landmine and polio disabilities to Become artisans in handicrafts and woodcarving. The artisans receive fair wages and benefits, with profits shared by the staff and producers as well as being reinvested in to staff development and training. All products are designed and product on site at their Workshop in Phnom Penh.
Cambodia Handicraft Association for Land Mine and polio disabled (CHA)
#44 street 113, Opposite Toul Sleng Museum entrance, Phom Penh.
A Cambodia run NGO that teaches handicraft skills to landmine and poliodisabled adults, enabling them to produce a range of beautiful skill products. CHA provides a home and a friendly working environment in which to learn. The association has enable over 150 disabled to return to their communities with new skills and the possibility of a brighter future
Daun Penh House,
#8, Preah Sisowath Quay, Phnom Penh.
Daun Penh House is the biggest fair trade retail shop in Phnom Penh, the capital of Cambodia. The products are source from communities nearby Phnom Penh as well as from other provinces around the country. Our products are 100% handmade by Cambodians!
Acting and Interacting
Again, it is the rare traveler who goes to another culture with the intention of being disrespectful. However, sometimes we are disrespectful without intending to be. This often happens because travelers assume that local customs are similar to other own, or just don’t think about what respectful behaviors might be before leaving home.
Some of the ways that you can show respect and not give offense are common sense. yet tourists sometimes seem to leave their common sense at home. One of the most glaring examples is skimpy dress. Modest dress is the Cambodian standard, so men and women should wear shirts that cover their shoulders and pants or skirts at least to the knee. Longer pants or skirts may be required for religious sites. In an area with lots of tourists this dress codes may not be obvious at first, but away from urban centers you risk giving offense (and being bitten by mosquitoes) if you are not appropriately covered.
Do not assume that Cambodians speak English. While many do, there are also many who don’t. In tourist area, where English is more common, hamburgers and pizza are the foods of choice and prices are marked in dollars, it can be easy to forget that some people won’t understand you. Learn enough Khmer (Cambodian language) to thank people who help you.
Some ways of showing respect must be learned. Notice when other people take off their shoes. Shoes typical are not worn into houses and are not worn in Buddhist temples. There may be other establishments where shoes are also removed outside. if you are uncomfortable going completely barefoot, carry a pair of socks with you and change into them before entering shoe-free areas.
Since strong emotional expression is frowned upon, getting angry and raising your voice is not going to get you what you want. Instead it may embarrass the Cambodians around you. Try responding to adversity the Cambodian way, by laughing and shrugging it off.
You probably know that you should ask permission before taking photos of people. You might not know that images of the Buddha should not be used as a background for photos of you or your friends, or that the soles of you feet should not be pointed toward images of the Buddha or other people, or that patting someone on the head is offensive. You may want to get a closer look at an architectural detail, just remember that that structure is somebody’s home.
To avoid embarrassment or giving offense, a guidebook that includes local etiquette can be very helpful. Cambodia: The Essential Guide to Customs and Culture from Culture Smart! is a good place to begin. Remember that you won’t offend anyone or get in trouble by being too polite or too respectful!
Giving Money Directly
The poverty in Cambodia can be a shock for some travelers. Tourists may be approached by begging children, especially at sites such as the Angkor Wat, markets and restaurants. The children may speak to you in English, tell you they love you and present an appealing and heartbreaking picture.
The solution may seem to be to give money directly to the children, but organizations like ChildSafe strongly recommend against this for a number of reasons. Perhaps the most compelling one is that begging keeps children on the street, where they are vulnerable to exploitation and harm. Some street children are being exploited, abused, or trafficked. Instead, support organizations that provide services for vulnerable children and youths. If it is hard for you to refuse begging practice assertively saying “no thank you” before you go.
Giving directly to a local organization may also be risky. For example, an orphanage may be a front for corrupt people to pocket donations from tourists. To be sure that your money is actually helping people in need, always check out organizations before making a donation.
There are some circumstances where giving money to people directly may be appropriate, such as a tipping. The average Cambodian income is about $1 a day so your tip is welcome. At religious sites you may see people making donations or contributions and receiving sticks of incense to place on an altar. If you see Cambodians giving someone money, a small donation may be appropriate if you would like to make on. You may want to tip musicians or other performers. Use your best judgment and if you are not sure don’t give money.
Obviously, don’t litter. Perhaps not so obviously, be aware of the huge amount of plastic waste that is generated just by drinking bottled water. Rather than contributing several empty water bottles to the trash every day, consider getting some of your very necessary hydration by drinking water has been heated to a boil (like tea) or at restaurants that provide purified water. Alternatively, buy larger bottles of water to refill your water bottle that you have brought from home. To purify your own water, you can add 5 cc of a 2% tincture of iodine to a quart of water, let sit for half an hour and then add 1/8 teaspoon of vitamin C or Emergen-C to get rid of the iodine taste. To the extent that you can reuse plastic bags (or not use them at all) you help keep Cambodia clean.
Keeping Cambodia in Your Heart
Many people who care about responsible travel are moved by the spirit of the Cambodian people. Your trip may end, but your desire to help may well continue. You can make a significant difference in the lives of Cambodians by donation to a non-profit organization that assists those whose needs are greatest. Friendship with Cambodia helps landmine survivors, families living with HIV / AIDS, street children, trafficked girls and the rural poor. Our programs empower people to help themselves, primarily through micro-credit programs and education. We want to create long-term solutions.
How to Become a ChildSafe traveler
Visitors to Cambodia, with the best of intentions, engage in behaviors that sustain or even further increase the risk of marginalized children. Giving money to begging children or buying products from them does little to address the serious problems these children face: lack of education, health care, or a supportive family environment. In fact, giving money to street children often leads to a lifestyle that ends in drugs, prostitution and crime.
Most tourists are unaware that corruption in orphanages is extremely common. Some institutions purport to protect children, but exploit them for their own gain. They often encourage parents to give up their children so they can create the appearance of greater need to garner contributions from unsuspecting tourists that donate their time, money or both.
The ChildSafe Network encourages travelers to play an important role in safeguarding children. Learn to look at the situation differently and actively participate in helping children move away from life on the streets.
Tips for Travelers
Avoid buying from children and refrain from giving to begging children
Directly helping them keeps them on the streets and places them at risk. If you really want to help, support organizations providing services that help these children and their families ha a better future.
Purchase products made by parents or youth-in-training
When you buy products made by parents or youth-in-training it gives them a regular income and a better future.
Avoid situations and actions that may lead to child exploitation
Be aware that certain “tourist-attractions” such as orphanage or slum tours exploit children’s vulnerabilities for financial gain. An orphanage is a child’s home, a place that should be safe and should respect his/her right to privacy and dignity.
Taking children back to your hotel room for any reason is not a good idea.
You might be suspected as a pedophile when taking children to your hotel room. The penalties for child sex offenders are severe.
Avoid places that tolerate prostitution
A high percentage of sex workers are minors. By supporting businesses that tolerate prostitution you are supporting an environment that places children at risk. Do not hesitate to report cases.
Keep your eyes wide open
If you see a child in danger call the ChildSafe Hotline 012-311-112 and report it. The hotline is open 24 hours/7 days a week. Whenever possible, we ask the caller to stay near the child until our team arrives to take appropriate action to protect the child.
Support ChildSafe Network Members
ChildSafe trains local hotel staff and taxi drivers to protect children from abusive situation. Look for the ChildSafe logo during your travels and use their services.