Angkor Wat is the first thing that comes to mind when anybody mentions Cambodia. The scale and grandeur of the temples are unparalleled throughout the world. And Siem Reap is the gateway to this world of former glory and riches of erstwhile Khmer empire. Around 2 million people visit the temples and Siem Reap is their base for their exploration of the temples. Such kind of mass tourism is bound to have some adverse impacts any city. More so in an underdeveloped place like Siem Reap. Therefore acts of responsible travel in Siem Reap become important. Supporting the local communities and trying to have the least impact on the environment is essential.
Responsible Travel in Siem Reap: Things to do
Needless to say, Angkor Wat has to be the first thing that you visit in Siem Reap. However, you’ll can to leave a positive footprint while choosing your mode of exploration.
Tuk-tuk tour of Angkor Wat
Tuk-tuk drivers are aplenty in Siem Reap. Most of them will have a standard Grand Circuit or Small Circuit tour of the temples which is good if you only have a day. However, it would be an injustice (and impossible) to try and cram everything in a day. Take your time, around 2-3 days to give yourself time to marvel at this iconic destination. A tuk-tuk driver can help you do this exactly. Many of them have been doing this for years, however, it is up to you to state your requests and get it customized. By hiring one, you help in keeping money in the local economy and the small businesses.
A highly recommended driver is Jimmy. Jimmy is a tuk-tuk driver with a heart of gold and aims to educate and uplift the lives of local kids in Siem Reap. A tuk-tuk driver by day and English school owner in the evening, he donates 60% of his profits towards running his schools. Unfortunately, at the time of my visit, Jimmy was recuperating from an accident and I could not hire his services. But fellow blogger Matt did so and wrote about it here.
I discovered them when I was walking around the streets on my last afternoon just before I was about to leave. They run tours of Angkor Wat with their fleet of solar-powered electric cars and 100% recyclable. All their drivers are ex-tuk-tuk drivers and have additional benefits like skill development training, health insurance, fair wages.
Rent a bicycle
Cycling around the ruins of Angkor Wat is another great way to explore the temples. As long as you keep yourself hydrated and spread your rides over a period of 2-3 days, you should be ok. The heat can definitely get you if you try to cram it all up in a single day. The White Bicycle project is the largest bicycle rental service in Cambodia and they use proceeds from the rental of bicycles to support sustainable projects and non-profit organisations.
Attend a Beatocello Concert
In 1991, Dr Beat Richner came to Cambodia to assist in rebuilding a children’s hospital that was destroyed during Khmer Rouge. He left his life comfortable life in Switzerland to dedicate his life to the most vulnerable in Cambodia – the children. He performs a Cello concert every Saturday at Jayavarman VII Children’s Hospital Concert Hall in Siem Reap. His performances are a way to generate donations that can help with costs associated with running a hospital for the needy and the underprivileged.
Responsible Travel in Siem Reap: Where to Stay
Being the most visited city in Cambodia, accommodation options are aplenty in Siem Reap. From luxury to mid-range to budget, Siem Reap has hotels and guest houses that cater to every segment. Here are a few that put in a lot of efforts to make the community a better place to live in
Templation Hotel Siem Reap
As soon as you step into Templation Hotel, you’ll be surrounded by a sense of tranquillity and luxury. However, the management has taken as many steps as possible to maintain this atmosphere without indulging in over-the-top facilities. They’ve left as much as 80% of the property untouched during the construction. More than 75% of their energy needs are met by the 350 solar panels they have installed. Open spaces and minimalist decor seem to be the directives to the architects and you’ll see they have done an excellent job without compromising on the luxury
The hotel is a part of Maads Asia group that embodies the spirit of sustainable tourism like their other property in Phnom Penh.
Oasis Capsule Hostel
One the downsides to putting yourself up in a hostel dorm is the lack of privacy. That’s where Oasis Capsule hostel comes to the rescue. A perfect balance between having your own space as well has socializing with fellow travellers. The founder Steven Phich was born in one of the underprivileged communities around the temples Through sheer hard work and determination, he got a scholarship to study in Australia after completing which he came back to Cambodia to work towards the development of the communities. The hostel contributes 20 cents of every booking to Oasis Capsule foundation that goes a long way in education of children Siem Reap
Besides, all the staff are locally hired and are trained regularly to develop their skills and knowledge. The hostel also offers discounts to people who come to Siem Reap to work/volunteer with local NGOs as an additional way to contribute to community development
Mad Monkey Hostels
This hostel is part of Mad Monkey Hostels chain which is quite popular in SE Asia. Mad Monkey Hostel, Siem Reap claims itself to be the best party hostel in Siem Reap. However, far from the assumption of them being just a sunburnt tipsy backpacker hub, they do a lot of for the communities that they work in. Be it supporting children’s education, providing clean water or funding community art project, Mad Monkey Hostels takes its role in promoting responsible tourism very seriously.
Responsible Travel in Siem Reap: Where to Eat
Along with a plethora of accommodation option, Siem Reap has excellent restaurants, coffee shops and street food stalls. And they serve a wide variety of cuisine from Cambodian to Thai to Mexican to Italian. But along with all that many of the eateries also take their roles in community development very seriously. Here are some for you to do your bit while downing some fabulous eats and drinks
Sister Srey Cafe
A very popular cafe in Siem Reap, Sister Srey is run by two Aussie sisters who help and support Khmer students maintain a balance between education and supporting their family. All the staff are provided training in hospitality, English language, personal development and health and hygiene. Besides they try to minimize their waste and compost their organic waste
Street Stalls along Sivatha Boulevard and/or Pub Street.
There are a number of street food stalls along the Pub Street of Sivatha Boulevard. And most of the dishes go between $3-5. If you notice the number of people and the turnover of patrons, it’s easy to conclude that the food is as fresh as it could get. Moreover, with all of them being owned by locals and serving local food you can be sure your money stays in the community.
Joe to Go Cafe
I came upon this cafe while walking along the streets on my last afternoon in Siem Reap. http://www.joetogo.orgJoe to Go displays work of a lot of local artists. They also work with Global Child Foundation to educate former street kids. And the drinks are lovely too.
As is well known, Siem Reap and the temple of Angkor Wat complex are some of the most visited historical monuments of the world. Needless to say this puts a lot of pressure on the local environment as well as tourist infrastructure. Therefore mindful travelling is necessary to maintain the grandeur of the temple complex and the city for the future generations.
Disclaimer: I was hosted by Oasis Capsule Hostel while I was researching for this article and was offered a 2-night complimentary stay. The other enterprises mentioned in this write-up have been either personally visited by me on my own cost. Or have been recommended multiple times by fellow travellers. If something has been misrepresented or reported incorrectly in this article, please feel free to drop a line in the comments section below or email me. I‘d be glad to hear your views and may edit the article to include the same