Cambodia Final Thoughts
We cannot start a travel blog post about Cambodia without first mentioning the people. We spent a month in Cambodia, and everybody we met here was charming and friendly. I would say this is the most friendly and happy place we have come across on our travels. From the children in the villages to the staff in all of the hotels we have stayed at, everyone seems to be always smiling, which given the history of the country is a real miracle, and very infectious.
Supporting Cambodia with your Tourist Dollar
We mentioned in our previous posts the annoying ex-pats and sex tourists so will not dwell on those here, but there is one other problem you’ll experience on your visit here. The child street beggars in the main cities and especially at the temple sites of Angkor. Now they are cheeky little buggers, and very amiable, some speaking a little bit from about ten languages, Tell them where you are from and they will name you capital city, population and count from one to ten in the given language. However, after a while you do become a little jaded with their patter and their ability to tug at your heartstrings. You must remember that in most cases these kids are being exploited.
In our whole time in Cambodia we bought nothing from them or gave them anything, which was quite difficult at times. We did witness many other tourists sadly encouraging and rewarding this trade with purchases and ‘gifts. Doing this harms them and keeps them from school and the chance of a childhood. The most disturbing of these scenes was one night in Siem Reap at about 1am when two of these kids started dancing to the tunes pumping out of the pubs. They were doing a roaring trade with lots of tourists getting their picture taken with them and handing over the dollars. Great but that dollar is not going to go to their education or welfare should they get sick. If you want to know more or support a charity trying to put an end to this trade read here about the think before giving campaign.
There are a lot of orphanages in Cambodia, we didn’t visit one, but many do. We didn’t see the need to disturb children in their ‘home’. Again there are many charities working hard here, and donations are always welcome. We would struggle to understand how somebody could justify visiting such a place as part of an organised tour, but “orphanage tourism” is a healthy business here.
Cambodia has a democracy and elections organised under the auspices of the UN since the early nineties. In reality the country is dominated by a single party; the Cambodian Peoples Party (CPP). This party has held power since the first elections took place in the country following the demise of the Khmer Rouge. As in Lord Acton’s adage “power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely” many believe this is the case with the government here.
Many Khmer people we spoke with, especially the young, recounted stories to us of corruption. The main tourist sites have been sold to private companies, with virtually none of the tourist dollars making their way back to the Cambodian people. We heard stories of international funding being diverted or used not quite within the terms of the gifts. One example was funding for a National road which was supposed to be 10 metres wide, but when built was only 8 metres with the savings no doubt being redirected to officials! Many other similar stories were told like this and also of the corruption within the police whereby local villagers were fined for minor motorbike infractions while gangsters who had been jailed paid up large sums to officials in order to be released or serve out their sentence in luxurious surroundings.
We asked many why then do people still keep voting for the party then if people know these things are going on? Many of the younger people we spoke to said they didn’t (or sadly didn’t bother voting at all) but the problem is with the older generation who are still fearful of a return to the times of the Khmer Rouge. In fact we were told that the CPP overtly use this scare tactic in their election campaigns, and it seems to be effective. The good news is that without exception the young people we spoke to were aware of what was going on so perhaps within another generation they will see the reform that they appear to crave; for a truly democratic government. Once the fear of being intimidated, harmed or murdered for voting the wrong way lessens.
None of this has changed our view of this country as a destination that we will return to quite happily, The people who interact with you leave you with a wonderful impression of Cambodia and I guess it is these interactions that should define your impression of a country not the incumbent government of the day. I just hope that those countries and charities funding major projects throughout Cambodia do not stop supporting Cambodians, due to the widespread corruption and abuse of the countries natural resources.
If you’ve ever considered undertaking charity or voluntary work then take a look at Cambodia, this place is truly in need of the help, and aimed the right way can help this country grow.