What Siem Reap could teach the World

Tripoto
30th Jun 2014

Angkor Wat Temple

Photo of What Siem Reap could teach the World by Lydia C. Lee
Photo of What Siem Reap could teach the World by Lydia C. Lee

New Leaf Book Cafe

Photo of What Siem Reap could teach the World by Lydia C. Lee

Cambodian Circus, Phare

Photo of What Siem Reap could teach the World by Lydia C. Lee

Butterflies Garden Café

Photo of What Siem Reap could teach the World by Lydia C. Lee

Angkor Night Markets

Photo of What Siem Reap could teach the World by Lydia C. Lee

Angkor Wat

Photo of What Siem Reap could teach the World by Lydia C. Lee

Angkor Wat

Photo of What Siem Reap could teach the World by Lydia C. Lee
Photo of What Siem Reap could teach the World by Lydia C. Lee

Siem Reap is officially the coolest city in Asia, as voted by my partner and I over cocktails in a funky bar we'd stumbled across. It is very easy to fall in love with Cambodia, which given it's history seems at odds with expectation. The ruins of Angkor Wat are an awe-inspiring sight to behold but it is the city itself which charms the traveler.

There are huge problems in Cambodia, a hangover of history of the last forty odd years, but as a tourist, we saw a different side. We saw all the businesses with a social mission, rebuilding the community while thriving on the tourist dollar. As tourists, maybe you don't want to think about that; you don't want to volunteer or give aid. This post is a guide to doing just that - have a fabulous holiday, eat at exceptional restaurants and visit a wonder of the world. But guess what, if you choose well, a cut of your bill goes back into fighting the good fight, and that has to feel good, doesn't it?

Siem Reap is more than just temples though. It is a thriving little town, with a chic and hip feel. When buying souvenirs, look for the ones that are helping the community. My wallet from the Central Market came with a sticker that it was made by the Cambodian Women's Crises Centre in Cambodia. The Luxe Guide recommends Marum, which was unfortunately closed for the holidays during our visit. Set in a beautiful building, the food is excellent while still being a training restaurant and helping street kids. The hospital holds concerts every Saturday, if you are musically inclined. Beatocello is very popular and many of the people we spoke to lamented that we'd missed it.

As a tourist, you spend a lot of money on food and entertainment, and in Siem Reap, it's very easy to spend that money in a way that helps make a difference to the greater community, whether it's buying a cup of coffee from Common Grounds or New Leaf Book Café, enjoying a fabulous modern Khmer meal or seeking out top class entertainment. We didn't diminish the enjoyment of our holiday, but I did start looking for the businesses that had a social mission. If businesses did this the world over, no one would ever get left behind. 

Practicalities:

Please note, while I've listed a few, there are many, many more. The Pocket Gu!de Cambodia, found in bars and restaurants is a fabulous guide book for where to eat and shop.

  • Phare Cambodian Circus http://www.pharecambodiancircus.org/circus/
  • Happy Angkor Wat Tour http://www.tourangkorwat.com/
  • Butterflies Garden Café 
  • http://butterfliesofangkor.com/
  • Common Grounds https://www.facebook.com/commongrounds.siemreap
  • New Leaf Book Café http://newleafbookcafe.org/
  • Beatocello http://www.beatocello.com/Assets/richner_appearence.html
  • Marum http://www.tree-alliance.org/our-restaurants/marum.asp?mm=or&sm=ma
  • Angkor Night Markets http://www.angkornightmarket.com/
     
If you are in Siem Reap, you're visiting Angkor Wat. So pick a guide that has a link with an orphanage. Many do. We used Happy Angkor Wat Tour, so part of our costs went into an orphanage, and we also took some art supplies to give to them. Our guide also had advice on what to do (or not do), his aim to see the street kids in school. We were advised not to give them sweets as they didn't have toothbrushes and lose their teeth and he made many other asides which gave a real insight into aspects of daily life that I hadn't really thought of.
Photo of Angkor Wat, Krong Siem Reap, Siem Reap, Cambodia by Lydia C. Lee
The Angkor Night Markets has many stalls with products by local artisans, but also two laid back bars and many dining options, in a charming open air setting.
Photo of Angkor Night Market, Krong Siem Reap, Siem Reap, Cambodia by Lydia C. Lee
When choosing restaurants, pick the ones with a community social mission. Even the fine dining restaurant at the Sofitel had a program with local farmers. Just because the restaurant has a social mission, doesn't mean the food is downmarket.
Photo of Hotel Sofitel, Krong Siem Reap, Siem Reap, Cambodia by Lydia C. Lee
While not run by an NGO, many of the sophisticated restaurants had projects with the community or donation boxes and flyers to help. Others, like the Butterflies Garden Café had a little shop selling items from disadvantaged communities as well as a portion of their profits going into literacy and schooling programs.
Photo of Butterflies Garden, Krong Siem Reap, Siem Reap, Cambodia by Lydia C. Lee
The highlight of our time in Siem Reap for me, was the Cambodian Circus, Phare. Think a Cirque du Soleil style circus but with profits running an arts school for young people from the streets, orphanages and struggling families. The show is exceptional, and we left euphoric, with the music running in our heads. Just because it is charity run, doesn't mean you need to drop your standards.
Photo of Phare - The Cambodian Circus Show, Krong Siem Reap, Siem Reap, Cambodia by Lydia C. Lee
As a tourist, you spend a lot of money on food and entertainment, and in Siem Reap, it's very easy to spend that money in a way that helps make a difference to the greater community, whether it's buying a cup of coffee from Common Grounds or New Leaf Book Café, enjoying a fabulous modern Khmer meal or seeking out top class entertainment.
Photo of New Leaf Book Cafe, Street 9, Krong Siem Reap, Siem Reap, Cambodia by Lydia C. Lee
Be the first one to comment