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.
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
- 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/