It’s January 2006, two backpackers who met working at one of London’s finest hotels, are on the road again after experiencing the poverty on the streets of Phnom Penh, the harrowing stories of Toul Sleng and the haunting recollections of the Killing Fields. The bus driver, who sits behind a broken windscreen, drives recklessly along the long winding Route 6 bumping pot hole after pot hole to Siem Reap.
Showcasing Khmer cooking delights is hard, but I’ll try…
First off, I would say Fish Amok served in banana leaves is the most traditional and popular dish to be found throughout the country. It’s an easy dish to make providing you have the right ingredients: white fish (I don’t think it really matters which one), fish sauce, sugar, salt, pepper, coconut milk, lemon grass, nhor leaves, galangal, turmeric, garlic, shallots and, of course, chillies! Although not really a spicy dish, it’s a creamy mix which mixed altogether and steamed tastes fantastic.
An eerie haze rises above the trees as dawn breaks over Anlong Veng. This small market town slowly awakes as iron gates are gradually pulled back and the day’s stock revealed. Children rush to school all the while older ladies take their daily pilgrimage to the market. 24 hours had passed since leaving Siem Reap.
Cambodian Volunteer Tourism
‘Voluntourism’ has sprung into action over the last few years and Cambodia is no exception. Siem Reap in particular is host to a number of trendy volunteer hang-outs which have blossomed alongside the growth of volunteer experiences on offer. The term ‘voluntourism’ is a clever play on words that has both positive and negative connotations. Some love the concept that whilst on holiday you can offer some time to give something back to the communities you are visiting. Others, however, recoil in its distaste that volunteers should pay for giving up their time and expertise to help those in need.
Over the last decade Cambodia has seen a rapid and steady rise in tourism which by many Cambodians is viewed as the golden ticket to improve life chances and, thus, flock to tourism hubs leaving their work on farms and large families behind. The country still remains one of the lesser developed countries in the world in terms of economy, access to food, education, health and medical services. Stark poverty is evident throughout the country and the gateway to the temples and main tourist hub of Siem Reap is no exception.
In my experience, many hoteliers do it simply because they want to do it, and being a responsible hotelier also seems to make good business sense. If people are passionate about something, then it shows in everything they do and makes for an all round great stay – and you can even make a positive difference to the local communities where you travel too.
You know it’s got to be done. Friends at home will be waiting in expectation to hear your tales, see your photos and receive some obscure gift you have anticipated they would like in a mild moment of panic buying… Souvenir shopping, for some, is a last-minute purchase at the airport, a quick ‘oh I am sure they will like it, let’s get it and go’ or an afternoon of exploration of cultural experiences which combined can be a fun activity especially in Siem Reap.
Have you ever wondered where your friendly receptionist learnt how to beam that warm Cambodian smile? How the chatty barman learnt to speak impeccable English or why your fresh bread tastes so good? It’s not by coincidence…