10 Things You Should Know: To Travel Responsibly in Cambodia

1. Do your research

As Cambodia is a developing nation it is important to understand the differences between their culture, expectations, economy and politics to Australia’s. Understanding their core values and beliefs will also help you to understand what kind of behaviour is expected of you. The great news is, you’re already on the right track to becoming a responsible traveller just by being interested in blogs like this one.

2. Understand the history

The rich culture of Cambodia dates back as far as 6,000 years ago. Over time it has been influenced by Buddhism and Hinduism and experienced the rule of the Thai, Vietnamese, Japanese and French. Sadly, Cambodia has not long since been affected by civil war and acts of genocide. In the 1970’s citizens were forced to become farmers regardless of their actual skill set and many died from malnutrition, disease or the genocide perpetrated by the Khmer Rouge. While Cambodia is now a peaceful country with a booming economy and a huge tourism industry, it still struggles with the impacts of the past. Many people are still living below the poverty line, healthcare and education are unaffordable for many, and freedom of speech is restricted. A greater understanding of the history will give you a greater appreciation of the culture you will experience.

3. Be selective with accommodation and tours

When choosing responsible accommodation and tour companies, it is important to do your research. If you are happy to travel or stay with a large company, look for ecolabels or certifications from Earth Check or Green Globe. This will save you time. If you’re more like us and you’d prefer to support the little guy, book your first night accommodation online and spend a few hours walking around looking for great local, responsible operators you can support. When you find one, make sure to quiz them to ensure they are the right fit for you. Many small organisations cannot afford the fees to register with organisations like Earth Check, that doesn’t mean they aren’t doing awesome things though. 

It is important to note that ‘green’, ‘sustainable’ and ‘eco-friendly’ have become sexy marketing claims that many companies cannot back up. If you are unsure about a company, do some research on the legitimacy of their claims and don’t be afraid to contact them and ask questions like: 

  • Do you employ or support local people? 
  • How do you manage your impact on the environment? 
  • Do you give back to the communities you work in and if so, how and how much (look for transparency)? 
  • What is your policy around animal conservation?
  • Do you have customer reviews?

Home-stays are also a great way to support local, grassroots initiatives, experience culture and save money. If you don’t have a lot of time to research, booking with a responsible operator like Adventure Out Loud will make it easy for you to travel responsibly. 50% of our profits are invested in local initiatives and charities to empower the communities we visit to grow and to keep disadvantaged children in school.

4. Do not give money to beggars

It may seem harmless and the right thing to do but it does more harm than good. Beggars learn to rely on tourists for money, especially children who are missing out on school and other opportunities later in life. Instead, donate to organisations focused on improving health and providing education and housing in that area. Just remember to check that those charities or programs are transparent and can be trusted. 

5. Support local businesses

Don’t just support the locals through accommodation and tours, you can support them directly too. Doing this will ensure that your money is going back into the local economy instead of being sent overseas. Avoid buying things in global chains like fast food restaurants and opt for local restaurants. Buy souvenirs, clothes and artwork in local markets and have some fun by supporting local musicians and performing artists.

6. Learn Khmer

As with anywhere you visit, it is respectful to be able to speak some of their language, so bring or make yourself a phrasebook and really interact with the locals at the markets or in stores. It will make it easier for you get around, they will respect you more, you will understand the culture better and it will help you to barter. Here is a helpful link to get you started.

7. Take your rubbish with you

Many Cambodian’s burn their rubbish or litter because there is no formal waste management system or service in most areas. Cambodia strugges to deal with plastic and waste in their waterways so make sure that you do not litter and where possible, hold onto your recyclable materials until they can be disposed of properly. A few good initiatives in Cambodia include Rehash Trash and Cleanbodia and a simple google search will help you find similar initiatives wherever you travel. Here’s one of our favourites, Eco Soup Bank:

8. Don’t buy plastic water bottles

Don’t resort to buying single use plastic water bottles just because Cambodia’s tap water is unsafe to drink. Instead, bring a reusable water bottle from home and boil tap water or use a filter straw, water treatment tablets or a steri-pen to treat your water. This will help save the environment and your wallet at the same time. 

9. Don’t ride the elephants

The elephants in Cambodia are endangered, there are just over 400 elephants left in the country. Elephant rides are often advertised as a way ‘to get back to nature’ however, these elephants go through training and domestication which can be cruel, creating concerns for their welfare. It can also be dangerous for you, as a tourist, if the elephant decides it no longer wants to be a mode of transport. Instead, avoid elephant tourism, choose to visit animals who are roaming in protected areas or sanctuaries, free from captivity.

10. Finally, enjoy the cultural experience!

Leave your hotel room or tent and interact with the Cambodian people, ask them questions about who they are and what they believe in. Make sure you have a few things about yourself to tell them about too. Hire a bicycle and go for a ride around town and be proud that you have done your best to travel responsibly.

About the author

Ayesha Winton is a tourism management student from Brisbane, Australia who is working towards becoming a professional in responsible tourism and environmental management. Ayesha loves researching and travelling to new places to learn about the culture and the impacts of the tourism industry.

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