Living in the shadow of Angkor Wat

After many years of dreaming to visit the grandiose and historical site of Angkor Wat, we finally took the step and booked our flight en route to the ancient capital of the Khmer Empire.

Before arriving, we had read of a price hike of the entry fee as of 1 Feb 2017, which was a USD$20 increase, roughly, for our 3 day pass, but that didn’t affect our decision to visit as we believed that the money would be going to a good cause, hence funds would be distributed amongst the local community to develop and assist the wellbeing of its residences.

The morning of Day 1 visit, our guide picked us up from the hotel, accompanied by his friend on the Tuk Tuk, and whisked us off to the ticket office to purchase the entry tickets. Shortly after our introduction, we began to talk about the politics of the area, which led to the discovery that the ticket fees are barely directed to fund the local community, nor to Cambodian people as a whole, but that the ticket rights to Angkor Wat are in fact under a 99 year lease to the Vietnamese Govt, which was orchestrated by the Cambodian Govt due to close ties. So, the additional USD$20 each we paid for the entry tickets will end up in the pockets of someone uptown in Hanoi.

He explained that an overwhelming majority of the hotels in Siem Reap was not owned by locals nor Cambodians in general, but rather hotel conglomerates from China, Thailand, and Korea, and that residences of Siem Reap rely so heavily on tips from guests at these hotels given the poor wages provided. Even he had been offered a role as a Guest Experience Manager for USD$80 per month – if he didn’t accept, someone else would – while hotel rooms at 5* properties are selling at USD$150 per night, if not more due to seasonal change.

Poverty is rife in Siem Reap. Foreign ownership of land and industry, and close Govt ties between the Vietnamese and Cambodian Govts are robbing what should be a very prosperous town, and a nation as a whole, of one of the largest revenue generators in the country.

Yes, the UNESCO site of Angkor Wat is breathtaking, and one of the most spectacular sites we have visited thus far, but embedded in this wonder lies corruption, poverty, and hopelessness for a local community, and nation, whose future continues to look bleak.

Angkor Wat is spectacular place and is most definitely worth a visit, but it does leave you with a heavy heart knowing your money is being directed not to those who need it most. It may be good to dedicate some time here carrying out activities that do give back direct to the source.

Some places we found that do this are the following:

A small responsible travel company based in Cambodia that shares immersive, educational experiences with culturally curious travellers.

Part of the TREE restaurants which are based upon a highly successful model of social business which provides not only positive beneficiary impact but also customer satisfaction and enhanced sustainability for the organization. All profits from TREE restaurants are invested in the students who train there and the social programs which support them on their journey to becoming a skilled, productive and happy young person with a more secure future. TREE – 100% for impact and sustainability