Cambodia is a friendly and fascinating country that has gone through relentless political turmoil in the form of the genocide by the Khmer Rouge in 1975.
There is much more to Cambodia than its recent history, and I really enjoyed the two weeks that I spent here, as a trip to Southeast Asia is not complete without it.
If you’re interesting in meaningful travel, then here are 9 ethical things to do in Cambodia:
1. Pay your respects at the killing fields
The killing fields in Phnom Penh are a stark reminder of the horrors of the Khmer Rouge regime. Listening to the audio guide paints a real picture of the barbarity that people had to live with, which is a lesson we all need to know. Entry is $5 and you can bike or take a tuktuk from the centre.
2. Give blood
Blood stocks used to be low in Cambodia, but they’re steadily improving and you can do your bit by donating a pint of the good stuff in Phnom Penh or Siem Reap. It goes without saying that you should only go to a reputable hospital.
3. Watch the Phare Circus
I highly recommend watching the Phare Circus while you’re in Cambodia as it’s a fun way to connect with the culture and support young people in the arts.
Phare Ponleu Selpak – The Brightness of the Arts – is a Cambodian non-profit arts school located in Battambang, offering support to children and young people. You can also watch their shows in Siem Reap as well.
They perform slapstick comedy and circus skills that represents everyday Cambodian life. It is a joyous thing to watch and a great cause to support as public funding is practically nonexistent in Cambodia. Shows are 2-3 nights a week and cost $14.
4. Eat breakfast at an NGO skills cafe
There are several non-profit organisations that have cafes in Cambodia. You can drink coffee, eat cake and support their good work in Phnom Penh at Daughters of Cambodia and Connecting Hands, in Siem Reap at Joe to Go and Battambang at the Green Mango Cafe, The Lonely Tree Cafe and Cafe Hope of Children.
5. Dine at Jaan Bai
Jaan Bai is a social enterprise restaurant that supports the Cambodian Children’s Trust and it serves delicious food. I wholeheartedly recommend the tasting menu which has three courses, wine and coffee for $18.50. You can choose between meat or vegetarian options and its delicious way to give something back to Cambodia. Make sure to book in advance for an evening.
6. Beach clean on the islands
7. Visit the Apopo rats
The Apopo rats are African pouched rats that have been trained to sniff out landmines, and they’re very good at it! You can watch a demonstration (book in advance on their website) at their visitor centre in Siem Reap for a $5 donation. It’s a great cause to support as unexploded ordnance is a big problem in Cambodia and Laos as well as other countries in the world.
8. Hear ex-prisoner’s stories
Another important monument to the Cambodian genocide is the S-21 prison, now the Tuol Sleng Museum of Genocide in Phnom Penh. It feels even more real than the killing fields, especially as it’s such modern history that the prisoners are still alive. You can chat with the ex-prisoners as some of them sell books inside the prison grounds.
9. Go for a seeing hands massage
A seeing hands massage is something that you can experience all over Asia, but Cambodia is a great country to try it and support blind and partially sighted masseurs.
I believe Cambodia is a great place for trying new things and having incredible experiences, which I certainly did. The great thing about these ethical activities is that you are also giving back to the country you’re enjoying at the same time.
Do you have any recommendations for ethical things to see and do in Cambodia or have you done any of these? Share your stories in the comments below!
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