9 ethical things to do in Cambodia

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 travelling around Cambodia, then check out my guide to Battambang, taking a vegetarian Cambodian cooking course and how to get from Battambang to Koh Chang in Thailand.

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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.

Find out more about the history of Cambodia’s Killing Fields.

Tree covered in ribbons at the killing fields, Cambodia
Tree covered in ribbons at the killing fields, Cambodia

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.

How to give blood in Phnom Penh in Cambodia.

Wearing my blood donation T-shirt, Cambodia

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.

Performers at Phare Circus, Battambang, Cambodia

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.

Breakfast at Connecting Hands Cafe, Phnom Penh, Cambodia
Breakfast at Connecting Hands Cafe, Phnom Penh, Cambodia

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.

Jaan Bai Restaurant, Battambang, Cambodia

6. Beach clean on the islands

If you’re visiting Koh Rong or Koh Rong Samloem (where I really recommend snorkelling with the bioluminescence) then why not take a bag and do a quick beach clean? The oceans will thank you for it.

Beaching cleaning on Koh Rong Samloem, Cambodia

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.

Apopo rat, Siem Reap, Cambodia

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.

Poster at the Tuol Sleng Museum of Genocide, Cambodia
Poster at the Tuol Sleng Museum of Genocide, Cambodia

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.

Find out more about the history of blind massage in Asia.

Seeing hands massage, Battambang, Cambodia

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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9 ethical things to do in Cambodia
9 ethical things to do in Cambodia
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