Tourism and Siem Reap

Poverty in Siem Reap Poverty in Siem Reap - Tourism Infrastructure Poverty in Siem Reap
 
Siem Reap - A place where worlds meet
 

Since 1993, and particularly since 2000, the number of tourists visiting Siem Reap has risen dramatically.  In 1993 there were around 7,000 international tourist arrivals.  It has now reached 2 million. 

People come to visit Angkor Wat and the many other temples and structures that were built from the 9th to the 13th century, at the height of the Khmer Empire.  The vast complex of Angkor, which at its height was home to more than a million people, (when London’s population was about 40,000), was sustained by the Tonle Sap, the largest freshwater lake in South-East Asia. 

Water flows out of the lake, down the Tonle Sap River to the Mekong at Phnom Penh, some 200 kilometres away.  The central plain of Cambodia is very flat and level.  As the Mekong rises each year, (swollen with the combination of meltwater from the Himalayas and the monsoon rains), water pours up the Tonle Sap River, making it flow backwards.  As a result, the area of the Tonle Sap Lake increases fourfold, flooding large areas of forest and surrounding farmland.  Communities on and around the lake have had to adapt to this phenomenon, and visitors are drawn to the floating villages and villages with houses on tall stilts that surround the lake.

Some Cambodian facts:
~2.5 Million Visitors in 2010
An estimated 80% of the population lives in rural areas
Around 80% of Cambodian children start primary school; 25% of Cambodian children start lower secondary school; only 9% start upper secondary school
Siem Reap Province has high levels of poverty; over 36% of the population exist below the poverty line

Despite the prosperity in Siem Reap town, Siem Reap province has high levels of poverty with 36.6% of the population existing below the poverty line. This is defined in Cambodian Government statistics for 2004 as families whose income was less than 45 cents per person per day. The causes of poverty include:

  • insufficient food due to: poor soils; inefficient and sometimes unsustainable farming practices; a lack of irrigation systems (due to the country’s topography and a shortage of resources)
  • low levels of education resulting from a shortage of funding, teachers, and resources
  • lack of technical and vocational training
  • sparse health care provision, (which is often inaccessible to people due to lack of money or distance)
  • lack of infrastructure, especially in the rural areas
  • difficulties for people disabled through landmine accidents or other means, to support themselves and their families
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    Responsible Tourism in Siem Reap
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The results of poverty mean that many families and communities struggle to provide for their children. Large numbers of parents have placed their children in one of the rapidly growing number of private residential child care centres, many of which call themselves orphanages. Around 75% of children in Cambodian “orphanages” are not orphans, but come from poor families who send their children in the belief that they will be better cared for. With such a large number of this type of project there is inevitably a great variation in the quality of care they provide, and how well they are run.

People are also drawn to the town in search of work, or to beg on the streets, and many children sell books and other souvenirs to supplement the family income. Landmine victims also try to earn a living by selling books and souvenirs.

Nevertheless, tourism is bringing real benefits to the people of Siem Reap, creating jobs and improving the infrastructure. Responsible Tourism has the capacity to do much more. All projects rely of donations of some sort and a large proportion comes from visitors. Many tourists are moved by what they see and experience, and want to help in some way.

Most people visit Siem Reap for only a few days and it can be difficult to find information on what needs doing, the best ways to help, and how not to do something that actually makes matters worse.

... at ConCERT we can give you the information you need to make informed decisions, and so help you to help.