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The dos and don'ts for tourists visiting Cambodia according to experts

Holidaying in Cambodia invariably creates memories that last a lifetime, but it can also present visitors with tricky ethical dilemmas. Here, some of the country’s leading charitable organisations offer advice on acting responsible while visiting the Kingdom

Photo: Mak Remissa / EPA

Riding elephants

“Elephants are highly endangered wild animals and should be treated as such. They are not meant to be ridden or played with in any way. Tourists should not partake in activities that keep elephants out of their natural habitat and in unnatural settings, such as walking around Angkor Wat or through traffic at Bayon temple to take a selfie. Visitors are welcome to visit the Elephant Valley Project in Mondulkiri. We take elephants out of the logging and tourist trekking industry and rehome and rehabilitate them in their natural environment. Visitors can contribute to the better welfare of the captive elephants as well as funding the protection of wild elephants.” – Jack Highwood, Elephant Valley Project

Photo: Mak Remissa / EPA

Plastic awareness

“Quite simply, people should think before they purchase. Don’t be afraid to refuse single-use plastic – as most people now do in their home countries. Visitors should be aware that, as a developing country, recycling and waste disposal are not particularly efficient or well-established here, and education about the issues is not as great. The big three single-use plastic problems are water bottles, plastic straws and plastic bags – all can be easily avoided and in many cases they can support community initiatives in doing so. ‘Refusing, reusing and reducing’ should be tourists’ adopted motto while travelling through Southeast Asia.” – Dean McLachlan, Refill Not Landfill Cambodia

Photo: Mak Remissa / EPA

Visiting orphanages

“Frankly, no tourists should ever visit orphanages – in Cambodia or anywhere else. In most countries this is absolutely not allowed, as it raises many child protection issues through inappropriate access to vulnerable children. Would you (and could you) do this at home? No. So why think it’s OK in Cambodia? It’s not. In Cambodia, we have the additional issue of children who are unnecessarily institutionalised in orphanages run as businesses. This exploits the children, most of whom are not orphans and many of whom have been trafficked into ‘care’. The directors of these institutions know that people want to support children perceived as abandoned or neglected.” – James Sutherland, Friends International

Photo: Heng Sinith / EPA

Giving to beggars

“Most of the children selling things don’t live on the streets; rather, they are children who work on the streets. People often believe that if they give money, food or gifts to begging children, they can, in some small way, help them to escape from their current situation. Unfortunately, the reality is that they play a small part in locking them in, encouraging them to continue begging. There are better ways to offer support – we suggest using businesses with a social impact, such as training restaurants and shops, or donating to organisations that support children and their families.” – Michael Horton, ConCERT

This article was published in the 2018 edition of Discover magazine. For more content, click here.

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