Monday, April 14, 2008

Responsible Tourism in Phnom Penh

Cambodia’s capital city Phnom Penh is much bigger than the tourist mecca of Siem Reap and offers its own unique charm. Colonial architecture, lively street side cafes, vibrant markets and colourful traffic jams make up this charming riverside city that sits at the meeting point of three rivers - the mighty Mekong, Tonle Sap and Tonle Bassac rivers.

In between the tourist attractions like the Grand Palace, the incredible National Museum and the famous Russian markets, there are a number of things you can do to ensure your tourist dollar is making a difference. Once again I turn to the Stay Another Day guidebook to see what else Phnom Penh offers.

My first stop is Friends International – a bright cheerful non-profit café staffed by ex-street kids who have been trained in hospitality. Sun-dried tomato hummus, mango salad, tuna and avocado salad, chicken in pita bread and other Asian and Western style tapa snacks make up the menu. On the walls, the names of the students cooking in the kitchen and serving customers are proudly displayed. The brightly coloured décor, fantastic service and divine foods makes this an experience to savour.

And while I’m enjoying my lunch, students are learning the tools of the trade and gaining hands-on experience. One day, these same students will be working in other restaurants or even running their own restaurants.

There are 20,000 children living and working on the streets of Phnom Penh. Friends International works with street children and their families to provide a range of support services including the provision of vocational training in hairdressing, welding, electronics, cooking and mechanics among others. They even support home based production so mothers can work at home and earn a fair income.

Next door to the café there is Friends ‘n’ Stuff – a store that sells goods repaired by the mechanics and electronics students along with handcrafts and clothing made by the students. You can even get a manicure.

On the day I visit Friends, they were closing early to celebrate the Khmer New Year with a concert performed by the children. I was invited to see the concert and it was an absolute privilege to see the joyous energy of the children performing and break dancing and the smiling faces of their families in their audience.

And there are other things to discover in the Stay Another Day. Purchase bold, beautiful silk products at NYEMO, an NGO where vulnerable women learn new skills such as sewing, embroidery and silk weaving and then sells their items in the NYEMO boutique and the Russian market. They also have a restaurant set in a lush, leafy garden so you can relax in tranquillity after your shopping. Profits help assist women who have been affected by HIV/AIDS, trafficking or abuse get the support they need to reintegrate into society.

Other options include a visit Sovanna Phum, a theatre group that is reviving, preserving and promoting traditional arts like puppet theatre. A little bit further out of town, on the way to the Killing Fields, is Lotus Blanc, a training restaurant and spa.

Useful links

Labels: , , ,


Post a Comment

<< Home