A Cambodian Spring
A Cambodian Spring Review - Times They Aren't Achanging
Cambodia is a beautiful place but a dark & tumultuous recent history still shrouds the country. In his documentary A Cambodian Spring, director Chris Kelly puts the microscope on the violence and corruption as three local activists do everything they can to prevent their homes being bulldozed in the name of progress. In this case, progress equates to the filling in of the lake with devastating affect.
The documentary is a visceral tale of police brutality & government corruption made human with the stories of Tep Vanny and Toul Srey Pov, two residents, mothers and former-friends, and Buddhist monk, Luon Sovath. The latter threatened by his peers with defrocking as he becomes more involved and vocal in the politics of the situation. The former two sacrificing everything, including years of friendship & memories, to do what they believe is right.
At around 2 hours A Cambodian Spring is hefty with little respite, cue the moment Vanny's young daughter is peacefully protesting for her mother's release from prison. However it is a very important film. With the level of tourists descending on Phnom Penh & Siem Reap, it's important we understand, at least a basic level, the issues the Cambodian people still face today and the impact our seemingly small actions could have on the local communities.
Sustainable Siem Reap
Hardly off the beaten track, for backpackers, first-timers, and seasoned temple runners alike, Siem Reap is one of the top destinations to include on any trip to Cambodia. This is in no meagre part thanks to the UNESCO World Heritage Site of Angkor Wat. But how to make sure your trip leaves a positive impact on the local community?
Eat Well. Live Well.
Good food, good atmosphere, & the real-time goodness of contributing to Siem Reap's do-good community.Siem Reap is home to two restaurants which remain in my top rated anywhere in the world, but especially in South East Asia. Both venues not only serve up delectable belly fillers, they are both sustainable, responsible & educational.
Started by two Aussie sisters, Sister Srey Cafe is rooted in three philosophies: good coffee, supporting Khmer students, & to make a sustainable impact on the community. I think they nail all three. Situated in the centre of Siem Reap, Sister Srey Cafe not only boasts incredible veggie eats and groundbreaking coffee, climb the spiral staircase to find they also run a small boutique selling kimonos, toys, and trinkets all made locally. My toucan kimono remains one of my favourite items I have ever purchased, and even sometime later it still reels in the compliments.
Cassie & Lauren have built a programme to train every member of staff in hospitality, English language skills, personal development and so on. Skills to help them build a brighter future where they are confident and empowered. Helping each other through education, knowledge sharing, & support is what it's all about, right?
Haven's ethos of "where helping tastes good" is so bang on the money it's not even funny. My tip, take a tuk-tuk to this one as it's a little far to walk but one hundred per cent worth the trip (it really isn't that far, just not walkable in my opinion, and I love a stroll).
A trip to Haven is nothing short of heavenly & she leaves her patrons feeling full to the brim with goodness. Produce is locally sourced & bought daily from local markets for preparation in the totally MSG-free kitchen across a menu which is an international journey in itself; perfect if you've been on the road a while and craving comfort food. All menu items are labelled clearly so whether you're veggie, vegan, or just conscious about what you put in your mouth, your body is a temple after all.
Let Them Entertain You
Now, I am not a fan of the circus but when I found out about Phare Circus I had to check it out. Not a single Dumbo in sight, Phare transforms the lives of Cambodian youth. Working as on of the most innovative social enterprise models in the country, all profits generated at every point of sale from snacks and merch to tickets and private events support the free education, professional arts training and social support programs of Phare Ponleu Selbak in Battambang.
The circus itself is breathtaking as performers execute stunningly impressive aerial sequences, and it comes as no surprise that many who partake in the Phare education graduate to Cirque du Soleil.
Tuk Tuk In
My hotel offered airport pick up in a tuk tuk. This was a trip to start with and my driver was friendly, interesting and got us from arrivals to Silk D'Ankor Boutique Hotel very safely - even hustling round some sharp corners. He basically turned into our driver for most of our excursions into Siem Reap, to Ankor Wat for our day with a guide, Ankor Wat Mini Golf and Haven. Taking the time to get to know each other meant we learned more about the city too.
Love The Temple, Leave No Trace
This is a fairly simple mantra to live by unless you're a total dickhead.
Take nothing but photographs, leave nothing but footprints.
Donate Your Time & Educate Yourself
Staying for an extended period of time means you can sign up to work with a local NGO, should you feel so inclined and fancy taking a break from crawling down Pub Street. There are loads to choose from depending on your interests and skill set so do some research and lend a hand.
Use your time to get a whole new level of insider view to the community, the people you will meet & the stories you will hear will give you a whole new appreciation and perspective. If you're doing this for a Tinder profile pic, for all of our sake, just don't.