25 Jul Getting Off the Beaten Path with Banteay Chhmar
Written by Amanda Martin and Samnang Pak, 2014 Southeast Asia: Cities & Sanctuaries Program Leaders.
Tourism is a big money-making industry for the economies of Southeast Asia. Thailand’s booming tourism economy plays a major role in their country and Cambodia’s is on the rise. If done properly, this is a great opportunity for the people of Cambodia!
Often big companies will build monopolies over the tourist market or the hotels and businesses will be primarily owned by foreigners. Locals or small businesses often get pushed to the side, but many job opportunities continue to be generated. This is largely the case in Siem Reap, home of the famed Angkor Wat. Siem Reap has a similar vibe to the mayhem of Khao San Road in Bangkok, although on a much smaller scale and is built around the must-see temples. At the height of the Khmer Empire, still a point of national pride for Cambodians today, these places of worship made from stone were masterpieces. No trip to Cambodia is complete without these sites.
Visiting Angkor Wat for a cloudy sunrise, meandering around ancient ruins, visiting the landmine museum, massages, and relaxing with a few drinks by the pool certainly gets chalked up there as one hell of a day! Angkor Wat is stunning in size as the fog swirls over the lotus shaped stupas. The smiling faces of Bayon at Angkor Thom is a favorite. Ta Phrom, usually a favorite among tourists for the twisted roots and trees weaving their way through the stone walls, however, fails to impress the group after our secluded and spectacular visit to Banteay Chhmar. While Angkor Wat brings in hundreds of thousands of
tourists per year, Banteay Chhmar is still claimed by nature and frequented only by locals with a couple of hundred tourists finding their way there.
The Community-Based Tourism Project of Banteay Chhmar offers a homestay just a walk away from the majestic and unimaginable ruins that we thought could only exist in our imagination. The initiative is still tucked far away from the mainstream tourist route, so with the aid of the Global Heritage Fund, responsible travelers, and the local community, the CBT is trying to get this largely unknown site ready for the arrival of tourists. The hope is to develop a strong infrastructure so that the majority of the money will find its way back into the hands of the local people.
They are focusing on addressing sanitation issues, waste management systems, education, and ensuring clean water supplies in an area frequently found in a state of drought with major water shortages. Last year, OG supported the purchase and promotion of ceramic water filtration systems. This year we are focusing on sanitation. Locals have been hired to build sinks at the primary school to accompany the recently built bathrooms. A waste management site is currently under construction. In the meantime, we were getting acquainted with the next generation.
From the local classroom, we could see the moat separating us from the 800-year old temple complex. The children are bouncing off the walls with energy from teaching the crazy foreigners how to speak Khmer, Cambodia’s national language. Proud to show off their impressive English skills, they are pleased to practice their English numbers, while teaching us a thing or two about their language. They taught us a traditional Khmer game, while we developed an environmental rendition of Stella Ella Ola. After a few pineapple cookies, we made our way to the school yard to pick up trash. Afterwards, the team spent the afternoon brainstorming ideas with the local teacher to make sure the lessons would continue after we left.
Our time there was wrapped up with catching our lunch with bamboo fishing rods, a picnic by the lotus lake, and a dance party with the locals to a traditional band where a few people got a hands-on lesson.
As we struggle to get a photo in Siem Reap without another tourist in the background, we remember why we seek out the unbeaten track to connect with local communities.
Next up, Battambang. We will be off the grid for a few days while staying on the permaculture farm!
Until next time,
2014 Southeast Asia: Cities & Sanctuaries