One interesting thought for tourists about visiting a developing country like Cambodia is whether to choose touristy activities that show the best that the country has to offer (and may ‘shield’ the visitors for the dark reality of being in a poor, developing country), or to expose oneself to the ‘good’ and ‘bad’ parts of the country. I can understand that for some, going on ‘vacation’ means going on a ‘trip of a lifetime’ perhaps focusing on the places like Angkor Wat or going to white sandy beaches in Thailand, and during that time, not thinking about the troubles and realities of the world. However, I think it’s important to not purposefully turn a blind eye on these realities or be shocked when you see such things during your travels.
When we went on the trip to visit the floating village of Chong Kneas, our boat ride towards the floating village passed some very poor villages along the river. From far away, these places look like slums with shacks, unpaved roads, and even some naked little children running around on outside the homes. It was definitely unexpected sights to see during a ‘tourist boat ride.’ Our tour guide Vanna said that these are the realities in many parts of Cambodia; a lot of tourists who stay in isolated tourist destinations like downtown Siem Reap would never see these scenes. And when you compare the GDP per capita in the last four years in Cambodia (around USD $900) to the United States (around USD $47,000), it puts things in perspective how rich and fortunate we are in the United States.
That brings interesting questions as I thought about that experience. The government of Cambodia tried to promote the visit to the floating village in Chong Kneas as a unique cultural experience that foreigners can take. The question is, should they try to ‘sanitize’ and clean up the surroundings to give a brighter, happier look at the people of Cambodia, or leave things as is and show the reality, even if it may mean ‘shocking’ some visitors?
Then, as a visitor, what should your reaction be if you do encounter such scenes? I found an interesting account from a visitor who came to visit Chong Kneas as tourist when I did search on Google.
The photo below was taken from our boat as we passed one of the villages. You can see some of the homes where people lived, and there was a little naked boy in the distance standing near one of the homes.