Tourism and trends in Siem Reap, Cambodia
January 1, 1970
by Lea Rqt
Cambodia has started to be attractive for tourists about a decade ago. In terms of popularity and GDP it is still far from its neighbor countries Thailand or Vietnam but tourism has grown a lot in the last past years. The Kingdom of Cambodia welcomes a lot of Chinese and Corean groups but is also part of South East Asian touristic routes designed for Western travellers.
Siem Reap provides with a wide touristic offer. From groups interested in the local heritage, especially the Angkor temples, to individual backpackers, the second biggest town of the country attracts several types of travellers.
This also explains the variety of offer in Siem Reap. From hostels for 3$ a night to luxus hotels like Victoria Angkor or retreat resorts like Navutu Resort Hotel, from street food to fancy traditional cooking classes, you will find something that suits your interests and budget.
Siem Reap Angkor: cultural heritage and party!
Not only is Siem Reap well-known for its temples but also famous for its party district “Pub Street” that knows no break. From Monday to Sunday, dozens of tuk tuk bars are settling at the crossroad when the sun goes down. Tuk tuk bars are very typical for Siem Reap and refers to tuk tuks, the Cambodian taxis. They are homemade bars attached to a motorbike. Locals own most of them and play music on demand while serving cocktails.
Travellers and party, a source of income for the locals
As there is no regulation about alcool and no need of licenses, it is very easy to open a nomad business on Pub Street. For 1,50$ tourists can get a cocktail on the street. All tuk tuk bars are not worth the same but locals and expats know where to have the best drinks for a good value for money.
Lately, the Peace and Love bar located one street away from Pub Street and quite well frequented by expats, launched a new concept. Instead of staying in Pub Street, where the competition grows months after months, they decided to have their own tuk tuk bar and bring customers to isolated areas outside Siem Reap. Mostly visited by locals about a year ago, West Baray is now welcoming tourists brought by the Peace and Love Sightseeing Bar.
Most of the businesses in Siem Reap rely on Facebook, street marketing and partnerships to market their products. So did Peace and Love Bar. It was very clever to play on two assets of Siem Reap and mix them together to create a new concept. They promise experiences with local people, on a local vehicule and able tourists to visit areas that are not in the top 3 of the city.
The growth of off the beaten track offers in touristy places
Off the beaten track trips become a trend when a place start to be famous. Siem Reap has a wide offer, but it is not that easy for visitors to find the information. There are no visitor centers and if you haven’t planned your itinerary in advance, word of mouth is very likely to help you organize your trip on spot. Supported by locals and expats, Peace and Love Bar managed to launch his new business successfully. The Peace and Love Sightseeing Bar is also targeting at expats who want to go to the Baray and escape the crowded center.
Owned by locals, Peace and Love Bar is a great example of local development that managed to use the flow of tourists and expats in Siem Reap to create a new concept and stand out from the crowd.
Tourism and abuses
However, Siem Reap has as well recently suffered from tourism development in a more negative way. A couple of weeks ago, young foreigners have been arrested for “production of pornographic content” during bar tours. Some months ago, a group of travellers started pub crawl tours that ended with suggestive acts in a secret place. Although locals working on Pub Street enjoy partying and can profit financially from the flow of tourists, especially backpackers, Cambodians are as well very religious and tradition-oriented and care about these matters. The concept that was launched by this group of Westerners simply did not ft the environment and only matched the way of partying of a specific group of Western people.
This case shows that globalization is reaching to countries that start to be somewhat invaded by Western tourists and expats. This anglosaxon way of partying would have never been part of the Cambodian scenery some years ago. However, pushing limits to get a free drink is not a new phenomenon in South East Asia. On the Thai island Koh Phi Phi, most of the bars on the party beach employ Western staff that animate drinking games for Western tourists. Koh Phi Phi being a party island for some years already, these practices are not shoking the local people anymore. Nevertheless, Cambodians who are quite new in managing tourism are not ready to cope with this kind of Western trends.
Take the lead!
Expats also play a big role in Cambodia as a lot of businesses are managed by Westerners or Chinese investors. However, the local traditions should be respected and prevail over the foreign ones. The parties organized by Westerners would have probably been accepted in Western societies as we might have understood the second degree. Nevertheless, expats and tourists have to adapt to the countries they travel to.
If you are willing to travel to Cambodia, try to get in touch with expats via Facebook groups, as they have become a great means of communication. Expats have local knowledge and speak English. They will help you get in touch with autochtones and give you a chance to live local experiences once you are on spot. Also ask for tips about the pricing of tuk tuks, food and goods before coming to Cambodia to avoid tourists traps. Most of the goods have to be bargained in Siem Reap and tourists are unfortunately considered as a source of income by a lot of locals. Having an idea of the prices will prevent from being ripped off.