If you’re one of 2 million people who flock to Siem Reap, Cambodia annually to behold the world wonder of Angkor Wat you’re unintentionally contributing to over tourism. To counter effect the negative impact of so much foot traffic through this one historical site you can make mindful choices in all other aspects of your trip to Cambodia. Be conscious about where you stay, how you get around, who you explore with, what you eat, and what you purchase. Fortunately, Siem Reap is bustling with sustainable businesses and social enterprises which make it easier than ever to craft an itinerary to Temple Town that will introduce you to Khmer culture all while supporting local people.

Lotus Cambodia

I spent six weeks in Siem Reap gathering intel on the many exciting projects happening in town that are transforming tourism for the better. Be sure you have reliable travel insurance before your adventure like World Nomads. Here’s a complete guide to Siem Reap responsible travel tips.

Buddhist monk

SIEM REAP RESPONSIBLE TRAVEL TIPS: WHERE TO STAY

BUDGET: MAD MONKEY

Mad Monkey Siem Reap

Thanks to the sustainable hostel chain Mad Monkey even backpackers on a budget can make a difference. There are both dorms and private rooms available as well as an assortment of party-centric amenities like the rooftop bar complete with a sand floor and limbo competitions and a swimming pool which is chill by day and rowdy by night. The hostel is brought to life with gorgeous murals peppered around the property created by local artists and traveling creatives.

Mad Monkey

The Siem Reap outpost has several community-based initiatives including clean water projects with the Cambodian Buddhism Association for Vulnerable Children. Mad Monkey has installed wells in remote areas around Siem Reap province in order to bring clean water to underserved villages. Previously members of these communities would have to walk 1.5 miles to collect clean water daily.

Mad Monkey Siem Reap also operates experiences for guests to give back to the community as they partake in activities that are both socially fun and impactful. I went on the beer bike village clean-up tour with about 20 other international travelers. While the unlimited beer certainly motivated attendance I was pleasantly surprised at how enthusiastic this crew of young backpackers was to help clean up the local market.

Mad Monkey Clean Up

Everyone grabbed a bag and walked around the market picking up trash that was honestly nothing short of vile–but did so with a smile on their faces. Maybe it was the free-flowing beer but I’d like to think it was the enthusiastic reaction of the local people who were at first puzzled by our appearance but then pitched in with cleaning up their surroundings a bit. Leading by example is the best way to cut back on waste and litter.

Stay tuned for a feature on the social sustainability practices of Mad Monkey Cambodia!

Check availability and prices of Mad Monkey Siem Reap.

MID-LEVEL: BABEL GUESTHOUSE

Babel Guesthouse

I spent a month living out of one of the palm tree adorned rooms at the sustainable Babel Guesthouse and honestly never wanted to leave. Babel refers to the myth that explains why so many languages are spoken around the world–this guesthouse is a haven for people of all walks of life who want to be conscious of the impact of their travels. Katrine and Simen took over operations of the property nearly a decade ago and have slowly and steadily transformed the space from a typical SEA accommodation to one that is an oasis for guests,  the environment, and local Khmer people. Babel Guesthouse has a holistic approach to sustainability and operates several programs in support with other local initiatives to tackle an array of issues from plastic waste, child trafficking, fair employment, and education opportunities.

Related: 5 Things You’ll Love About Babel Guesthouse

Check availability and prices of Babel Guesthouse.

SPLURGE: JAYA HOUSE

While I can’t recommend Jaya House from personal experience it is well-known as being an eco-luxury resort that prioritizes environmental and social projects without cutting any corners on a 5-star experience. The team behind Jaya House launched the Made in Cambodia Market and the Refill Not Landfill program which is tackling the single-use plastic waste crisis throughout the Southeast Asia region–more on both of these can be found further on in this article. Other initiatives include a program to plant 10,000 trees. The property is located on the outskirts of Siem Reap and offers guests top-level amenities of two swimming pools, a spa, and lush gardens.

Check availability and prices of Jaya House.

SIEM REAP RESPONSIBLE TRAVEL TIPS: WHAT TO DO

Apsara Dancer

RECEIVE A KHMER BUDDHIST TRADITIONAL WATER BLESSING

Water Blessing

My favorite platform for community-based experiences in Southeast Asia, Backstreet Academy, is one of the only places where tourist can have the chance to be invited to partake in this sacred ritual. If you try to arrange a water blessing on your own you’ll end up in a tourist trap where you’ll be grouped with other foreigners and half-heartedly have water dumped on you without the explanation and blessing that follows the ritual. Fortunately, Backstreet Academy makes it possible to have a genuine experience that’s once-in-a-lifetime and supports local Buddhist monks.

Buddhist Temple

The tour is a half-day immersion into Khmer Buddhist cultural beliefs and practices. The morning began at Wat Preah Prom Rath where my local guide, Leak, was pleasantly surprised by my knowledge of the teachings of Buddha and shared many personal stories with me. So many of the stories Leak told me are influenced by Hindu tales which perfectly represents Khmer culture–Hinduism and Buddhism have merged here for centuries which is apparent in everything from the beliefs to the religious structures.

We strolled the grounds as Leak pointed out different facets of the temples, the folk stories associated with various images, and the rituals that local people were performing around us. It was a fantastic way to get acquainted with Cambodia and a cultural experience I highly recommend.

After paying a visit to the local wet market and trying vegetables I’d never seen before we hopped back into our tuk-tuk with extra large coconuts in hand and made our way to Po Banteay Chei Pagoda for the water blessing ceremony. Water blessings are a daily custom for some Khmer people who believe that the ancient tradition is one of many ways to make them immune to black magic curses. The ritual is performed by a Buddhist who chants as he cleanses your body in order to protect you and is completed with a traditional blessing of placing a red string bracelet on the wrist which also bans away evil wishers.

The bells that notified the Buddhist monks that lunch, their main meal of the day, was ready sounded and we were invited to enter the room where the group of men and boys take their meals. It gave me chills to sit and witness the time-old tradition of showing grace for the food that nourishes you. The entire congregation chanted in unison before enjoying their feast which was mostly made up of donations, or alms, collected from local community members.

Monk Lunchtime

As luck would have it, a senior monk was on the grounds during my visit and offered to share his fortune-telling wisdom with me. After learning my birth date and day he began to scribble in his notebook as he pondered what the future may have in store for me based on an ancient theory that he studied. He told me I’ll be meeting my ‘one true partner in 2020’ so here’s to that!

Monk Fortune

I had such a great time seeing Siem Reap through Leak’s eyes that I was shocked when he invited me to attend his wedding! He was also the first person in Cambodia to let me know that my name, Lola, means loud in Khmer–a statement people would be quick to share with me over the coming weeks.

VISIT THE UNESCO WORLD HERITAGE SITE OF ANGKOR WAT

Angkor Wat Cambodia
If you’re fortunate enough to be spending extended time in Siem Reap I highly suggest getting a multi-day pass to Angkor Pass so that you can visit several times in order to take in all of the archeological sites of the world’s largest Hindu temple. After reading Temple of a Thousand Faces earlier in the year I couldn’t wait to see these ancient structures myself. Reading historical fiction about the history of the Khmer Kingdom really transformed my experience here and allowed me to be informed about lesser-known spots around the complex that are simply magical, like the chamber of dreams.

My first visit to Angkor Wat was with the responsible tour operator, Urban Adventures. Our local guide Khemara is a former monk who has spent his layman career working for social enterprises and was passionate about preserving culture. The group visit was well organized with many stops along the route to share stories that we wouldn’t have otherwise been able to learn as there’s very limited information at the Hindu temple complex.

The tour took the traditional small circuit route which was a perfect introduction to Angkor Wat and left me eager to go back and see other structures. There are about 100 temples available to visit while around 90 others are still being uncovered. It’s incredibly important to be respectful of these structures and act responsibly in order to help with their preservation.

Angkor Wat

During the Urban Adventures tour, we started the morning at the world-famous Angkor Wat. The entire area is known as Angkor Wat but the main structure which served as an entrance to the community is also named Angkor Wat. It’s the most well-preserved of the buildings and is the spot to go for sunrise to see the reflection in the water lily ponds on the back side and to climb the towers for a fantastic vantage over the kingdom. Angkor Wat was built exclusively for monks and maintains a deeply spiritual energy.

Angkor Wat

Most people are eager to go to the 12th-century royal monastery of Ta Prohm to see the structures that have been enwrapped by overgrown tree roots after seeing the beautiful site in Lara Croft: Tomb Raider. It was raining during our visit which made the many caveats around the structure even more mysterious. Ta Prohm was built to honor the mother of King Jayavarman VII.

While everyone waits to get a shot in the famous section that’s uncleared of a massive tree, take a wander around to find quiet areas and ponder about what life must have been like here during the heyday of the Khmer Kingdom. There are many other temple complexes in the area that have been reclaimed by the jungle and are much more peaceful.

Bayon temple

I was most excited to visit Bayon as I find the 200 slightly smiling faces to be very welcoming. 54 towers are adorned with the face of King Jayavarman VII. The structure sits centrally in Angkor Thom, which was the actual city within Angkor Wat and the capital of the Khmer Kingdom. A million people used to live in the area surrounding Bayon.

Angkor Wat Gates

The tour also includes stops throughout the day at the various gates of Angkor that also have large faces facing the cardinal directions such as the gate of fortune and the south gate where larger-than-life demons that flank the pathway. This iconography is seen through Angkor Wat — somewhat of a tug-of-war between good and evil. We also had a wonderful lunch at a local eatery with traditional Khmer dishes.

MAKE YOUR OWN COPPER BRACELET

copper bracelet

I never pass up the chance to make my own artisan craft — especially if it was wearable! I had such a wonderful time learning about silver making in Hanoi, Vietnam that I jumped at the chance to make my own copper bracelet in Siem Reap, Cambodia. The tour is one of the longest running and most booked Backstreet Academy community-based tourism experiences in Siem Reap. In ancient times, Khmer people wore copper bracelets to show their ranking.

I arrived to see a strip of raw copper material and felt a bit overwhelmed when pondering how I’d manage to transform this piece of metal into beautiful, wearable art. I had nothing to fret about as my sweet instructor, Bun, helped me through the process every step of the way. His grandfather founded the business and one of his aunts was expertly creating votive candle holders as my amateur hands tried in vain to hammer a straight line into the delicate material.

Design Patterns

I was able to select from a series of designs that Bun had crafted on his own — his mind is extraordinary and each was incredibly beautiful. Selecting a pattern was nearly impossible by I eventually settled on a design that features a bamboo vine with lotus flowers as these are two symbols that I see often in my travels and bring me a sense of peace. The finished product is truly one-of-a-kind and one of my most cherished pieces of jewelry.

LEARN HOW TO EXPRESS THROUGH MOVEMENT AT AN APSARA DANCE CLASS

Coconut Dance

I’ve always love dance performances that tell a story. Apsara dance is one of the most expressive forms as each and every pose and movement translates to a word or emotion. To learn the basics, I joined the Backstreet Academy Aspara Dance Appreciation workshop. The traditional dance has over 1,400 gestures. 30 of these poses are considered the basic elements. During the lesson, I was taught 20 different movements.

Apsara Dancers

“Dance is a body language,” says my teacher Channou. She’s in her early 30s and has been dancing since she was 7 years old. Apsara dance has become a bit of a tourist trap in Cambodia and many young girls are taken from school and forced to dance in order to help support their families financially. Now that she has two children of her own it’s important to her that she’s able to pass on her skills in an environment that is child-safe. All of the dancers are required to stay in school and are paid fairly for their performances. Her daughter is now 7, the age Channou was when she began to dance. She joined the teaching portion of the lesson and sweetly giggled at my lack of talent.

Each movement we learned had meaning. Many of the basic movements Channou and her daughter showed me were related to flowers as Apsara is the language of nature. We pulled our fingers back, mine hardly moving, and Channou’s nearly touching the back of her palm, to depict the movement for a leaf. Channou shared a dancers secret with me, lemongrass helps to give the hands more agility. Other movements I learned were for flower, young leaf, fruit, leaf falling, tree branch, and planting of seeds.

Apsara Dancer

We then moved on to emotions, which were a bit easier to learn as they reflect our natural reactions to our feelings. We smiled as we placed our palms near our faces, the palm moved with the eyes as the head tilted to show we were shy. Crying, worried, and scared all appeared exactly as you’d imagine them to be. There were also many joyous positions that show a sense of amazement and love.

Mermaid Dance

I was invited to come back in the evening to witness the young talented dancers put on their Apsara performance. I was amazed at how fluidly they’re able to move through the positions that I found incredibly challenging. I absolutely was in awe of the makeup and costumes. My favorite sequence was the dance that features a fight between mermaids and monkeys. The entire show was grand and although there were no words, I left with a deeper understanding of Khmer culture from the past and present.

TOAST YOUR TRAVELS AT A CAMBODIAN COCKTAIL CLASS

Khmer Cocktails

As I learned in Hanoi, cocktails can also be cultural! I joined Backstreet Academy for an educational boozy evening at the Cocktail Workshop. The lesson was held in the locally owned Asana, a beautiful bar that reclaimed a traditional teak wood house and transformed it into an upscale watering hole. Samboi, one of the star bartenders, led me through the cocktail concoction workshop. It was only natural that we opened up the evening with a few sips of rice wine. Sombai is a local company that makes 8 flavors of rice wine — the artisan products use high-quality ingredients and each bottle is adorned with gorgeous Khmer paintings.

I tried the galangal tamarind blend that was quite sweet although it has no sugar, only fruits. Each of the flavors has medicinal properties. Khmer people take a swig of rice wine before lunch or dinner to warm up their bellies. The booze is quite potent at 27% proof!

Next, we assessed our organic ingredients for the cocktails. A beautiful platter of local herbs and spices left me wondering if we were making soup or drinks! On the platter were bunches of fresh turmeric, ginger, galangal, wild ginger. Three types of Kampot pepper was on hand: red, black, and white. We had a bundle of basil as well as nameless greens that grow off of rice patties. Kaffir lime enhanced our drinks and I also learned that the citrus is traditionally used to keep snakes away! Lemongrass stems were on hand for flavor and to use as natural straws.

Khmer Cocktails

Our first craft cocktail of the night was a Ginger Mojito. I’d never muddled lime before and it is seriously a hard task. We incorporated entire lime and mint leaves into the mixture. Dark and white rum went into the drink along with fresh ginger and a not-a-plastic-straw made from corn starch!

I also opted to make the Tamarind Sauce cocktail which is basically exactly what it sounds like.  It was another rum-based cocktail with savory and sour ingredients of rice paddy herbs, fresh tamarind juice, and kaffir leaf. These blended together wonderfully for a delicious and refreshing cocktail.

BE ENTERTAINED AT THE PHARE CIRCUS

Phare Circus Performance

Community-based tourism comes in all shapes and sizes — including entertainment! Lokal Travel arranged for me to check out two of the performances at Phare Circus while I was in Siem Reap. The modern circus creates opportunities for impoverished people to have a chance to hone in on their creativity and seek sustainable employment opportunities through the complimentary training at the Phare Ponleu Selpak circus school. There are around 1,200 Cambodian students a year with little-to-no experience in the performing arts who learn how to communicate with their bodies. 60 former students are currently performing with the circus and are paid above-market salaries. Each artist appears to thoroughly love their work as they perform under the big top in Siem Reap. Watching the shows is like witnessing a group of friends playing. The scenes are bursting with joy.

Phare Circus

Same Same but Different is a fantastic introduction to Khmer culture and history. Each act depicts moments of regular life — from a jam-packed local bus, silly boys fishing, and a young couple out on a date. Most of the performance felt like stumbling upon a local village having a block party with each community member is an incredibly talented dancer. Each situation is brought to life with jaw-dropping acrobatics and expressive movements that clearly communicate the situation with minimal words. The energetic show kept the crowd engaged and on the edge of the seat as we watched a village attempt to fix a power outage.

Pharce Circus

The Khmer Metal show was full of shock appeal. The drama is based in a bar in the capital city of Phnom Penh depicts the seedier side of modern life for some Khmer youth who are breaking boundaries of traditional living to experiment with sex, drugs, and rock n’ roll. The engaging storyline is brought to life with seemingly impossible body contortions, over-the-top juggling, and a combination of aerial arts and balancing acts that only a professional performer can achieve.

Pharce Circus Acts

Phare Circus is locally owned and over 80% of the staff are Khmer. I love that the shows focus on the Khmer language and make use of traditional wood instruments and abstract items repurposed as musical tools to set the tone of the show. Both performances brought playfulness into everyday experiences and portrayed that any moment in life can be made into dance through artistic expression. The hour-long performance goes by in a snap as the audience is fully engaged throughout as the storyline progresses.

CREATE USEFUL CRAFTS WITH REPURPOSED PLASTIC

Rehash Trash

Throughout my travels I’ve come across several organizations that are combating plastic waste, many seem to be a ‘bandaid’ for the problem and focus on recycling rather than repurposing. When I first heard of Rehash Trash I was amazed to learn that they’ve found a way to create a desirable product with pre-used plastic bags and also create employment opportunities for marginalized women. I joined a workshop at Rehash Trash to try my hand at using plastic bags as a material to weave unique products.

You can gather plastic bags before your workshop to donate to the charity. Most of the bags have been collected from the roadside, others are gathered and donated by various ecological groups in the area. The plastic bags are washed with shampoo and entirely hygienic to use as a material for the beautiful crafts.

Rehash trash

The social enterprise started in 2015 with the goal to take plastic bags strewn throughout Siem Reap and transform them into sewn items. Over the course of the last few years, the product offering has expanded to offer quality goods that are impactful and attractive. From darling circular handbags, vibrant rugs, and various sizes of multi-purpose baskets.

Rehash Trash 2

In the workshop, you work one-on-one with a craftswoman who is an expert at knitting with colorful plastic. The option is usually to make coasters, a bracelet, or key chain but I requested to try out my hand at making their newest product, a sling that can hold a water bottle or take away coffee cup. These can replace the wasteful single-use plastic sleeves that are usually used for takeaway drinks throughout Southeast Asia.

The women who are dedicated to creating upcycling products all come from challenging backgrounds — whether they’ve left abusive relationships or come from poor backgrounds and haven’t had the chance to obtain an education. Some of the weavers are graduates from the Green Gecko school which provides complimentary education for children living on the streets and others are the mothers of current students.

Through Rehash Trash the women have learned how to create a desirable craft all while earning a fair wage so that they can support their families livelihood. Through the process, they’ve also become aware of the impacts of plastic on their communities and are bringing mindfulness to their villages and encouraging their peers to return to the ancestral tools that were prevalent before plastic.

Rehash trash

My teacher, Sophie, chatted with me as we knit about how she can remember that there was no plastic in her village when she was a child. Now, she sees plastic everywhere and worries about how all of the litter will change the village by the time her baby is an adult. She does her best to keep her household plastic-free and has empowered her family to stop using plastic bags.

VISIT BANTEAY SREI WITH A WOMEN’S EMPOWERMENT TOURISM OPERATOR

Banteay Srei

Banteay Srei is the stunning 10th-century temple complex dedicated to goddesses located outside of Angkor Wat. There’s no better way to honor the feminine energy of the sacred space than by visiting the citadel of women with the local female-led tour company, Lavender Jeep Siem Reap. I was picked up in the vintage military jeep in my absolute favorite shade of purple to head out to explore Siem Reap province. My guide, Sreyneag, grew up in a village nearby the Banteay Srei temple. She was an Apsara dancer as a child but desired a continued education which she is now able to receive due to her fair employment.

Banteay Srei

On the tour, we visited her home to meet her family members and paid a visit to her mother who sells fruit every day in the Banteay Srey market. We also stopped at several local food vendors to taste Khmer treats such as roasted bamboo with black beans, rice, and coconut as well as a woman-owned bakery with tiny delicious donuts.

Vegan Khmer Street Food

The structure is surrounded by a beautiful valley of greenery that enhances the pink hue of the red sandstone structure. Banteay Srey is the only structure from the Khmer Kingdom that wasn’t built by a king so it wasn’t meant to be allowed to be as grand as Angkor Wat, however, I found it to be even more extraordinary. Along the walls are over 120 carvings of Aspara lady dancers on slim beautiful structures that are adorned with ornate small carvings.

Banteay Srei

EXPLORE THE RICH CULTURE AT PHNOM KULEN

Lavender Jeep has another excellent tour which takes guests around the Phnom Kulen National Park. The mountain, which is considered to be the most sacred mountain in Cambodia, is nicknamed as the ‘Mountain of Lychees’ so be sure to snack on the sweet fruit. The mountain is important as a former Khmer king once built his palace on the hilltops plateau along with an assortment of Hindu temples which today hold importance for Buddhist Khmer people.

buddhist monk cambodia

There are many vignettes to witness around the temple grounds from Buddhist monks giving traditional bracelet blessings, various statues for prayers, and Hindu water blessings over a linga, which represents the god Shiva.

Temples

At the Preah Ang Thom temple, there is a wonderful reclining Buddha that hovers high over the lush landscape below. The Buddha was carved into the massive sandstone rock where it lays — an unimaginable feat for the 16th century. Many smaller temples are hidden in the lush jungle and cannot actually be viewed. It’s crucial to visit the area with a guide as the mountain has not been de-mined so trekking off-path is incredibly dangerous.

1,000 Linga

I was most excited to see the river of 1,000 lingas on Phnom Kulen. The river once had over 1,000 carvings of lingas on the riverbed and quite a few remain today. Most of the phallic symbols are seen paired with a yoni, which represents the vagina. Together they symbolize fertility and were placed here to bless the flowing river that reaches all the way to Angkor Wat. It’s astonishing to think how these carvings have lasted the test of time although they’re constantly being eroded by water.

waterfall

A big draw to Kulen Mountain are the two swimming holes that are powered by gorgeous cascades. The larger waterfall can be found on the second level and is a sheet of water pouring over the dense jungle from about 20 meters high. There are lockers where you can store your items as you swim and enjoy the refreshing water or get a natural massage by sitting under the steady stream.

VISIT TONLE SAP LAKE

Cambodian Countryside

Much of the poverty porn tourism that happens in Siem Reap occurs in the Tonle Sap Lake communities. Be aware of this and do your research when choosing a tour operator for your visit. Lavender Jeep takes guests to visit Kompong Phluk Floating Village, a local community which the tour operator has been supporting through creating the Bridge of Life School for children, water supply facilities, and employment opportunities for villagers. Tonle Sap Lake is a UNESCO biosphere and should be treated with respect. Be mindful not to bring in plastic as it’s a major threat to the vulnerable environment.

Tonle Lake

To reach Kompong Phluk Floating Village we drove through the beautiful Cambodian countryside in the lavender jeep and got a glimpse of the buzz of daily life in the rural villages and sparkling Buddhist temples. Once we reached Tonle Sap Lake we boarded a traditional wooden vessel and set out past floating fishing villages that are built entirely on stilts. One of the main industries for the lakeside communities is making fish paste — be prepared for a bit of a stench!

Tonle Lake

JOIN A MONK CHAT

Monk Chat Peace Cafe

Similar to Chiang Mai, Thailand, there are regular monk chats at various places in Siem Reap, Cambodia. I opted to attend the weekly monk chat at Peace Cafe. The cultural exchange is a chance for foreigners to learn more about Khmer Buddhism while giving a local Buddhist monk the chance to practice his English skills. You may ask anything you’d like about the teachings of Lord Buddha. The experience is complimentary but do sign up in advance. When you register you may ask the staff at Peace Cafe if you may bring an offering or donation for the monk. Don’t just bring whatever you’d like to gift, it’s important to ask what they may need. The Monk Chat Intro to Buddhism at Peace Cafe is held every Monday from 3-4 PM.

TOUCH A LIFE WITH IMPACTFUL VOLUNTEERING

touch a life

Orphanage tourism is a huge problem in Cambodia. Well-intentioned people inadvertently do more harm than good by falling for the tourist traps that encourage a day of volunteering with children. Most of the youth are not actually orphans but have been bought or borrowed from poverty-stricken families. Siem Reap has a small population of about 100,000 people yet has 35 orphanages full of children. There are estimated to be 500,000 orphans in Cambodia, yet only 1% are actually living in care centers.

Instead, make a meaningful difference by offering your services to help prepare a meal for people in need with the grassroots Touch a Life organization. I spent the day cooking and delivering food to some of the most impoverished villages around Angkor Wat. I believe the charity is making a lasting impact and that lending a hand to their efforts is a very worthwhile way to support the community.

SIEM REAP RESPONSIBLE TRAVEL TIPS: ETHICAL SHOPPING

Like many other Southeast Asian tourists hubs, there are stalls on every corner selling inexpensive products that were made in China with questionable materials and labor policies. Be mindful about how you spend your money when shopping for souvenirs and seek out ethically made goods. This is incredibly easy in Siem Reap due to an array of local artisan markets and social enterprise shops.

BABEL ZERO WASTE SHOP

If you’re mindful about your consumption you can stock up on refillable items and zero-waste goods at the Babel Zero Waste Shop. This is the first zero-waste store in Siem Reap and offers eco-friendly goods from local vendors, many of which are social enterprises, including bulk shampoo and laundry detergent from KAMBIO nature, upcycled soap from Naga Earth, and coconut oil from Dai Khmer. You can restock your ethical toiletries such as charcoal toothpaste and natural loofahs, crystal deodorant, feminine care products, reusable bamboo cutlery and containers.

MADE IN CAMBODIA MARKET

The Made in Cambodia Market sells local artisan crafts including many of the brands mentioned throughout this guide to Siem Reap responsible travel. All of the Khmer products are unique so that there isn’t a competition between vendors. You can find everything from ethically made clothing, rice wine, and more. The market is entirely plastic-free, vendors are encouraged to make their own paper or canvas bags. There is free entertainment on the weekends for all to enjoy.

GENEVIEVE’S FAIR TRADE VILLAGE

Genevieve’s Fair Trade Village offers creative crafts from marginalized Khmer people. The foundation of the marketplace is equality, inclusion, and empowerment. Many of the items are made by women and most are eco-friendly. This is a great place to buy clothing and accessories that make an impact.

DON’T BUY PLASTIC WATER BOTTLES

There is truly no need to buy a plastic water bottle while in Siem Reap. Take advantage of water refill stations throughout the city and buy one of the refillable stainless steel water bottles that support the Cambodian Refill Not Landfill initiative if you don’t already have a bottle of your own. At least 40 businesses are on board and have phased out plastic water bottles in exchange for the reusable water bottles and refill stations. This effort has made a major impact—Refill Not Landfill has prevented the use of at least 1.2 million plastic bottles. A single aluminum bottle can replace over 4,000 plastic bottles in 3 years.

SIEM REAP RESPONSIBLE TRAVEL TIPS: EAT AT SOCIAL ENTERPRISE AND TRAINING RESTAURANTS

Part of what kept me in Siem Reap for an extended period of time was all of the impact cafes that serve up seriously delicious eats. These will be included in detail in the upcoming Siem Reap vegan guide on Miss Filatelista. In the meantime, bookmark Marum, Sala Baï, Haven, Bayon Pastry School Coffee Shop, New Leaf Eatery, Sister Srey Cafe, and Peace Cafe.

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I was partially hosted at Babel Guesthouse and fully hosted at Mad Monkey as well as the Urban Adventures, Backstreet Academy Tours and Lavender Jeep tours, Lokal Travel invited me to the Phare Circus, and a guest at Rehash Trash. All opinions and photos are my own. This article contains affiliate links. Please read the Miss Filatelista disclosure policy for more information.

This Post Has 5 Comments

  1. I love this post! It is so important to be mindful of our impact as tourists and what we can do to travel in a way that’s respectful to the earth and the local community.

  2. I am yet to visit Ankor Wat and Siem Reap & your post makes me want to pack my bags now.

  3. My wish for you is that you recognise your one true life partner when you meet him, beyond the shadow of a doubt. 🙂

  4. This is such a fantastic guide, Lola! It is so important to spread the word on “over-tourism” in Siem Reap. I spent a few days there during an Intrepid Tour several years ago. While I enjoyed the experience, and Intrepid is a responsible operator, I really wish I would’ve had more time to support some of these causes & activities… I especially would’ve enjoyed making a bracelet!

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