SUSTAINABLE CHOICES ANGKOR WAT, SIEM REAP
Everyone planning to visit Cambodia will be scheduling a visit to Siem Reap and the Angkor Wat temples, it’s a must when traveling to Cambodia. The ancient temples truly mesmerise you as you walk through structures a millennium old. Walking through the temple complex makes you wonder how they were built with such primitive tools almost a 1,000 years ago. An astonishing experience is awaiting you. Imagine walking through the narrow corridors supported by enormous columns as you reach an open courtyard open to the sky, you look up to the top of the temple and see the white clouds passing between the bright blue sky and dark rocks that have been there for centuries.
Visiting Cambodia for the first time, I had to go and see it. I was completely enchanted having had the opportunity to spend a couple of days in Siem Reap. Sadly, like everywhere in Asia, there’s one thing you cannot miss – the plastic. It is seen everywhere, even surrounding these majestic temples. The main roads are regularly cleaned but if you wander off the main route that connects one temple to another, rather than going by tuk-tuk you walk on the forest paths, you’ll notice plastic bottles and packaging laying everywhere throughout the temple grounds. It made me sad and frustrated, and made me wonder what can be done by us – tourists and visitors to this beautiful country to minimize our environmental impact.
Instead of writing about the mass tourism, and visitors numbers, something that is increasingly being debated my many countries globally in order to minimize the negative impact of tourism on local people and environment, I want to focus on giving you some tips on minimising your own plastic use.
In a country like Cambodia it is definitely a challenge to go plastic free, but far from impossible. It’s all about a mindset, if you start thinking about your plastic usage, you’ll become aware of how much unnecessary plastic packaging is used.
First, get a hold of a reusable bottle (recycled plastic/stainless steel/glass). You can ask in restaurants if the staff can refill your bottle, you’ll rarely get a negative response. Siem Reap also have a network of restaurants and hotels that signed up to a scheme enabling people to refill their bottles in their facilities. Here is the link to their website – https://refilltheworld.com/siem-reap/
When buying a reusable water bottle make sure that they are being produced sustainably and that the brand is not taking advantage of this fledgling eco friendly trend, by greenwashing its company with a reusable bottle that has been made in unsustainable circumstances.
Ask the following questions:
• Who makes the bottles?
• How does the company treat its employees, suppliers, customers and the community?
• How does the company play its role in society and the environment?
• These are some of the questions that you can ask yourself when considering a purchase.
A very simple gesture to reduce the plastic usage when going out is to point out that you don’t need a straw when drinking out. In Cambodia your drink automatically (all most always) comes with a straw. Remember to ask the staff while ordering not to give you straw. You’ll be shocked by how many straws you see laying on the ground, once you become aware of it you will see straws everywhere… most streets are lined up with them.
Minimise or eliminate your plastic bag and single-use plastic. Plastic bags are freely given in Cambodia. Almost everything bought will be heavily wrapped in a plastic and given to you in a plastic bag. Always carry a reusable cotton bag with you that is washable and can be folded in your handbag or rucksack. The same also applies to your selection of places where you buy food, generally the more local and fresh you go the less wrapping will be used and you can easily request to go plastic free. So head to the local street market or fruit market for your snacks.
Whenever possible, choose environmentally friendly and locally run accommodation. This is often easily said but much harder to achieve. Often you might find a great eco place run by expats or local family run homestay that does not really have much awareness about single use plastic… finding a place that meets both criteria is more difficult. I would suggest that you decide what is the most important thing for you, staying with a local family and having “real” local experience or the fact that the place where you stays is super eco-friendly and tries to minimise their footprint? Based on your criteria, the level of comfort you are seeking and your budget you will have a better chance of finding your gem.
Here are some of our recommendations..
AT THE ANGKOR WAT SITE
I have tried…but when you’re at the Angkor Wat temple site it will be difficult to find snacks/food that aren’t wrapped in plastic. So, you will have to come prepared.
If you are staying in hotel that will provide you with a packed lunch/breakfast make sure that the packaging is plastic free = reusable. Stay away from Styrofoam boxes, plastic bags and single use cutlery. Out tip is to speak to the hotel before, so they have time to prepare a plastic free alternatives, otherwise you might find yourself ready to leave for the historic temples and given a packed lunch covered in plastic.
The reality is that even if you ask for plastic free packaging… you might have to re-enforce the message on the day. Be polite, and explain again what you are asking for. Most hotels and quest house will make a plan for you.
If your hotel does not provide packed lunch, the best option is to pre-pack your own. Khmer traditional snacks are awesome and you will find that most are wrapped in banana leaves. There is a selection of sweet and savoury options, so ask the vendor or one of the young Khmer people you might on the street to help you select the best option for you… you will be surprised how tasty they are, plus they are filling as well – most of them are rice based or using rice flour, so you will not go hungry.
The other option is to buy lots of local fruit at the market or a fruit stall. This is what my friends and I did.
We have not found any re-fillable stations in the Angkor wat temple area. If there are any, they are very hidden. So, pack your bag well and make sure you have enough water with you.
The other plastic free option is to buy fresh coconut – drink it at the stall, so you do not need any plastic bag to carry it. The only issue becomes a straw. If you must carry your own. I do, I always have one in my bag…. Easily done.
Gifts and presents
During my visit to Angkor Wat, I wanted to buy locally made gifts and presents for my friends and family. The reality is that there is a very little sustainable available at the site itself. Most of what I have seen at the temple sight itself was mass produced, plastic heavy. Therefore my advice would be to shop at one of the shops in Siem Reap town that sells locally made products by local organisations and local start-ups.
Here are some tips for your shopping:
• Buy items you think people will love and use them, otherwise you are filling a landfill
• Buy locally made products by business or organisations paying fair wages
• What material has been used? Do you harm or support local environment?
• Buy naked – products that have not been excessively overpackaged
I hope that all these tips will help you to reduce your plastic usage and so prevent an overly excessive creation of trash. In addition, by supporting green sustainable businesses you’ll encourage others to change their philosophy toward a more environmentally friendly entrepreneurship.