Furthermore, it would help the Cambodian economy. Cash donations avoid the risk and delay of sending packages to Cambodia, as well as a $30 fee banks charge to transfer the money internationally, Ross said. The Rosses enjoy the variety of experiences Cambodia offers, from the sublime - such as seeing the moon rise over the country's elegant temples - to the zany - such as watching five grown men ride a motor scooter or advertisements for English schools with misspellings.
We send guests to the Land Mine Museum in Siem Reap, on a boat ride on the Tonle Sap (lake), and in Phnom Penh (capital of Cambodia), we take them to the Apsara Arts Association, a nonprofit company that teaches street children the arts of Cambodia so they can get jobs. We have also included more glimpses into Cambodian life. According to Andrea, it's the first business of its kind in Cambodia to be owned and run by Americans.
Andrea and Brandon married six months ago in Phuket, Thailand, and opened Journeys Within Tour Co. and Bed & Breakfast to meet what they see as a growing wave of travelers wanting to see Angkor Wat. The Rosses also facilitate volunteer work in Cambodia by tourists. Journeys Within Our Community's projects include the school, a clean water project, and an effort to help advanced students get higher levels of education.
After watching the staff - Americans and Cambodians - work so diligently, I knew that whatever money I could give them would be well spent. The ideal voluntourism program aims to both make use of travelers' time and earn their future support. As Journeys Within president Brandon Ross put it, You may not be able to change the world, but you can change lives." Just as important was the faith my visit gave me in JWOC.
For once I stayed at a first-class hotel in the developing world and didn't feel some shame at my good fortune. I left Cambodia without the weight of the world's problems on my shoulders. Journeys Within keeps guests in Cambodia longer, through volunteer work and tours like a kayak trip from a village on Tonle Sap Lake.
The director of Heritage Watch, an NGO trying to conserve cultural artifacts, agreed that unrestricted access is bad but argued that the larger challenge News for asia travel information Cambodia is the brevity of most trips: Tourists typically spend a day or two at Angkor Wat and then move on to Thailand or Vietnam. Harder to justify was the traipsing around Angkor Wat: few sections were roped off, and my guide insisted that we could walk along the weathered stones. But while it was painful to walk by, each time I mentally added another dollar to the check I'd written to JWOC.
My reticence to give money to beggars (I was once scammed by a girl in India) might have lost out to the land mine victims looking for handouts near Siem Reap. The guilt that I often feel as a traveler in the developing world had little chance to gain traction in Cambodia. But when I spent $10 at a restaurant that employs street kids and $250 on a helicopter ride piloted by an Austrian expat, I wondered where most of my money was going.
Tourism is now big business in the stabilized country, and improving the quality of life is at least a declared goal for many tourist enterprises. Almost every tourist I met in Cambodia expressed a desire to help the country's people, who suffered so much in the 1970s and 1980s: U.S. bombing runs, a coup d'état, the Khmer Rouge genocide, and Vietnamese occupation. At best, I hoped to alleviate some of the guilt that comes with being a moneyed traveler in the developing world.
On the other days, I'd be volunteering with the tour operator's nonprofit Journeys Within Our Community (JWOC). I'd be spending about half of my time - as most visitors to Cambodia do - exploring Phnom Penh and the cultural relics of Angkor Wat, staying at high-end hotels and touring with private guides. I had come to Cambodia on a luxury volunteer vacation arranged through Journeys Within, a tour operator run by an American couple based in Siem Reap.