Transformative travel in Cambodia
By Julia Offenberger, Discova
Transformative travel is diversifying the visitor experience in Cambodia, as Asia DMC Buffalo Tours explain.
For many travellers, a trip to Cambodia is defined by a visit to Angkor Wat. More than 2.5 million travelled to the UNESCO World Heritage Site last year, to explore the remnants of the once glorious Khmer Empire.
Despite the overwhelmingly large number of tourists, most travellers are still impressed by the sheer size of the complex, the detailed carvings of the Bayon Temple faces, and the sight of Ta Phrom Temple, half devoured by jungle. While photo stops at these famous temples are considered unmissable by many, travellers also appreciate taking respite at the lesser-known temples. Most visitors are surprised at how easy it can be to explore away from the crowds.
A Cambodian basket weaver near Angkor
Cambodia now offers a lot more than Angkor Wat, including floating villages on Tonle Sap Lake and learning the country’s brutal past at former Khmer Rouge sites, notably the Killing Fields and Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum. First-time visitors find that these experiences provide a unique insight into a culture and history that was not on their cultural radar.
Some floating villages provide homestay accommodation in Cambodia
Community-based projects gain traction
Community-based tourism projects are also receiving increased intention. More and more travellers are searching for ways to get off-the-beaten track, and to experience authentic Cambodian life. “While a tour of Angkor Wat is still our top selling product, many of our customers want to complement their temple trip with a personal experience that takes them off the main tourist trail,” says Panya Thin, Buffalo Tours’ Regional General Manager for Cambodia, Japan, Laos and Myanmar.
This desire to delve deeper into local culture is one of the main motivators for travellers joining community-based projects. Travellers are increasingly opting for full-day tours that introduce them to local people and allow them to take part in traditional activities, such as oxcart riding, rice milling and making brooms. These are typically booked as an add-on to balance their trip in Cambodia.
A traveller learning how to make a broom in a small Cambodian community
“Instead of just seeing the highlights, travellers are looking for opportunities to appreciate what it means to be Khmer for one day,” explains Panya Thin. He adds that authenticity is key, as “experiences must not feel staged and these travellers don’t want to be surrounded by other travellers.” More seasoned or adventurous travellers also like multi-day homestays, as they find that they offer deeper insight into local culture.
Besides experiencing local traditions, travellers are also attracted by the responsible aspect of community-based projects. Many Western travellers, especially millennials, are increasingly aware of the negative effects that tourism can have on environment and local communities. Travellers who are looking for a more sustainable approach to travel are searching for community-based projects that genuinely benefit individual communities.
Rice milling during community-based travel
Transformative travel and positive change
This growing interest in cultural immersion reflects the rise of transformative travel in Cambodia. By connecting with people from a different culture and embracing traditions different from their own, many travellers hope to experience their own personal transformation.
For many, travelling to Cambodia’s rural countryside provides a temporary escape from their own day-to-day rituals. Travellers who have spent several days in community-based projects have reported an increase in self-confidence as they pushed the boundaries of their own comfort zones. Others reflect on their own position in the world and say they return with a new sense of gratitude and empathy.
Most Cambodian community projects are backdropped by rice fields
While all travel experiences can have transformative qualities, “immersive experiences, such as engaging with local communities, provide access for greater understanding and meaning throughout our travels,” explains Richard Ludwig, Director of Product and Marketing at Buffalo Tours. “Transformative experiences should, however, be mutually beneficial for the traveller and the locals.”
The exchange of ideas is a key component and has a huge impact on how travellers perceive these experiences.
Written by Julia Offenberger, junior copywriter at Discova, one of Asia’s leading destination management companies, who have been creating tailor-made travel experiences in the region since 1994.