Tuesday, 29 April 2008

Floating villagers fishing for handouts

While perusing the Travel section of the San Francisco Chronicle, I came across this interesting blurb by Larry Habegger on the impact of tourism on the small fishing villages of Tonie Sap Lake in Cambodia

In a bizarre twist on the Chinese proverb “Teach a man to fish and you feed him for a lifetime,” fishermen at the floating village of Chong Kneas have found panhandling is far more lucrative than casting nets as the odd community becomes increasingly popular with tourists.

Chong Kneas, a collection of houseboats and floating thatched huts on Cambodia’s Tonle Sap lake, is a popular side trip from Siem Reap, the jumping-off point for Angkor Wat. Its popularity, however, has had predictable consequences, with locals now swarming the tourist boats in motor vessels, rowboats and even bathtubs and plastic buckets. Authorities said they do not have the facilities to detain the flotilla of beggars.

The article really it home - when I was in Siem Reap a couple of years ago, I went on one of these “so called boat tours” of nearby Tonle Sap Lake. When my tour boat docked at shore to visit the crocodile farm, a couple of young girls from the nearby village came paddling up to the boat in small tubs to beg for money. Jai dee that I am, I gave them a dollar or two.

Unfortunately this tourism development has gone unregulated and the tour operators who conduct these tours make some very good money, the primary attraction being the quaint (but poor) fishing villages that surround the lake - most families in these transient communities live in ramshackle houseboats. To my knowledge, the Cambodian tour operators share none of the tourism revenues with these people; despised by Cambodians as a whole, they are immigrants from Vietnam and represent the poorest segment of the Cambodian population.

This is just another example of tourism gone awry – to be more blunt, it is simply exploitation. To eliminate the rampant panhandling that the author speaks of, there must be a better way to integrate these fishing villages into the tourism product.


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