By Graham Harper, Director Buffalo Educational Travel
From the majestic temples of Angkor, warm communities and lush landscapes, Cambodia has a lot to offer any traveller. To explore the amazing Cambodian culture with authenticity and inspiration, Buffalo Tours has created a community-based tourism program that is perfect for families and small groups.
Situated 30 km south-east of the magnificent Angkor Wat temple complex, Knapor and Chan Sar communities provide a rare opportunity for travellers looking for something unique. Exclusive to Buffalo Tours, this community-based tourism initiative is tasked with fighting poverty through development and supplemental income generation. The Community Development Program For Cambodia began after a lengthy Community Needs Analysis and Planning Process with villagers of Knapor and Chan Sar. The local economy is based on farming, fishing and migrant labour and is classified as one of the most disadvantaged with high incidences of poverty. The average family income is approximately USD $15 to $100 per month.
By working with Buffalo Tours, the people are breaking the cycle of poverty as community-based tourism boosts local villagers’ income through providing services and products to visiting groups. Last year alone Buffalo groups successfully contributed over $8,000USD to Knapor and Chan Sar communities. In this way, we fight poverty and bring new success into the lives of the local community; these people are eager to welcome us to discover their traditions and cultures in unique and exciting ways.
For travellers, there is no better way to experience the local way of life than learning, living and laughing together with a host community. Having the chance to share a home, food and lifestyle with locals is a truly rare and special occasion. Bedding is always arranged with fresh sheets, blankets, pillows and mosquito nets upon arrival. All meals are eaten together as a group and prepared in the village by well-trained local cooks. Of course, we can cater for various dietary requirements if we are informed in advance. Living is basic, and all should expect bucket shower with no hot water. Also, get ready for basic, yet clean, Asian-style squat toilets.
Typically, when we initiate discussions with locals on a community-based programme many feel uneasy about how to do the jobs. When it comes to cooking and serving meals the first reaction is “we do not know how to cook for foreigners”. This is best shown by the cooks of the Knapor community. Five years ago, they felt unable to cook and provide for the visiting education groups. Today, they have thrived in the role and built a reputation for themselves across the region. The village cooks are now asked to cater to local weddings, parties and official meetings. What started as uncertainty, has now grown to pride and thriving enterprise.
The experience continues to provide support for the community’s future through support of Chan Sar Junior High School. With over 391 students between the ages of 12 and 16, the school serves 19 villages with a total population of 10,038 people. In cooperation with school authorities and following a child protection code of conduct, a visit will assist the school’s in-house lunch program improving the nutrition and by extension educational opportunity of the students.
Last but not least, through this community-based tourism experience have the chance to visit pre-Angkor temple sites that very few travellers are able to explore. In this way it’s possible to truly appreciate Cambodia from a new perspective.