I thought about this for a long time and wondered if I should write this article and how. Anyone who knows me knows that the fact that children in Siem Reap are begging and selling has preoccupied me for a long time. In all my interviews, I ask what I as a tourist can do against poverty in Cambodia. Time and again, I hear and read the unanimous opinion that I should not buy anything from children and must not give them any money when they beg. The children should go to school and are not able to escape from the vicious circle of begging. It is, however, better to visit local social organizations and support them. That much I understand, but the more I think about it, the less this answer satisfies me. Naturally it is important to give nothing to children who beg and instead to support social organizations. Nevertheless, this answer is too simple for me, it does not solve the actual problem nor does it even address it. Because the real problem is the nonexistent or low income of adult Cambodians.

Tourism in Siem Reap – a blessing for the inhabitants?

Per a recent study, despite the increased number of tourists, the living conditions of many people in and around Siem Reap have not noticeably improved. Many of the hotels and restaurants are not operated by Cambodians but by emigrants or foreign investors. The salaries in restaurants and hotels are comparatively low. Usually a simple service worker earns just $ 100 per month for a six-day week. Some of them even work nine to eleven hours a day. In fact, they earn even less than the seamstresses in the sewing factories of the Cambodian capital, Phnom Penh. There is no doubt that they too earn very little but it is at least the statutory minimum wage stipulated by the law. So, you cannot possibly say that tourism is a universal blessing for the inhabitants of Siem Reap and the surrounding area.

Those who hope to work in Thailand

Time and again there are parents who journey to the neighboring country of Thailand, in the hope of making more money there than at home in Cambodia. Unfortunately, they must leave their children at home. If the children are lucky, they go to live with relatives, but they are not always this lucky and often have to fend for themselves. Chetra told me about this, I have known him for a couple of years; he works at Free to Shine, an Australian organization in Siem Reap, which is primarily concerned with the welfare of girls in the villages around Siem Reap. That children beg for money or sell things does not happen without reason. The stupid thing is that we as tourists carry a great responsibility when it comes to children begging and selling. In rural areas, where there is hardly any tourism, even the poor children do not beg. Nevertheless, where children are concerned we are warm hearted, we become soft, our instinct to protect is awakened. In regions that are heavily populated by tourists, the Cambodians especially know how to use this. And that is precisely why you see begging children in Cambodia. We tourists are also to blame because we buy nothing or very little from adults!

Do ​​not be beguiled by the look in begging children’s eyes, because it is no longer worth it for children to beg or sell. It is also not worthwhile for the families and gangs to send children out to do so. Unfortunately, this is just one side of the coin. if nobody buys anything from these children, there is no income; not for the children, nor for the families or the gangs. On the other hand, there is only one thing that helps:

The solution: Buy products from adults only

This is the perfect solution to the problem. Consciously buy from adults – young or old. Budget a little extra everyday (or every other day). Look for adults who are selling items. For example, at the exit to the Ta-Prohm Temple. You may be swarmed by children, but there are also many adult traders who want to sell their goods and for the most part these are their children.

Selling woman at Angkor, Siem Reap
I bought a small Vishnu figure from this trader

You do not have to spend a lot of money, you can get a nice t-shirt for just $3. And if you think that that is too expensive, consider this: You have the money for an Angkor Pass, for more than one beer, for your flight, everything for your trip. The cost of a one night stay in a middle-class hotel, is almost as much money as the average Cambodian earns in a whole month.

The vision: No child should beg in Siem Reap

Imagine if everyone acted like this and bought an extra souvenir from an adult. Children would have little success in begging. The parents would earn enough money. All this just through selling the souvenirs normally offered by their children. Parents would have enough money to provide for their children; to send them to school and, above all, to allow them just to be children. It is up to us to change something.

So, give yourself a nudge and remember to look out for adults when you want to buy something, even if they are not as cute as Cambodian children! For only then will you break this vicious circle of poverty for the children by helping the adult to earn their own money. Only when they realize that they earn more than their children will they no longer let them beg or sell. Are you travelling to Cambodia? Tell me about your experiences. Perhaps you have a tip to share, please let me know. I look forward to hearing from you.

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  1. Great article! I’ve been feeling desperately guilty walking the streets of Thailand and Cambodia and seeing the inequality and poverty. Giving to the kids also feels like a double edged sword because I have no idea where that money is going.

    It’s so very easy to forget how little the money may be to us but how great it is to a woman trying to feed her kids.

    Still loving my short time in Cambodia so far!

    1. Hi Rhys, thank you for your comment! Yes, it is easy to help – not only in Cambodia an Thailand but also in other countries around the world. I just try to bring people into action. Not just following the advice not to give something to children, which is correct. And yes, Cambodia is an amazing country :)

  2. My wife and I spent 10 days in Siem Reap in February 2017 as part of a 3 week tour of Thailand and Cambodia. We were pre warned about the poverty and the begging. We were prepared for the worst, we did not see anywhere near what we were expecting. In the hotels there are notices that tell you not to give money to children and to donate to a local charity. So it seems that the word is getting out.
    We and 13 other people were on a tour with a company Bamboo (wearebamboo.com), we helped build a library at a local school just outside the city, giving back was a big part of the trip. It was one of the most rewarding trips my wife and I can speak for the other 13 people we were with that we have ever done.

    1. Hi Chris, thank you so much for your comment. I agree with you, what you did together with your wife and others sounds nice. But let me ask you a question: What would you have done, if you were told to donate to a local charity *and* to buy something from an local adult – especially in those areas where children are begging?

  3. I am staying in siem reap now to celebrate khmer New year and I am no stranger to cambodia and its issues, only one of which is poverty. What i have seen this year but not before is children begging for water to drink. Not around the angkor temples, but in the city itself. I strongly support your stance on begging, and instead i spend half of my budget buying things in the various markets, making sure that the products are made in cambodia. However, if children are willing to beg for a leftover of a 2000 riel bottle of water i wonder, why, and what the best course of action is to make sure poverty is not depriving vulnerable people of access to something as basic as drinking water.

    1. Dear Joost,

      first of all please excuse my late reply. I asked some Cambodian friends. They all told me, that they have never seen children, who beg like this for water in Siem Reap. But if the kids would aks someone, who sells water they would give them. Means that Khmer people help each other. So they are wondering, why the kids ask tourists.

      Maybe you get more information by asking organizations like ConCert http://concertcambodia.org/ or ThinkChildSafe http://thinkchildsafe.org/ – both are located in Siem Reap. Please let me know, if they give you helpful information. I am really interested to know. Thank you very much!

      Enjoy your time in Cambodia and a HAPPY KHMER NEW YEAR! Best :-) Inga

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