Hundreds of visitors now pour into Cambodia on a daily basis to marvel at its history and one of the man-made wonders of the world. However, a large proportion of the population is still living in poverty while the country is trying to improve its economic status.
Not everyone has the time available during their trip to volunteer at one of the country's many orphanages, schools or NGOs but everyone can play their part through the way they choose to spend their money while travelling on their holiday overseas.
Ethical travelling involves spending your money at local restaurants and places which support the citizens in their goal of financial independence.
When I was in Phnom Penh, I kept an eye out for such restaurants. I came across a restaurant called Friends the International Restaurant at (#215, Street 13) which is run by a local non-profit entity Mith Samlanh, in partnership with the international NGO Friends International.
The restaurant is managed by ex-homeless street kids, trained in all aspects from cooking to serving to management. The restaurant serves western tapas, delicious daiquiris, fresh fruit shakes and scrumptious local Khmer cuisine. I ordered their famous Khmer fish amok (a spicy fish curry served in an aromatic banana leaf), some fried wantons and chicken curry with some jasmine rice.
The atmosphere was inviting and the food was delicious and satisfying. The wait-staff were all also very professional and service was great.
Mith Samlanh also runs another restaurant in a beautiful colonial mansion with picturesque gardens called Romdeng (# 74 Street 174, Phnom Penh). The restaurant's interior is decorated with locally produced furniture, paintings from their art classes at their training centre and delicate silk from the sewing vocational school.
After a long day walking, a soothing massage will relieve your sore muscles. Try the indulgent massage therapy at Seeing Hands Blind Massage, operated by blind graduates.
More than 15 years ago, US Catholic mission Maryknoll began teaching Japanese massage methods, Anma and Shiatsu, in Cambodia so that the blind could set up their own massage franchises and experience financial independence.
I stopped by at #182 Eo, St.13 Phnom Penh for a full body shiatsu massage. From the moment I entered, I enjoyed wonderful, friendly service and was offered tea and a wet towel for refreshment. The massage establishment is small but cosy and the atmosphere relaxing with aromatic smells and romantic warm lighting with soothing elevator-style music.
I booked a one hour relaxing full body massage in an air-conditioned private room (USD $6 for an hour) and was extremely satisfied. The massage was strong with enough pressure for air circulation and to relax my muscles. The masseurs were professional and courteous.
As the price was so reasonable, you can afford to come back every day and tip what you think the massage is worth without breaking your budget, knowing that your money is helping a good cause in a place where the disabled do not receive government benefits. You can choose from foot massages, oil massages, back and shoulder massages and leave feeling totally spoilt.
If you are a fan of souvenirs and handicraft, you can also buy handicraft products from their souvenir section. The products are collected from local associations which work closely with land mine and polio disabled people as well as groups of women with low income.
There has been a lot of debate about the impact of tourism in developing countries but being socially conscious about the way you spend your money while respecting other people's cultures can only lead to positive outcomes.