Sew and reap in Siem Reap, Cambodia

By Jane Batchelor, a Travel Enthusiast

Read more on Siem Reap.

Overall rating:4.0 out of 5 (based on 3 votes)
Recommended for:
Cultural, Eco, Spa, Budget, Mid-range, Expensive

Despite mass tourism overrunning Siem Reap, the province is still one of the poorest in Cambodia. Now several hotels have pledged to help communities fight back against poverty

Trundling along the road leading to Siem Reap, it's easy to misjudge the town's wealth. A plethora of grand and ostentatious hotels spring out, attempting to lure the well-heeled traveller with golf courses and lavish buffets.

The magnetic pull of Angkor Wat, the largest temple complex in the world, attracted over one million people to the area in 2008, nearly half of Cambodia's entire visitors. But lurking beneath the swelling tourist numbers and the façade of five-star luxury is the true Siem Reap, a place of poverty.

The main benefactors of the country's booming tourist industry, which is worth $1.6 billion, are not the local villagers but the many foreign-invested hotels. Yet times are changing and pro-poor tourism outfits are gradually emerging to give long-awaited help to communities in the area.

Here is my guide to pro-poor hotels in Siem Reap.

Budget accommodation - The Villa Siem Reap

The Villa Siem Reap is a small hotel with a friendly vibe that donates seven per cent of its profits to educational and sanitation initiatives in Siem Reap. Over 35 per cent of the Cambodian population does not have access to safe drinking water and the hotel has established The Villa Water Filter Project which funds vital fresh water supplies in nearby villages.

In addition, the purple-infused hotel supports 'Ibis Rice' farmers who protect and monitor the giant bird and conserve natural habitats. The Villa also gives local villagers a percentage of its tour fees and supports one of the town's children's hospitals.

My verdict: A cheerful place to stay if you're looking to do your bit in Siem Reap. Rooms from $18 per night.

Mid-range accommodation - Shinta Mani

This boutique hotel claims to be one of the founding hotels in the town to support local communities. Its staff are graduates of the adjoining hospitality school, where students from deprived families study for free on a ten-month course. Their schooling is funded by a percentage of the hotel's revenue and guests' donations.

The students learn various areas of hospitality including culinary skills to front of house duties and English. And previous graduates have a 100 per cent employment record in Siem Reap's tourist industry.

I was invited to watch a cookery lesson where Monty, a partially blind 24-year old, was cooking up a storm. Before attending the school he was one of the thousands of street children begging from tourists. He told me through a beaming smile how he now dreams of being a top chef in one of the resorts.

Guests at the hotel can also sponsor projects in local communities. Arif, the super-friendly general manager, said, via donations, the hotel's guests have provided villages with water pumps, fishing nets and sewing machines. Donors with a spare $1,250 in their wallets can also fund the building of a village house, which can otherwise take up to five years to complete.

Shinta Mani is a quaint hotel, with 18 über-stylish rooms, a small swimming pool and restaurant. And it was here that I received one of the most genuine welcomes I've ever had at a hotel.

My verdict: Stay here for a fantastically friendly service. Rooms cost from $90 per night.

Top-end accommodation - Hotel de la Paix and La Petite Indochine

The Robin Hood effect continues at the 117-room Hotel de la Paix. You could be forgiven for thinking that it's yet another imposing hotel jostling for visitors in the overgrown accommodation jungle.

However, it currently funds a sewing training centre where disadvantaged women participate in a ten-month course. They are also given literacy lessons - many have never learnt to read or write - in addition to basic English classes. After graduation they receive a sewing machine and a start-up kit to begin their own business in their villages.

The hotel employs graduates from the Shinta Mani Hospitality School and the similar Sala Bai hotel school. Donations are optional and sponsored programmes are discretionary add-ons.

In stark contrast to the town's poverty, the five-star Hotel de la Paix has top-notch facilities including a personal butler service, spa treatments and a gallery. It also prides itself on the design by Bill Bensley who is regarded as a whiz in the South East Asian architectural circle.

My verdict: Hotel de la Paix offers a plush stay with exceptional service. Rooms are from $175 per night (they will also match prices from other hotels).

Over a third of Siem Reap's non-governmental organisations (NGO) have set up businesses to boost their income. The Global Child has followed suit and branched out with one swanky four-floor suite, La Petite Indochine.

It's a slice of utter luxury in the heart of Siem Reap with a plush bedroom, living room, study and rooftop terrace. Although it's steep (the price, not the terrace) at $250 per night, it is a fraction of what you would pay for the equivalent in the West. And what makes it all the more loveable is that 100 per cent of the profits go to help street children in Siem Reap gain an education.

The Global Child provides a safe learning centre for street children to learn maths, Khmer, English and a range of other subjects. They are paid one dollar per day for their attendance to make up for the money they would lose from begging or selling postcards to tourists.

My verdict: Stay here for luxurious privacy, the suite is available for $250 per night.

Other pro-poor must-dos

If you don't have the budget to splash out on pricey accommodation you can help out by:

Attending the Beatocello concert ( held every Saturday night at 7.30pm at Jayavarman VII Children's Hospital. Donations support the vital work at the hospital where there is a maternity ward for HIV mothers. Free entrance.

Donating blood at Jayavarman VII Children's Hospital ( Run by a Swiss NGO, the top-grade hospital is in need of blood and monetary donations to fund its work and the Health Education Centre.

Visiting the land mine museum run by Aki Ra who has spent the past decade raising awareness and removing land mines around Cambodia. The country has the greatest number of amputees per head of population in the world and donations at the museum contribute to Aki Ra's vital work. $1 entry fee.

Going to Joe-to-Go for a caffeine fix before your sunrise trip to Angkor Wat. You'll be helping fund The Global Child's initiatives to provide education to Khmer street children. Old Market, Siem Reap, Cambodia.
Tel: (+855) 0 92 532 640. Open from 7am to 9.30pm.

Renting a bicycle from one of Siem Reap's hotels that supports The White Bike charity which gives 75 per cent of the rental money to help fund community projects.

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Jane Batchelor
Traveller type:
Travel Enthusiast
Guide rating:
Average: 4 (3 votes)
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First uploaded:
11 December 2009
Last updated:
4 years 49 weeks 19 hours 19 min 47 sec ago
Destinations featured:
Trip types:
Cultural, Eco, Spa
Budget level:
Budget, Mid-range, Expensive
Free tags / Keywords:
temples, Angkor Wat, community based tourism

Jane recommends


Price from Rating
(out of 5)
1. Hotel De La Paix
2. The Villa Siem Reap
3. Shinta Mani
4. La Petite Indochine

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Community comments (4)

0 of 0 people found the following comment helpful.

I've just been directed to this guide by John Biggs, following a thread on sustainable travel in the forum. Although Cambodia is not yet on my horizons, I found it inspirational.
I would like to read more guides like this on Simonseeks. Are there similar pro poor ventures elsewhere? Does anybody know? It's not just altruism. The places Jane describes are surely much more fun than sterile chains.

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Hi Joan,

There are plenty of responsible tourism projects out there, it's just knowing which ones are genuine.

If you end up heading over to SE Asia, I'd recommend Andaman Discoveries in southern Thailand. It was set up after the tsunami and has received accolades the world over. Even more, the staff work for food, accommodation, pocket money but mainly for their love of the scheme.

I'm currently in South America where I have written a couple of posts on my blog about responsible tourism - and the companies that hide behind the slogan - at

A thread on SimonSeeks would be ideal as many people have said, I just wonder when one will take place. Hopefully it'll be soon.

0 of 0 people found the following comment helpful.

I really like this guide – even with the best intentions tourism so often exploits so it’s great to read about so many pro-poor options in just one place. Perhaps Simonseeks could add ‘pro-poor’ as one of their trip-type options so users could search for this type of tourism...

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0 of 0 people found the following comment helpful.

Thank you for a well written guide Jane with a strong theme which takes a different approach to most guides on the site. I am sure that this will inspire many readers to either book these hotels or look into other hotels involved in similar schemes. You obviously know Siem Reap well, how long did you live there for? To would be useful if you could include some contact details in your section "Other pro-poor must-dos" - address/phone number and website would be ideal if the places have all three.

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