The Splendour of Siem Reap and Sunrise By Lucy Hillyard

History, poverty, gentleness, temples, more temples, humidity and the occasional splash of rain! That’s Cambodia, or to be more precise, Siem Reap, where Women in Travel Retail have made an exceptional contribution to the lives of the students and residents of Sunrise Cambodia, a sustainable community development and children’s charity.

This establishment was founded many years ago (early 1990’s) by an Australian lady, Geraldine Cox, to provide a ‘home’ for some of the many children orphaned following the atrocities that occurred during the Pol Pot regime of the 70s. In fact, the early entrants were the grand-children of the families which were torn apart during the civil war – such was the long term impact of this dreadful period of Cambodian history.

Today, the school provides residential accommodation for 39 children and has extended its teaching facilities to in excess of 350 under-privileged children from within 20km of its location. The General Manager of the facility is a former resident, as are several of the teaching staff, and it is this sense of belonging which struck such a chord with me as a first-time visitor.

In truth, I am new to Asia, but from my base in Singapore, I am enjoying exploring the surrounding countries where life is so different from my upbringing in Australia. I am also new to Travel Retail, and to discover this example of the value of the efforts of Women in Travel Retail through their charitable contributions was extremely heart-warming. Two of the classrooms bear credits to WiTR, as well as an acknowledgement of the physical work which travel retailers put into decorating some of the premises.

It was on a recent family trip to explore the splendours of Angkor Wat, a magnificent and vast 12th century temple, the largest religious monument in the world, that I was tipped off about the work of WiTR in the city of Siem Reap.

This bustling city, which attracts hordes of I international tourists, has become a ‘must visit’ destination for anyone tempted by the beauty of South East Asia. Angelina Jolie has added a celebrity focus with the filming of two movies amongst the many temples which, in several cases, lay undiscovered for hundreds of years as ancient civilisations withdrew and the jungle reclaimed the land.
 

 
Like so many cities in the region, the combination of inexpensive flights and cut-price food and accommodation has introduced a seedy side to Siem Reap, but this is – and should be – a minor distraction to those who have the vision to try to understand the history of this ancient empire, the culture, the deep religious significance of the temples and the mouth-watering delights of the local cuisine. And please do not forget the examples of outstanding service, which abound in all facets of the tourist experience.

As travel retailers, we focus quite rightly on trying to offer our clients a Sense of Place as they come from all over the world to visit our airports. It’s not easy to achieve, particularly when dealing with the some frequent travellers who have ‘seen it all before’! To visit Siem Reap is to visit a working example of how a Sense of Place can be achieved throughout a city and where the smiling, gentle, well-informed and genuinely interested staff can add so much to the visitor experience.

While this is hardly meant to be a promotional piece for the Siem Reap Tourist Board, I can only express how fulfilling my experience was in this once great city. To marvel at the feats of construction by such an ancient civilisation, and to applaud the present-day efforts to rebuild the nation after the horrors of Pol Pot is simply breath-taking. And there, in amongst the poverty, a sea of smiling faces enjoying the benefits which WiTR have contributed. I saw musicians aged from 7 to 17 playing local instruments, a classical Cambodian dance class and a classroom of teenagers diligently mastering the wonders of modern technology in the WITR computer hall.

As a relative newcomer to Travel Retail, it made me feel proud to be part of an industry where the small successes are as appreciated as the large ones. Sunrise is certainly a small success which will have a huge impact on the future of the youngsters who are part of its community.

Hotel:

Nita by Vo Luxury Hotel – http://www.nitabyvo.com/

Restaurants:

Pot and Pan
Mie Cafe (absolutely amazing Cambodian/Western fusion food!! Reservation recommended)
Haven
Spoons
Rohatt

Things to do:

Temples – 1 or 2 days is more than enough; do it with a tour guide as they are extremely knowledgeable and it’s a good way to support local employment

Floating village visit – you can usually take the same guide from your temples

Food tour – I can highly recommend doing the Siem Reap Food Tour. It was a real highlight of the trip

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