Archive for the ‘Eco tourism’ Category

A moral marketplace

By Cindy J. Austin

Pulling up to the crocodile and fish farm in the middle of the Tonle Sap lake, I wasn’t sure what to expect. One underwater pen had hundreds of hungry catfish crawling over each other in hopes of lunch from the woman tossing in small white fish. Another pen, however, had crocodiles.

Over 25 crocodiles sat still and silent, soaking up the rays and hoping for lunch. This floating farm raised crocodiles for their leather. The hides of these beasts can be used to make anything from shoes to wallets and is considered high class.

Ten years ago a full grown crocodile would sell for $1,000. Today, however, they are barely worth $500. The reason is moral. Abroad companies and organizations are starting to look down on breeding crocodiles for their skins and are discouraging the process. These organizations have such a large influence on the crocodile leather market that the demand is beginning to drop. When the demand drops, so must the price. It used to cost $50 to buy a baby crocodile and now you can get one for under $15.

Out of the blue, a man splashed some water on one of the crocodiles to spark activity. It thrashed to the right in a fraction of a second, only to return to its resting position. I crouched down to look him in the eye and saw that it was deep yellow with only a slit of a pupil in the center. I stood up and left the creature to return to the boat, but I knew how he would eventually end up.

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Crocs for sale

By Elliot Ambrose

A thousand years ago, Tonle Sap Lake and the surrounding waterways were filled with crocodiles. Today, crocodiles can still be found on the lake, but only in submerged cages in the floating marketplaces where they are available for purchase.

Sen Santhou, a tour guide in Siem Reap, used to buy and sell crocodiles. He would acquire the reptiles in Cambodia and then travel to Vietnam and sell them to buyers who would in turn sell them in other countries, especially Europe. The crocodile’s leathery skin would be used to make items such as wallets, belts, and shoes.

In the period of 2000 to 2004, Santhou would pay a seller $25 for 100 crocodiles before they were born, a method that he described as “buying the air.” He could get a good price because the seller needed the money to pay for food for the crocodile and would be willing to lower the cost to do so. Santhou would then resell the crocodiles for around $50 in Vietnam, only 12 hours away.

Pressure from animal activists has depressed the demand for crocodile leather and caused the price to plummit. “A large crocodile used to cost over a thousand dollars but now only costs five hundred,” said Santhou, who’s given up the trade.

Though Santhou and others have stopped selling, the market for crocodile leather still exists. So on the lake that used to be their home, crocodiles are still for sale.

Would you like a snake with your soda?

By Colin Tom

As our long, wooden boat puttered along  Tonle Sap lake, two motor boats maneuvered along side. Small children, who’d wrapped boa constrictors  around their necks and shoulders, held out to us six packs of Fanta soda.

“One dolla,” offered one boy. “One dolla,” offered another, who had climbed into our boat.

I took the snake in one hand, bought a pineapple soda for the other. The boys returned to their boat and it pulled away. Their father, at the boat’s controls, grinned with approval.

Our guide explained that the families living on the floating villages of the Tonle Sap Lake made a large portion of income from the visiting tourists. Because the houses were technically not on Cambodian soil, inhabitants didn’t have to pay taxes to the government.

Although families lived in relative isolation on the floating villages, money could be made from fishing and curious visitors. Although the lake is becoming increasingly contaminated, families are continually moving onto the Tonle Sap.

More than 3,000 families live on the lake for free, selling merchandise to the tourists. Tourism attracts increasing numbers of inhabitants. Fear is that too many inhabitants will eventually overwhelm the lake and its tributaries. Living conditions, at some point, will become unsuitable.

For now, tourists are welcomed, handled with utmost care.

Conversely, a kick boxing gym on the road to Angkor Wat is not as inviting to visitors. A Cambodian companion asked our trainer not to strike us back while performing boxing exercises. He disobeyed, slapping the sides of our head with his striking pads. He never asked us to leave, but he made no effort to make us feel welcome. He just continued slapping the sides of our head, perhaps harder than the other native patrons, a gesture of tough love.

Tired and beaten, we walked off the mat navigating through the stray dogs and naked children playing on the workout equipment. We had previously been informed that the gym price would be twenty five cents for each parton.

The man behind the front desk peered at us.

“For you, a dollar,” he said.

We shrugged and handed the employee two dollars. Less than enthused, he took our money.

Tourism’s influence on life

By Frances Micklow

The tourism industry in Cambodia generates about $1.4 billion a year and accounts for an estimated 10 percent of the country’s GDP. With 2 million tourists arriving in Cambodia per year, it is no wonder that the people of Siem Reap and the Tonle Sap Lake have adapted their way of life to benefit from the visitors.

While cruising through the shallow, murky-brown waters of the Tonle Sap, a small speed boat trailed a little ways behind ours. When I turned to snap a picture, I caught the eye of the young boy driving and waved. As soon as I did, the oblong boat came speeding up next to ours. The boy grabbed the side of our boat, and the young girl with him, in one swift motion, jumped onto the bow. With a basket of cans of beer and soda in hand, the girl made her way up and down the boat trying to sell the drinks. When we declined all of her offers, she leapt back into her boat and the boy quickly steered the vessel around and away from ours.

Lohn, our guide, explained that many people who live on the lake sell things to tourists because of the major profit that can make. “You can get a coke for $.25 or $.50 and then sell it for $1 and make quite a profit,” he said.

According to the CIA World Factbook, the Cambodian GDP was $1,900 in 2009, which breaks down to about $5 a day. Lohn estimated that it was a little lower, with the average Cambodian making about $.25-$.50 a day and about $3 a day in the heavily touristed Siem Reap. Many Cambodians have moved to Siem Reap to try to take advantage of the visiting foreigners.

Unfortunately for the young boy and girl in the boat, I was not one of those cash-spending foreigners today.

Mutual needs tie squatters to mainstream

By Elliot Ambrose

In a squatter village in Siem Reap, a man crouches next to a broken down bicycle, purposefully tinkering with the gears and spinning the tires while children run and play in the muddy streets around him. Safe from the midday sun in the shade of his home, he works slowly, surrounded by several wrecked motorbikes and bicycles that await his attention.

Just miles away from his calculated repairs, life takes on a different pace. Motorbikes speed by and tuk tuk drivers beckon to shoppers and pedestrians to offer their services while vendors insistently try to persuade potential buyers in the marketplace.

For inhabitants of the squatter village, money and resources are limited and, often times, residents must seek out work in the nearby business and hotel districts of Siem Reap in order to pay for the costs of living that cannot be covered by farming and agriculture.

The practice of repairing bicycles and motorbikes provides a somewhat steady flow of work for some residents. Motorbikes are used for the vast majority of travel and delivery in Siem Reap and tuk tuk drivers are the preferred choice for tours among foreign visitors. The ability to supply maintenance for such vehicles gives inhabitants in the village the opportunity to benefit from a key component of business in Siem Reap and earn a living.

While the deliberate bicycle repairs of a squatter village resident may seem greatly separated from the hurried and bustling marketplace scene, a mutual need ties the two worlds together and provides a unique exception to the factors that make them different.