In 2016 I was in contact with a man from Italy whose Rotaract club had previously donated funds to Human and Hope Association. He was coming to Siem Reap and wanted advice on what to do. I gave him some suggestions, then told him that he shouldn’t visit Chong Khneas in Tonle Sap, a major tourist trap that takes advantage of tourists, exploits children and invades the privacy of villagers who live on the water. When this man visited Human and Hope Association a few weeks later, he told me that despite my suggestion, he had been persuaded to visit Chong Khneas. And boy, did he regret it. He, along with some travellers he had met in Siem Reap were taken on a boat tour of the lake. Whilst on the boat tour they were taken to a shop on the lake and coerced by their driver into buying a bag of rice for $50USD; twice the market rate. They were then taken to a local public school on the water, where the children at the school were waiting for them. This man and his friends donated the rice to the school and were told that the rice would be distributed amongst the children. While this situation is already not ideal, as the children are not afforded the opportunity of a real education with tourists rocking up all day and every day, the rice often isn’t even given to the children. What sometimes happens is the boat driver or guide will come back later and sell the rice, then the money is split between them and the shop owner, and perhaps the teacher.
Chong Khneas is home to hundreds, if not thousands, of villagers who are trying to go about their normal lives without having their privacy invaded. There are numerous locals who take advantage of unsuspecting tourists, promote poverty tourism and use unscrupulous tactics to earn a few bucks. There are numerous articles on the ‘floating village rice scam’ on the internet, from people who were, for lack of a better word, conned into buying rice for schools and orphanages on the lake. The issue is though, people continuously fall into this trap. My advice? Stay away from the place altogether, and do your best to not fall into the poverty tourism trap.