Beggar’s Fatigue in Siem Reap, Cambodia

Oct 30th, 2009

Today we leave Phnom Penh by bus to Siem Reap, gatway to the temples of Angkor.
It’s a six hour bus ride, complete with funny Cambodian karaoke videos playing on the TV monitor and hard to understand tour guide. Along the roadside, villagers were selling fruit as well as fried crickets! I missed out on the fried spiders though.

At our bathroom break, two big brown eyes approach me. His little hands motion towards the bus as if we have an unspoken understanding that he wanted something from me. “Would you like some candy?” I asked him. His equally adorable little friend joins us, in matching torn and tattered attire and no shoes. Instead of handing out money, which would most likely end up in the wrong hands, I instinctively brought along some halloween candy—lifesaver gummies to be exact—to give to the kids.

In the Lonely Planet they refer to it as beggars fatigue. When visiting a country like Cambodia, it is expected that one will encounter many beggars and street peddlers. At first, I am inclined to give to all that ask, but I still feel internally conflicted about hand-outs. Would I be training kids to rely on foreigners to give them things? How harmful is a little candy? To solve the internal libra-like indecisiveness going on in my head, and really to make myself feel better, I hand over the gummies as well as the snack we received on the tour bus.

Their little hands wave at our window as we pull away from the bus stop and they seemed genuinely happy. Towering above them, a billboard reads, “Angkor is the jewel of Cambodia”. By the sheer amount of buses, planes, and boats transporting hundreds of tourists daily, I question how sparkly that jewel shines in this developing nation. Is it overshadowed by the poverty that surrounds it? Or the hordes of foreign tourists that come in the thousands to trample upon its ancient secrets? The sun sets over the rice paddies and casts a warm glow in the dusk sky. It fades to black and we arrive at our destination.