TIMES are changing in the sleepy village of Chi Phat. Only accessible by boat or bumpy road, the village was the proverbial sleepy backwater for centuries until selected by Wildlife Alliance as a site for a community-based eco-tourism site.
The benefits of the project extend far further than the guests who visit there and the people employed on the project.
Ban Lisa, 27, was born in Chi Phat. She opened her guesthouse, one of 11 in the village, three years ago.
“In the dry season I get more than US$150 per month, but in the rainy season I only get US$50,” she says.
Her guesthouse has four rooms for which she charges US$5 per night. Most of her custom is from international tourists, although she also gets a few Khmer tourists. She also cooks for any latecomers.
“If my guests arrive in the evening I cook for them because it is difficult for them [to find food],” she says. “But in the day they can eat wherever they like.”
According to Mao Sarun, 33, accountant for the Chi Phat CBET (Community-Based Eco-tourism), some 555 families in four villages across the community benefit from the project’s activities. And this is set to grow as the number of visitors increases as the project gets more and more exposure.
“We have seen an increase of 30-35 percent from 2007 to 2010,” he says.
Regardless of whether tourists continue to flock to Chi Phat, Ban Lisa’s future seems secure. She supplements her income by running a small tailor’s shop outside her guesthouse. Here she trains local women who want to become tailors.
As we speak one woman is sitting behind a sewing machine.
“She is a new student,” says Ban Lisa. “She has only been learning for two months.”
Now Ban Lisa has three trainees on her books, for which she charges US$200 each.
“In the countryside it is not expensive like in the city,” she says. It cost Ban Lisa US$400 to US$500 to learn to become a tailor in Phnom Penh.
Although most of her business is with local villagers, she also takes some tailor-made orders for tourists. “When they come they see it is nice and they buy one,” she says, adding that she can complete a
shirt or a pair of trousers in a day.
Ban Lisa accepts that the advent of tourism to Chi Phat has improved her standard of living.
“It’s better now because we have income from the guesthouse and from sewing,” she says. “We can combine the money to renovate the guesthouse to have more facilities. At first when I opened it I had nothing, but now I do more and more to make it better.”
Despite her increased income, Ban Lisa is careful not to get too far ahead of herself.
“I will make it nice, but step by step,” she says. “Step by step.” INTERPRETER: RANN REUY