The experimental eco village project that rehoused some riverside squatters is planned with the notion that homestay revenue will help sustainability, reports Thik Kaliyann.
Many tourists visiting Siem Reap are now attracted to traditional home-stay venues, and emerging on top of the list of this niche market is Run Ta Ek Eco Village, surrounded by the natural beauty of Chea Lea Thom Lake.
The village prides itself on providing an alternative traditional experience for visitors and, although not yet completed, is already attracting tourists.
Hack Thida is a resident who previously lived alongside the Siem Reap River until authorities relocated her family to Run Ta Ek village and provided compensation of one million riel and a plot of land.
Her family was one among the first 53 families who were relocated in 2010 to live in what authorities dubbed, ‘Cambodia’s first eco-village.’
Hack Thida said, “The authorities explained to us their Eco Village project, and provided us with agricultural materials, crop seeds and chickens in order to create an organic vegetable garden in my home as well in the whole village.”
She said that tourists like to stay in the village, see the countryside and experience first-hand the full range of villagers’ lives, adding, “In the cold season in January and February, tourists plan to visit here when they arrive in Siem Reap because they would like to see what we are doing here.”
The tourists can broaden their knowledge of Cambodian culture by mixing and talking with Cambodian people, they can learn about the natural beauty surrounding the village and they can try local families' traditional meals, Thida said.
She added that her home has no electricity although authorities have installed a solar energy system. But tourists still like to sleep in her house because it's surrounded by trees and vegetables and flowers, and the weather is cool at nighttime.
As Run Ta Ek is outside the protection zone of Angkor Park, homestays for visitors in people’s houses and other recreational facilities at the village are strongly encouraged to enable the village to obtain additional income.
“Homestay is a part of my extra income. By welcoming tourists to sleep in my own house, I could earn $8 per night,” Thida smiled.
She added that her family will get a land title after they have lived on the site for five years.
The Run Ta-Ek Eco Village project, which encompasses 1,012 hectares of land and is 36 kilometres from Siem Reap town, was set up by the Apsara Authority in an effort to limit the amount of housing within the temple park and along the Siem Reap River.
There are 96 Khmer style houses in the village, but only 41 families live there permanently. All the houses are built from hopea ferrea laness wood, the traditional timber used to Khmer houses, and include traditional roofing tiles.
Nep Malis, an Apsara official who works as an agriculture consultant, said the village is well located to satisfy tourists seeking something a little different.
“The village is pleasantly situated in the countryside, and tourists can learn about the local lifestyle beside the ancient temples. We also serve them a special traditional Khmer food and they learn to sleep on the mat,” he said.
He had been selected to teach the villagers to love and create a green environment around their own house. The authority still encourages younger people and new families to move outside the protected areas to the village on a voluntary basis.
He said, “Most villagers who come here don’t have a business, so I teach them how to grow crops, raise animals and feed fish. They love doing it as well.”
The Apsara Authority is also investigating the possibility of building a hospital and school, and creating a market at the village.
“I do not know when the authority will create a market here,” Nep Malis said. “I just know that they will process it soon and they are discussing other developments such as building a hospital and a school.”
Ngov Seng Kak, director of the Tourism Department in Siem Reap said the village is an important addition to tourism attractions available in Siem Reap.
“We wish to have more attractive and interesting places for tourists to visit,” he said.
Run Ta Ek Eco village is in Tani Village, Run Ta Ek commune, Banteay Srei district near Bok Mountain, about 36 kilometres from the city.