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Open Access Publications from the University of California

The Khmer Tour Guide: An Economical, Political and Cultural Nexus in Siem Reap, Cambodia


The goal of this research project was to investigate the current network of relationships involved in Siem Reap, Cambodia’s tourism network, focusing on the tour guide specifically as a cultural, economic, and political nexus. Closer examination and interviewing revealed the tour guide licensing process as complex and corrupted, but crucial to the tourism industry in Cambodia’s current economy. The question of cultural transmission and self-identification through state intervention is also examined from the tour guide perspective. Rather than focusing on the negative effects of tourism development in a country emerging from third-world status, the focus of this paper was merely to examine the current day-to-day relationships that contribute to the intricacy of the tourism industry with the utilization of a singular position. It is impossible to consider the Cambodian tour guide’s social position without placing it into historical context. Cambodian culture and economy was greatly diminished by the Khmer Rouge; how did this effect the tour guide’s position in society as transmitters of Khmer culture and history? What was the economic and social position most commonly associated with the Khmer tour guide, and how did this affect everyday life and self-identification? Cambodia is still renowned for political corruption, however, the tourism industry seems to be the most bureaucratic and enforced sector as it remains one of the largest sources of income for the country. By exploring the details of becoming a tour guide, interviewing individuals, and observing everyday struggles and successes this paper attempts to approach these conceptual questions.

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