Child Sex Trade in Cambodia : An Ugly Truth

“This post contains excerpts from my upcoming book – OUR BROKEN STEPS”

Some call it thrill and some call it necessity while others say it is a social menace. A multi-billion dollar industry in itself, Sex tourism is a topic that has been and will always be strongly discussed especially with some countries legalizing prostitution while others completely banning it. In some underdeveloped countries where prostitution is banned, the laws are not strong enough to keep a check on the sex trade activities which results in an open unhindered market of sex tourism in those countries. While there will always be strong debates on the topic of prostitution – legalized or not – generating some extreme polarizing opinions, there can be no denying the fact that Sex Tourism has created two of the ugliest forms of human abuse – Child Sex Trade and Human Trafficking.

The dark underbelly of human trafficking thrives on the plight of poor families in underdeveloped provinces and countries. These families who are looking to make a living or pay off debts knowingly and unknowingly send off their young women – and men in some cases –  to shady traders in exchange of money. Those young women end up in brothels, nightclubs, bars, massage parlors and organized prostitution mostly across popular tourist destinations. This menace of human trafficking also leads to a more grave and inhuman exploitation of Child Sex Trade. Abandoned kids from the streets and those who have been sold off by poor families, are among the millions of innocent children who are victims of sexual exploitation across the world. Cambodia is among the most popular and top visited countries in the world when it comes to tourism. However, this country also has a sadistic reputation of being a haven for pedophiles. Among the millions of tourists who throng to Cambodia every year, there are thousands of sex tourists who engage in sexual activities with kids and minors. There have been several reported incidents of kids as young as 6 years of age being involved in the sex trade. I myself have witnessed such a disgusting incident during my trip to Cambodia last year which would later prove to be a turning point in my life.


When you are in Cambodia for the first time, you’ll notice some of the most significant billboards and hoardings that read – Save our girls, Save our children. Before my trip to Cambodia, I had read about the menace of child prostitution that plagues the country. Reading about it made me feel sad and sorry and I hoped that things would be better than before over there. Reading/hearing about issues and watching those issues unfurl in-front of our own eyes is vastly different. Some places, experiences or even a sight of something has the potential to change our lives for good – that moment, when we discover a new direction and meaning to our lives. I had that moment of mine as I was walking down the Ochheuteal beach at Sihanoukville on a Sunday afternoon.


Poverty, hunger, desperation and greed makes people do unimaginable things, but I wonder what can possibly justify giving away one’s own child in exchange for money. Having read about child trafficking on various online forums and having decent awareness on how it works, I was shocked to see this happen openly, considering the fact that there are supposedly strict laws against child prostitution. Yes, I saw it all happen in a matter of 6-7 minutes – a 60 something old foreigner, a local tattooed guy (read Pimp), a bunch of dollars exchanging hands and amid all this an innocent, confused-looking child not more than 6-7 years old, with no idea that her childhood was going to be taken away from her. All this happening out in the open in-spite of 115 foreign tourists being arrested in Cambodia for crimes related to child sex over the past 8-9 years. Where is the law? Where is the fear? Where is the morality?


I was aware that Cambodia has the dubious reputation for being a heaven for pedophiles and watching it all happen out there, it didn’t just disgust me, it shook my entire notion of the world I live in. Thousands of innocent kids across the country are being pushed into the flesh trade and pervert pedophiles(locals and foreigners) continue to make hay. Yes, there are a lot of organizations that are trying to raise awareness and fight this menace but is that enough? No. Even if people consider the choice to get involved in sexual activities with professional escorts while traveling as an individual discretion, there is absolutely no excuse for sexual exploitation of children under any circumstances. Besides long-term health problems, sexually abused child victims also suffer from irreversible and permanent emotional trauma that can be very difficult to overcome. Not just restricted to countries in Asia, child sex trade is a growing menace across countries in North and South America and as well as the African continent. Although weak law enforcement, deplorable living conditions, poverty and corruption has allowed this child sex trade to exist in countries like Cambodia, sex tourists hailing from different parts of the world are among the major offenders for child sex trade and there are no two ways about that fact.


I have lived in a world which I now realize has been make-believe and selfish to the core. People are more interested in counting the number of “likes” on their Facebook profile pictures rather than talk or even think about the real issues. Countries fighting each other over a few pieces of rocks in the sea. Religions clashing with each other on who has the more superior God. Majority of the world is oblivious to the basic needs of others and content in living in their own “safe” space while innocents continue to suffer elsewhere. As somebody said “It took 4 years and 3 million dead Cambodians for any nation to come forward and help us“, I wonder how many more children would have to sacrifice their childhood for somebody to wake up from the dead slumber. Those few minutes on that beach still haunt me and in a way I wish they continue to haunt me because the image of those particular moments are shaping up my changed life.

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Child Sex Trade in Cambodia : An Ugly Truth

Cambodia : The Scars of Khmer Rouge – A Survivor Shares His Harrowing Story

“I had a small happy family. I was a school teacher in Phnom Penh when it started. My two kids were too young to go to school then. One day some people with guns and machetes came in to our building and ordered us to move out as they were evacuating the city to save us from American bombs. I did not want to leave my home but they threatened to burn my house and kill us all if we don’t obey their orders. For days we walked further away from Phnom Penh towards the villages in North. I saw many old people dying of exhaustion, fever or heat stroke. Me and my wife carried my kids when they got tired but we kept on walking. At night we slept on the road and on many occasions I had to beg for water, so did the others. Some of us were beaten up when we said we want to go back to our homes.”


One of the perks of solo travel is that you meet up with a lot of locals who are as curious about you as you are about them. In Siem Reap, I chatted up with a friendly waiter Sang, who was quite inquisitive about tourists visiting Cambodia. I was more than happy talking to this nice bloke and asking about the city, Angkor, Cambodian culture, food and the Khmer Rouge. Little did I know that this would be the start of a life-changing journey and become one of the reasons I would recommend Cambodia to travelers out there.

The thing about talking to Cambodian people about the Khmer Rouge is that almost all Cambodians above 40 years of age have gone through the bloody times of the Khmer Rouge(1975-1979). They have been through and survived one of the worst times in the history of human civilization. So, you do feel a bit apprehensive while bringing up that topic with the locals. Hence, I was a bit hesitant when Sang , sensing my honest enthusiasm on the local history and especially after I told him that I would be travelling to Sihanoukville the day after, offered me to arrange two meetup – one of those would be with his very distant uncle who is a survivor from the civil war days. After much thought I said okay.

Sang met me on 8th August at Sihanoukville and we would have to travel to a village near Kampot which was quite near. On the way, he told me all the stories about his village and his family while we were travelling along the oh-so-beautiful countryside. But during the entire 30-40 minutes of the journey to his uncle’s place all I was thinking was I needed to be conscious and respectful of the man.

After we got down from the tuk-tuk, we walked through a village I was greeted by curious kids and onlookers. We walked further for another 10 minutes through a rice paddy field and Sang says “We are here”, pointing to a small weary-looking hut.


After we entered the hut, Sang greets an old man with Sampaeh – a Cambodian way of greeting. After a couple of minutes the man looked at me and with a smile on his face says “Welcome! Sang told me about you”, in proper English. “Are you a reporter?”, he asked and I said “No sir, I am just a traveler here”. He says “Okay, I don’t like talking to reporters. It is no good for people like me now”, while handing me a glass of water.I looked around the room and I could sense that the man lives a very secluded life. A few books in English and Khmer lying on his bed, a makeshift wooden chair, a very small trunk that I would guess contained all his belongings and a small stove with few utensils lying around.

As we sat down, I looked around the room and I could see a wall with several pictures of a woman, two kids and two other men. “That is my wife and children, and my two brothers”, he said with a hushed sad demeanor in his voice. “They were taken. They were killed by those butchers. They killed my whole family, my babies.”, he said. I looked at him as he spoke and I could see glimpses of the toll life has taken on him. There was a deep sense of pain and loss in his eyes; a piercing gaze that told a thousand stories.

“How old were you then? In 1975”, I asked him. “I was 33 and my two sons were 3 and 4 years old… You know till today I do not understand their motives, the Khmer Rouge fighters”, his voice getting a stern tone when he said that. “They said they wanted to protect us from American bombs but we were forced to walk miles to the north. They put up all of us in camps where they made us do farming all day. After three days, they took away my wife and kids along with the family members of many other people like me. That was the last time I saw them”, he continued.


I personally don’t know the entire history of the Khmer Rouge, except that it was a dark time that plunged the entire nation into poverty, distress, famine and irreparable personal damage. The seclusion from the foreign world, discarding the developing times and imposing extreme socio-economic sanctions on their own people, descending to the measures of mass Genocide were some of the insane actions of the Khmer Rouge.

“Did you ever get to know what happened to your family?”, I asked him. After a long pondering pause he says, “Every day I begged to those men to let me know if my family is safe and every time they would beat me up. We worked for 12-16 hours on the rice fields, sometimes without any food or water. Months went by and I hoped to hear about my family someday. One day a few men from my camp were loaded onto a truck and taken away someplace that you now know as The Killing Fields. That is when I finally gave up all hopes of seeing my family alive. When I heard stories on the Killing Fields, about how innocent men, women and children were murdered there, I assumed the same had happened to my family…They killed children. After some days, I got to hear from new people coming in to the camp that thousands of women and children, who were taken away from their homes and camps elsewhere, were tortured and executed in those Killing Fields. That is the last time I ever cried in my life. I was broken after that and a broken man has nothing else to express, not even pain and tears”.

I spent the next hour listening to the horrific stories of his time in the labor camps where life was no less than hell. At such times you feel speechless when you are confronted with the harsh truth that everybody is so oblivious of. “It took 4 years and 3 million dead Cambodians for any nation to come forward and help us”, his most haunting statement from the entire conversation. At complete loss of words I said “I am sorry. I am sorry that this happened to you”. Inside, I was filled with disgust and guilt. The disgust of knowing what humans are capable of doing to each other and the guilt of spending my entire life in a make-believe-perfect-all-is-well world.


Listening to his stories, getting a live account from a deadly civil war survivor, it gave this journey of mine a new meaning as when I took this trip to Cambodia, I wasn’t ready for this. Suddenly I could realize the existence of scars in each and every aspect of this country. I could see it from his expressionless stoic eyes, the rust-filled huts across the villages, the innocent eyes of a 4-year-old child and the bullet holes in the walls of Angkor Wat. I said goodbye to him and Sang as I headed out back towards Sihanoukville with a wish to get immersed in the harsh and ugly reality rather than float up in the realms of fake perfections.



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Cambodia : The Scars of Khmer Rouge – A Survivor Shares His Harrowing Story

Cambodia : A country that deserves to be visited

A trip that changed my life forever and a country that gave me a new perspective to successful living – Cambodia, in many ways defines extreme suffering and ultimate triumphs of an entire human population. A country that until recently was on the brink of total destruction, now has significant stories to tell, beautiful sights and sounds to share. Many would argue that the influx of huge numbers of tourists every year is a major cause behind some of the grave social issues within the country. While that is true to a certain extent, Cambodia is one country I personally believe that actually deserves and needs more tourists. When I say tourists, I mean ethical and responsible travelers. Here are four reasons why.

A couple of these four reasons might not be the usual “oh it’s a fairy-tale/paradise” ones, but are definitely worth exploring for pure humanitarian reasons.

Marvel and learn at the majestic Angkor Wat

Ta Prohm
Ta Prohm Ruins of Angkor

Touted as one of the most visited destinations in the world, the ruins of this ancient city is hugely popular owing to the magnanimous Angkor Wat and the mythical ruins of Ta Prohm temples. A paradise for architecture and history buffs, this huge ancient city complex is spread across the jungles in the outskirts of Siem Reap. Each and every stone of its structures signify the importance of these monuments to Cambodian society that relates back from the ancient bygone era of the Cambodian kingdom to the more recent turmoil of the Khmer Rouge. Mesmerizing at dawn and dusk, with the sheer audacity of the huge structures to its minutest intricate details, this place commands the awe and admiration like the Pyramids of Giza or Machu Picchu.

Soak in the beautiful landscapes

Otres Beach in Sihanoukville

Amid the most revered attraction of Angkor Wat the amazingly beautiful landscape of Cambodia stays very much underrated till today. Once I ventured out of Siem Reap I was greeted with the lush green countryside with a backdrop of the cloud-covered mountain ranges. Not until recently, the beach town of Sihanoukville (although it has a seedy vibe after sundown), the beautiful island of Koh Rong and the sleepy riverside settlement of Kampot were being visited by travelers. Jungles, mountains, islands, rivers and beaches – Cambodia has it all. Truly, one just needs to look beyond Angkor Wat to experience the rustic and laid-back atmosphere this country has in store.

Support the campaign against child prostitution

Child prostitution is the major issue in Cambodia right now

Cambodia is still very much an underdeveloped country with a majority of the silent population suffering from the aftermath of a devastating civil war. Poverty in this country stares at you in one of the ugliest forms – child prostitution. Children as young as 5-6 years are being traded as commodities and pushed into the sex trade and yes, the rise in tourism has a lot to do with it. That is where the need for ethical tourism and responsible travel comes in. There are organizations like Childsafe Cambodia that have various initiatives towards safeguarding the present and future of vulnerable children. An influx of more responsible travelers who are willing to learn, understand and help the situation of these kids, can go a long way in giving the wonderful Cambodian society the helping had they need and deserve.

The Scars of Khmer Rouge

Khmer Rouge
Khmer Rouge regime claimed more than 3 million lives

A bloody, destructive regime that took almost 3 million Cambodian lives through mass executions, famine and disease, yet it remains among one of the least talked about civil wars. Considering it was not so long ago for human memory, every Cambodian above the age of 40 has lived through those times. The disastrous affect it had on this country are still evident from almost every facet of the Cambodian society. The faces and eyes of these people tell a million stories – one of which I heard from a survivor – which need to be heard. More and more travelers who visit the “Killing Fields” at Phnom Penh now get a brief knowledge on the Khmer Rouge and its atrocities. Like many other travelers, I became aware of this reality only after I visited Cambodia and that made me realize the need for people all over the world to learn and know about the difficult past.

There are some journeys that stay with us for a very long time. Some destinations have such an impact on our psyche that completely changes the way we look at the world. Cambodia has been THAT place for me. The six days of my stay in Cambodia were influential enough to change the course of my own notion of life. It is an absolutely beautiful country with a lot to offer. The iconic structures of Angkor, the beautiful beaches, rivers and mountains are a testimony to that. However, for a nation that is still trying to stand on its feet, the stoic resilience of its people with hope in their hearts is what makes this place so endearing.

Cambodia Pin

P.S. Here my every mention of being a traveler is meant to be for ethical and responsible travel only.

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Cambodia : A country that deserves to be visited
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The Curious case of Sihanoukville

Sihanoukville is a place that can polarize opinions in extreme directions. The many facets of this small beach town embodies this place with different shades. Touted as one of Asia’s popular party destinations, known mostly for the wild late-night parties, this place can also provide a tiny peek into the lives of the local people. I came down with fever after a day in Sihanoukville hence, I really could not explore as much as I had hoped to. Here’s  what I feel was the biggest highlight of my time in Sihanoukville – The Beaches and Locals


There is a decent array of beaches at Sihanoukville. I did not get the scope to visit Independence beach, Victory beach or Sokha beach. Otres beach is probably where the tourists are to be found because of its quieter surroundings and it is actually a very good place to just relax all day. However Otres is not the livelier of all the beaches. Ochheauteal beach is the place to go if you want to feel the vibrant atmosphere, some excellent seafood and late-night parties. What makes this place so lively? Contrary to popular assumption, it’s not the usual seduction of parties or hot bods. It’s the locals on the beach.



For me it was very refreshing to see that a beach in one of Asia’s popular party destinations, is being enjoyed by the locals more than tourists. As I sat at one of the restaurants and watched the people having so much fun, I realized that it was a way of life for them. Cambodian people love their beaches and the sea. From small kids, or an entire family, to a bunch of teenagers or “so much in innocent love” couples, this beach has it all.

IMG_3063 IMG_3106On weekends, locals from all over and outside of the town converge to Ochheuteal beach and just let their hair down – eat drink play. Add to that several vendors selling barbecued squid-on-sticks, deep-fried crabs, crispy crepes and what not, it is almost like a carnival of its own.

The Bars and Restaurants

Yes, bars and restaurants are everywhere, so whats special about the ones in Sihanoukville? The sheer variety of cuisines available here – authentic Khmer, Mediterranean, Thai, Western and many others –  and some really creative, quirky,cheeky names of the restaurants. I never expected to find an Indian restaurant in Sihanoukville considering this place isn’t that renowned among Indians. But then I found this.



Nice food, cheeky name!! The restaurants located along Ochheuteal beach serve some delicious barbecued meat and fresh seafood. Those were really some of the best barbecued seafood I’ve ever had.There are the usual party hotspots like JJ’s Playground, Utopia and Why Not(Dudes in bikinis??) that have people partying till early hours in the morning. But then you come across places like Coffee Time and my personal favourite – Maybe Later – a popular cozy place that serves fantastic cocktails and some really decent Mexican food.



The Good, The Bad and The Ugly

Here is where my statement about polarizing opinions gets prominence. For every good in Sihanoukville there is an equal bad out there. The beaches are beautiful alright but some stretches of Ochheuteal beach are deceiving dirty with trash thrown all around. The locals are friendly but at the same time the vendors can seem to be a bit pushy. Your heart goes out to the adorable kid vendors selling wristbands on the beach. The late night parties are fun but then sometimes they get a bit shady and sleazy. So on everything has a grey shade to them – well, except Maybe Later!!

But eventually  it is up to us what we absorb and take back with us. Personally, I want to take in the good parts and at the same time be aware of the bad. Pushy vendors? That’s their livelihood. Small stretch of dirty beach? Longer stretches of cleaner ones out there. Refusing to buy stuff from child vendors? That sends those children back to school. Shady late-night parties? Don’t get involved. I eventually ended up spending my last night in this place chatting, connecting and making friends with complete strangers at my favorite restaurant.


Beaches and wild parties – that was mostly what I had heard or read about Sihanoukville prior to my travel to Cambodia. But there is so much more to know and learn over here. Hence my opinion of Sihanoukville – great potential, needs work!!


Essential Info:

  • Sihanoukville is located in the South-West of Cambodia. Journey from Siem Reap takes 10-12 hours by bus and 1 hour by flight from Siem Reap or Phnom Penh.
  • Giant Ibis is the one to go for bus services to Sihanoukville and costs around 25$-30$ for the entire journey. 
  • The road to Sihanoukville is smooth and extremely picturesque with the green countryside.
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The Curious case of Sihanoukville

The mystic ruins of Ta Prohm – final insights of Angkor

The city of Angkor is so huge that there is no way I could explore each and every corner of it in a single day. I was now in the final leg of this tour and the most awaited one. After cycling our way out of the Angkor Thom complex and again back into the jungle that seemed to have got more dense, extremely humid with a few harmless animals around (not gonna name them here), we reached our final destination for the day – Ta Prohm.

IMG_2990This temple is what I would call as the actual ruins. Yes, this place is incredibly beautiful and provides plenty of amazing photo opportunities. But I felt an entire side to this place as I meandered across the temple ruins. Huge trees that have their roots making their own way on the stones, walls and terraces of the temple provides an ethereal and mystic aura to this place.

IMG_3018IMG_2993As I looked around the ruined walls, dark corridors and smaller temples that were restricted to the public, I couldn’t help but feel that all those heaps of fallen stones and even the smaller temples that were sealed shut by larger stones, hold some secrets of their own. Secrets that have been sheltered for ages from the outside world and have never been uncovered. Or maybe I’ve been watching too much of X-Files lately.

IMG_2997 IMG_2999

IMG_3011Everything about this place – the surrounding of the dense forest, the moss-covered boulders of stones, the fallen walls, the closed doors and the century-old gigantic trees – gave me a realization that there are places in this world that could tell us a million untold stories and at the same time they will always be shrouded with unfathomable mystery.



Essential Info:

  • Do not at any time attempt to climb on to the heaps of fallen stones. I have witnessed somebody trying to do that and ending up with a broken leg.
  • As many other ardent fans of this place would say “Take your time to explore. Do not be in a hurry”.
  • Beware of muddy/slippery grounds – they can be deceivingly dangerous. Paul from my group almost went head on to the rocky pathway after slipping on those grounds.
  • Keep the Angkor pass handy as it will be checked here before entry.
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The mystic ruins of Ta Prohm – final insights of Angkor