I have only been visiting Cambodia as of six years ago, and this is just my unstudied impression, but I have the sense that Cambodia is gentrifying. Tourism is not a single industry; each destination markets itself in a singular way, creating a national or metropolitan brand. Sometimes, these coexist – Amsterdam is for canals at the golden hour, irises at the Van Gogh museum, The Night Watch at the Rijksmuseum; Amsterdam is for women in pink-lit windows, for space cakes and cheap hostels.
Cambodia was the Wild West – Lonely Planet described it that way, and I think that for a lot of tourists the allure was the idea of chaos. Jungle trails with DANGER: LAND MINES, moto bandits, artillery ranges. Even chaotic traffic was attractive, even the idea that Cambodia was a bonefield.
And now Cambodia is becoming a different kind of destination, a city of shaded streets where tourists can go for spa treatments, for imported coffee and delicate pastry. Cambodia is becoming a tranquil place to visit, a luxury place.
I think the NGOs are keeping up – they always specialized in unskilled labor, service and manufacture – the cafes serve simple food on simple terms, the boutiques sell silk scarves all the same shape – but now they’re marketing to refined tastes.