When you choose to volunteer in Cambodia you travel to Siem Reap in the proximity of Angkor Wat.
Cambodia is a country in Southeast Asia. It borders Thailand in the west and the north, Laos in the northeast and Vietnam in the east and southeast. In the southwest, the country borders the Gulf of Thailand.
The landscape of Cambodia is characterized by a low-lying central plain surrounded by hills and low mountains. Because of the many floods, the Cambodian plain is very fertile and rice is being cultivated on a large scale in this densely populated area. The expansive Tonlé Sap Lake is also centrally located, from which the river of the same name flows, which near Phnom Penh merges with the Mekong River. This river crosses the country from north to south and branches into a wide delta in the south of Vietnam.
It might be one of Southeast Asia’s smallest countries, but Cambodia can compete with the big boys when it comes to must-see sights.
Away from the water, the ravages of war have become unlikely tourist attractions in Phnom Penh and other cities. Crowds gather at former prison camps and the notorious Killing Fields to contemplate Cambodia’s darkest hour, a period of unimaginable suffering that took place under the brutal regime of Pol Pot.
The crumbling remains of the Khmer Empire are the biggest draw in Cambodia, though. After building up a kingdom that stretched into
neighbouring Thailand and China, the Khmers fell, leaving behind an extraordinary collection of temple complexes, most notably Angkor Wat, which owns the bragging rights to being the largest religious monument in the world.
Then there are more typical Southeast Asian attractions – frenetic cities crammed with rickshaws, strange and exotic food, blissful beaches, tropical jungles teeming with wildlife, and a densely-forested hinterland full of tribal villages.
There are few places that have been through as much as Cambodia, but this optimistic nation has belied its tumultuous history and emerged as one of the warmest, most welcoming destinations in Southeast Asia.
The French rediscovery of the Angkor temples played an important role in freeing the province and city from Thailand. In 1901 the École Française d’Extrême Orient (EFEO) began their long relationship with Angkor by funding an expedition into Siam to the Bayon. The EFEO cleared and restored the whole site, and rediscovered many of the surrounding temples. In the same year, the first tourists arrived in Angkor – an unprecedented 200 of them in three months. Up until this point, what the world now knows as “Siem Reap city” was little more than a small rural village near the Tonle Sap Lake. However with the French discovery, Angkor had been ‘rescued’ from the jungle and was assuming its place in the modern world.
The historical interest of the area, and its potential for development, encouraged the French to invest time and energy in Siem Reap. The popularity of Angkor Wat and the opening of the first hotel, The Grand Hotel d’Angkor in 1929, stimulated tourism in the area. The French influence is still felt today in Siem Reap in the French-colonial architecture in the city center and the high proportion of French business investment and sizeable expatriate community.
World War II and the complicated period of the Vietnam War with the US had a destabilizing effect on the entire region, and Cambodia’s then King Norodom Sihanouk used this situation to gain independence from the French in 1953. There followed a period of relative prosperity for Siem Reap and Cambodia as a whole, until Sihanouk was deposed in 1970. The Lon Nol government however was erratic and his control over the country waned, giving strength to the Khmer Rouge cause.
When the Khmer Rouge seized power, they closed the country off to all foreign influence and drove urban populations to the countryside to create an agricultural peasant society. The majority of the educated people was tortured, killed or fled the country. The Khmer rouge destroyed the idea of money and currency so the economy completely collapsed. It is estimated that around 2 million people were killed under the Khmer Rouge regime due to their disastrous social engineering policies and mass executions.
The Khmer Rouge regime fell in 1979 when Vietnam invaded, backed by a number of dissatisfied former Khmer Rouge leaders. However, peace time was still long in coming as Khmer Rouge forces kept the country locked in civil war for another 2 decades. Siem Reap was one of the last areas of the country to experience peace, as many areas in the north and North West of the country were Khmer Rouge strongholds. However by 1999, following some intense in-fighting between the remaining Khmer Rouge leaders, and Pol Pot’s death, most of the members surrendered or were captured and the party effectively ceased to exist.
Considering that peace time is a relatively recent, Siem Reap has recovered remarkably quickly, and in less than 15 years has built up its tourism numbers to over 2 million per year. Cambodia has rebranded itself “The Kingdom of Wonder” using the outline of Angkor Wat as its logo. As a result, Siem Reap has become a central attraction in Asia and the scale of investment is visibly growing by the month. Some of the old French colonial buildings still remain, but most notable are the modern facilities and luxury hotels that line the small streets.
Recently, international attention was brought to Siem Reap again, with a new archaeological discovery on the Kulen Mountains. The massive ancient royal city of Mahendraparvata (now being hailed as the world’s greatest pre-industrial city) has been unearthed and identified. It’s too early to say whether this site will in time rival the glories of Angkor Wat as a tourist attraction, but the historical significance of the site is undeniable, and as such brings even more attention to the region.
Siem Reap is a real historical hub, being the center of important changes and development at many different stages of Cambodian history. It is now proving to be a key to Cambodia’s future, as tourism provides a much needed industry for the continued recovery of the country and population.
The project was established in October 2015 to support a small education project that was initiated by a Cambodian teacher in one ofthe poorest suburbs of Siem Reap in Cambodia.
We believe that no child should be forced to beg or work. We believe that they have the right to enjoy their childhood – to learn, play, make friends and grow in a safe and happy environment. We strongly support the United Nations’ sustainable development goals, and commit to contribute primarily to the goal of quality education : ensure inclusive and equitable quality education and promote lifelong learning opportunities for all.
The project concentrates around 3 axes:
Some of the children at school are orphans. We help grandparents, other relatives, even sometimes neighbours to take care of these children. We do not believe that orphanages are a good solution. It is proven that children are better off when they grow up in a normal family. Orphanages even are often a source of child-abuse, of exploitation and modern slavery.
We continuously work in close cooperation with the Cambodian partners and other NGO’s. No decision is taken, and no project is started without previous concertation and agreement with all local partners. Over 90 % of the initiatives taken and supported have been initiated by the local partners!
What do volunteers do?
Volunteers and trainees co-teach with the local teacher. The goal is to support the local teacher, to facilitate extra activities, games, .. and to give special attention to students that need a bit more help. We teach English to young learners (age 6-12), Adolescents (aged 13-16) and young adults who study English for the hospitality business.
Government schools are attended by children either in the morning or in the afternoon. The project provides additional English courses. After attending the official school (for those having class in the morning), or before going to the official school (for those having class in the afternoon) children come to the center. Playing together, learning to work in groups, language skills … and just enjoying their childhood, that’s what we try to offer them.
Minimum: 10 weeks
Schedule: Depening on the time of the year and other volunteers, you teach in the morning, afternoon or evening. A combination is also possible, you have a say in this but it is our local team that finaly divides the duties.
Sopheak is the headmaster of the project. He manages the language classes, and is responsible for coaching of trainees and volunteers. He also manages relations with other NGO’s and government. He is master in English Literature, graduated from Built Bright University in Siem Reap.
Nat is head of the Teacher Training Department and runs the workshops for teachers. He also teaches at Panaasaastra University of Cambodia. He is Master in Tesol, graduated from University of Canberra in Australia.
Breakfast is provided (bread, jam, eggs, coffee, tea ..). Lunch and Dinner are to be taken outside or to be prepared by the volunteer in the kitchen.
Volunteering in Cambodia is more than just working. You cannot compare voluntary work to a full-time day job. You will have full say in your hours and have enough time to explore the area together with the other volunteers.
Siem Reap offers many opportunities for going out, and of course there are numerous touristic attractions including world’s leading top attraction: the historical ancient city “Angkor Wat”.
Get the local experience at The Old Market, or as the locals call it “Psar Chaa”. Built in the 1920’s, here is where residents of Siem Reap come to get their produce, grains, and meat for homecooked meals.
The market is divided into small sections selling different goods. Go to the fruit section where you can get organic fruit like mangosteens and dragon fruit at local prices, walk down the dim alleyways of the meat section where you’ll find freshly made sausages hanging on strings, or walk through the rows of vendors sitting on straw floor mats selling dried seafood.
Of course, there are sections selling clothes, handcrafts, and seasonings- which all make for great gifts to send home.
Decades have passed since both the Vietnam War and the Khmer Rouge regime, but life-threatening reminders still remain hidden in the fields of Cambodia; 6 million reminders to be exact. The Cambodia Landmine Museum is the best place in Siem Reap to educate yourself on the whos, whats, and whys regarding landmines in Cambodia.
In addition to a history lesson and an up-to-date briefing on the landmine situation, you’ll all get to see some active and detonated landmines up close. You’ll learn about how it has affected locals and see what efforts are being made to rid the region of these hidden dangers.
Butterfly enthusiasts & nature lovers, here is an experience that you don’t want to pass up while in Siem Reap. This butterfly sanctuary and conservation center is the perfect opportunity to get up close and personal with your favorite insects.
Walk around with dozens species of free flying Cambodian butterflies in this interactive butterfly exhibit. The enclosed garden is built like a rainforest to mimic the butterflies’ natural habitat. You can take an educational tour with a guide who will show the various stages of the butterfly lifecycle.
These rainforest trails offer hidden gems in the rainforest such as ancient temples, respected monasteries, and rushing waterfalls. You’ll walk along a gorgeous river and under cool, shady trees making for a much-needed escape from the heat.
Volunteering abroad does cost money and it is not our intention that the community you are going to help has to pay for this. If there was enough money to bear these costs, we would rather spend them on a local employees who understand the local culture and daily customs.
If you want to learn more about our transparent system, take a look at our transparency page.
These costs, which you pay on site, are related to your stay in Laos such as your accommodation and meals. By paying locally, you are also sure that your contribution will end in Laos and will not stay behind at various “stations”.
Probably there are other expenses that you have to keep in mind. Below a brief summary of the most common possible costs:
any projects require a continuity of volunteers to create impact and we want to ensure sufficient inflow of volunteers to keep every project viable. Unfortunately volunteer recruitment comes with a costs such as marketing. The fundraising done by the organizations in our alliance are exclusively used for development projects in the countries mentioned on this website.
The alliance fee serves to bear the costs of the alliance’s platform. We ask every participant a one-time alliance fee of € 130. This is a one-time contribution which you pay after being accepted for your first volunteer placement. After payment of this contribution you can do unlimited voluntary work in any project in the future (if there is availability and you meet the set requirements for that project).
As a member, we always inform you as soon as new projects are added in our alliance.
What is your alliance fee used for?
You can read more at our transparency page.
We will not let you leave without a thorough preparation. We have a detailed system, so you can sleep on both ears and leave with peace of mind. Once you have been accepted and everything has been put in order, you can count on the guidance of our experts.
As soon as you applied and you are accepted to volunteer we start with your preparation. You can already read a lot on this website, besides this we also prepare you through other channels. Once in the field you also can rely on our local team.
Volunteering abroad will have an impact on you but also on the local community. We think it’s very important, that you as a volunteer are aware about what to expect. So you can start prepared with your volunteering experience. When you are accepted as a volunteer and you confirmed from your side, you will receive the access codes for our secured volunteer page. At this page you can read all information which is important for your preparation, Such as information about your project, accommodation, How to apply for your visa, a packing list, a complete chapter about cultural differences and much more …
You will be assigned a mentor who you can contact for any help or needed advice. Our mentors are members of our alliance and have years of experience in the projects we support. This system ensures that you receive good guidance from VAA.
Your safety is very important to us. We only allow volunteers to travel to areas that are politically stable. If this is not the case, the project will not proceed. Every member of the alliance keeps a close eye on the security recommendations. Of course, we can also rely on the local employees of the projects. They live and work there themselves and know the area very well.
Being located in the tropical zone north of the equator, Cambodia has a monsoon climate. Monsoon season runs May – November. Immediately after the monsoon, the blanketing green of the countryside can be stunningly beautiful.
In the north, winters are generally colder, while throughout most of the country temperatures remain fairly constant. The average year-round temperature in Cambodia is 27.7°C (the highest monthly average being 35°C, the lowest monthly average being 21°C). There is often seasonal floooding in Phnom Penh and the rest of Cambodia in late July and early August, and, because the majority of roads are dirt, travel may be disrupted at these times. At the peak of the wet season it can rain as often as two in every three days.
Every project has at least one permanent employee. This employee organizes your project and your stay together with the participating organization of our alliance. During your stay you can always connect with them; they are available for advice and practical information, but you can also count on them in case of an emergency.
The easiest airport in the vicinity of our projects is Siem Reap airport (airport code REP). You will be picked up at this airport by a representative of our local team.
Once accepted as a volunteer you will receive from us all details such as the exact location, etc. We deliberately do not share this information in advance. The organizations within our alliance take their duties seriously, our projects are not tourist attractions. Moreover, it is very disturbing for the local employees but also for other volunteers if someone suddenly appears on the projects.
We are not doctors and we do not know your personal & medical background. That is why we advise everyone to make an appointment with your doctor or travel vaccination center before traveling to your destination. You can always take a look at the website of the WHO for the latest situation in Cambodia.
Every organization within our alliance has an emergency procedure and you also receive all emergency telephone numbers once accepted as a volunteer. You will find all this information on your personal project page, you will receive the code as soon as you are accepted as a volunteer and you completed your application.
If you want to do volunteer work in Cambodia with Volunteer Abroad Alliance, you are responsible for your own visa application. You can rely on your mentor who will can give you advise for your application process.
An E-visa is required (ordinary visa, no tourist visa). This is only available at the border (airport or road). Costs 35 usd for 30 days, this can be extended locally for up to 3 months (90 USD/extension).
There is no typical day or script to follow – every day will be different and full of surprises. That is the beauty, but also challenge, of international volunteering. We expect you to understand this and be flexible, open and proactive at all times.
Depending on your project, you will work some different hours during your placement in Cambodia.
There are always new initiatives being launched and other volunteers looking for a helping hand. The projects are very dynamic and responsive to the community’s needs, and we encourage you to be flexible and willing to help wherever there is need. It is very likely that you will have the opportunity to work across multiple projects. Remember, the more you put into your experience, the more you will get out of it.
English is spoken in the team and with the people we cooperate with. Bear in mind that the population with whom you may come into contact outside of your work does not always speak English. Khmer is the locally spoken language.
Our team speaks English but learning a few basic concepts in Khmer is always easy at work, but also in dealing with the population.
All organizations active in the alliance take their work very seriously. From general preparations to details that you never imagined that they exist, but that are important to give you a safe, comfortable and meaningful experience. We invest a lot of time in preparing, following up and implementing our preparation materials, but also our projects on site. We hope that you, for your part, commit yourself 100% during your volunteer work and this is done in a respectful way for us, but even more so for the local community you are going to help.