AndrewJones' Travel Journals


  • From United Kingdom
  • Currently in Cambodia

Living & Volunteering in Siem Reap

I gave up my job at the end of March 2015 and in a few weeks time I'm Cambodia bound, volunteering for 12 weeks for a community project in Siem Reap, Cambodia. Either I've taken leave of my senses or I'm following a path Or somewhere between the two? This journal is about my trip

One week of volunteering remaining!

Cambodia Siem Reap, Cambodia  |  Sep 05, 2015
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 Have you ever played Yatzy? 

Next week is the 12th and final week of my time spent volunteering at Salariin Kampuchea on the outskirts of Siem Reap, so I'm in a reflective state of mind at the moment.

Let's start with a few of my random thoughts on Cambodia and life in Siem Reap.

There are no coins in Cambodia, just notes, either US dollars or Cambodian riels;

I've been pleasantly surprised at the overall standard of tomato ketchup in the Siem Reap Restaurants. I love tomato ketchup. I should add that I've also really taken to Cambodian food, especially the fish amok and the chicken amok plus the curries. But not with tomato ketchup.

Lots of bicycles parked in Siem Reap look very like mine, so there have been several occasions when I've come very close to losing my bike 'cos I've forgotten which road I parked it on (or it could be the humidity, or maybe my age...........)

And park your bicycle in the shade when it's hot (which is most of the time). I've learned that lesson the hard way. Cycling back to the school at the end of lunchtime has been......shall we say uncomfortable!

Zebra crossings are merely a series of white painted rectangles streching from one side of the street to the other side but they have no purpose whatsoever

Cambodian postmen/women don't seem to exist, although there is a Siem Reap Post Office with a postbox

So far I've worn socks once in 3 months, the day I arrived in Cambodia

I swore before I left the UK that I would never wear sandals and I've been wearing them virtually every day so far, but obviously without socks, which would in any event be a bad look fashion wise in my humble opinion

When drinking beer with Cambodians, you can't just knock it back when you want to, because it's customary for everyone to exclaim 'jol moi' and clink together cans/glasses, so it's a kind of communal drinking experience and an easy way to end up drinking more than you first intended!

Every other car in Siem Reap seems to be a Toyota and every other moto (scooter) is a Honda

Um, can't think of anything else at the moment.

I spent a long weekend in Phnom Penh about a month ago, so I could visit the Killing Fields of Choeung Ek, which are located just outside the city, and visit the Tuol Sleng Museum in the city. Between 1975 and 1978 about 17000 prisoners (men, women and children) of the Khmer Rouge who had first been detained and tortured at Tuol Sleng prison ( a former school) were transported out of the city to the extermination camp at Choeung Ek, where there is now a memorial to those who died. As you can imagine, it is a very sad and thought provoking experience for visitors to these sites. My tuk tuk driver had been a child at the time and his father, a teacher, was killed and he lost touch with his mother and surviving brother and sister for 7 years. He also had no option later when he was just 16 to join the Cambodian Army to fight the remnants of the Khmer Rouge. He was a very helpful guide for the day but you can barely imagine the many unresolved issues he must have.

As a complete contrast, in the evening I managed to find a cable channel on the hotel TV in my room showing live premiership football, and so watched Everton and Watford draw 2-2.

My last few weeks of volunteering have been exclusively dedicated to funding and administration and capacity building, so that the school is better able to continue making funding proposals in the future, because the school staff have ambitions to build upon and expand the existing educational programmes in the longer term. Fortunately Marcin, another volunteer from Poland, but presently living in England, arrived at this time so he is now volunteering as a teacher and has replaced me in this role.

My days at the school go quickly because there's always plenty to do, starting at 8.45am through to 12 noon or 12.30pm, and then restarting at 2.30pm until 6pm. At no time have I felt that I have had too little to do and, even with only a week to go I still have plenty that I would like to complete before I finish.

And my social life has improved the longer I've been here, partly because there are other volunteers staying at the same guest house as me (volunteering elsewhere in and around Siem Reap) and partly because the organisation that 'minds' me, ConCERT, has a social side to it.

Here's a memory that will stay with me. At the guesthouse we've started playing 'Yatzy', a game with dice, on some evenings, a game which I'd never heard of but which two Swiss volunteers introduced, and it's fair to say that I'm a mediocre player of this game. The best possible outcome (bearing in mind that each player has 3 rolls of the dice per turn) is to get all 5 dice with the same number ('Yatzy'). So we came up with this idea that if you threw a Yatzy you had to jump fully clothed into the swimming pool. This was fine by me because I'd never managed to throw a Yatzy until, of course, the new rule was introduced!! Doesn't take long to dry out though, even in the evenings.

I'm staying in Cambodia after my volunteering finishes, travelling to the coast. But I'm gonna miss Salariin Kampuchea, the staff and students.

That's it for now.


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