Discovering & Settling Into South East Asia

I’ve worked for a backpacking company, an international school and a local social business. Each experience has been extremely unique and offered a perspective of Cambodia that would be otherwise hard to find.

Growing up in rural Ontario had me itching to travel from very early on. It wasn’t that home was hideous, or had any lack of amazing activities to keep me busy. I just had an ache in my gut telling me I had to get out and see what other exciting places our world had to offer my small-town soul.

The first big step was moving to the city – Toronto, Ontario – for my undergrad degree. Studying in Toronto was awesome (but that’s a whole other story). However, when I started working my long-awaited nine-to-five gig I knew something just wasn’t quite right. I decided to apply for a volunteer program that would eventually lead me to the wonders of South East Asia. When I left in the summer of 2012 I never could have imaged that I would end up living in Cambodia for over two years.

It’s not unusual to see hammocks rigged up for afternoon naps, and Friday night celebrations starting (days) early.

Depending on which province you’re in the lifestyle varies greatly. Cambodia has ancient ruins, modern cityscapes, coastline, jungles, rivers, mountains and kilometers upon kilometers of rice paddies. In Phnom Penh there are hundreds of restaurants, shops and markets to explore. Whereas in the provinces outside of the capital you can easily get lost in an epic forest or stroll along a deserted beach. Whether you enjoy a lively city or the silence of the countryside Cambodia can offer you a corner to settle in and enjoy.

I’ve flown to and from Phnom Penh several times now, but there are always flights from Toronto to Phnom Penh with roughly one or two stops along the way. I’ve had layovers in Seoul, Guangzhou, and Tokyo with a total travel time of between 27-30 hours for around $1100-$1300 Canadian dollars.

When traveling throughout Cambodia I stayed in many different guesthouses and hostels, but now have settled into an apartment on the outskirts of the city.

I’ve worked for a backpacking company, an international school and a local social business. Each experience has been extremely unique and offered a perspective of Cambodia that would be otherwise hard to find.

Always keep smiling. (Many) Cambodian people make their living from tourism. When in doubt keep smiling and don’t get openly angry or frustrated. When you’re bargaining for tuk-tuk rides and deals at the market just think of the price you’d be willing to pay (within reason of course) and if you can’t seem to agree, move on and try a different spot.

Be vigilant. Many people come to Cambodia, bask in the fun and freedom, and forget that they aren’t in Kansas. It’s not about being scared of Cambodia or Cambodian people. Cambodians are some of the most helpful and friendly people I’ve met during my travels. However, I wouldn’t walk down a dark alley, alone and intoxicated at 2AM in the morning. I also wouldn’t go out all night partying and then decide to drive a moto home. If you wouldn’t do it at home, you probably shouldn’t try it in Cambodia.

Take in Cambodia for all of its breathtaking sights, amazing people, the complete confusion and utter frustration. It’s all worth it!

Top Banana, Mini Banana and One Up are all located in Phnom Penh and offer accommodation ranging from dorm rooms to classy private suites. The prices are always reasonable and the staff is extremely welcoming!

Mad Monkey guesthouses are also located in Phnom Penh, Siem Reap and Kampot and offer nice rooms and a fun atmosphere. Mad Monkey also uses a portion of their profits to fund many social projects around the country, which is definitely worth supporting.

Another stand out location would be Ream Beach Guesthouse in Ream National Park, just outside of Sihanoukville. It was a quaint little spot right on the ocean with an amazing breeze and mellow vibe.

If you’re looking for something more long-term there are tons of options in Phnom Penh. From shared housing to private-serviced apartments you can live as local or luxuriously as you’d like and can afford. About a year ago I settled on a local-style apartment just outside the city center in a quiet, low-key neighbourhood.

The studio-style place runs a rent of about $170 USD a month including all utilities, WiFi and security.

Operation Groundswell is a backpacking company based out of Toronto. They offer volunteer excursions in a region that not only strive to get people involved in worthy projects, but also focus on cultural immersion. If you want a jam-packed few months full of hosting, traveling across several countries and volunteering, this is the gig for you!

CIA First International School is located on the outskirts of the Phnom Penh and is growing every single year. Catering to the middle to upper class Cambodians and expats, I’ve met lots of students from diverse backgrounds. If you love teaching and are certified this is a definite option.

Bee Keeper is a social business started by a Cambodian whom just recently returned home. His family escaped the Khmer Rouge and landed in Australia where he was raised and educated. Now he’s back in Phnom Penh making sustainable fashion products and building schools in Kep province. The founder is force to be reckoned with, and always needs extra help!

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