Soak up spell-binding ancient culture, surround yourself with elephants and sample tongue-tingling exotic flavours whilst helping Cambodia recover from it's turbulent past of the Khmer Rouge regime.
Through the course of this program you will experience:
3 contrasting locations: Siem Reap (cool city), Mondulkuru (elephant sanctuary in the jungle) and Sihanoukville (beach life).
Multiple projects: Teaching English to kids, conserving elephants, building fresh water wells in rural villages, helping street kids find an alternative to begging.
Adventure: Island hopping, jungle trekking, touring Angkor Watt.
Siem Reap, a town rich in history where East fuses with West in spectacular style. Situated at the foot of Cambodia’s Angkor Wat Temple complex and close to spectacular forests, waterfalls and South East Asia’s largest inland lake.
The old French colonial capital, many of the prettiest buildings here are European influenced with shuttered windows and it’s still possible to hunt down a baguette in the market, in between stalls selling Khmer foodie treats and pyjama sets (worn by many to work). Combine this with the city’s buzzing night life, street food, music and art scene and it’s hardly surprising that the city has recently experienced a massive resurgence in popularity.
Here you’ll live in our volunteer house right in the heart of this buzzing city and dare I say it a stones throw away from the infamous “pub street”.
Venturing south of Siem Reap to sunny Sihanoukville. Surrounded by white-sand beaches and undeveloped tropical islands, Sihanoukville (also known as Kompong Som) is Cambodia’s most happening beach destination.
Best likened to Thailand’s ‘Koh Phangan’ before mass commercialism and 30,000 drunken revellers arrived, Sihanoukville offers pristine beaches, palm trees (and the occasional full moon party) without the crowds.
Here you‘ll be staying in a house rented for the sole use of our volunteers close to the projects work and yes a mere 5 min tuk tuk journey from the beaches.
From here you’ll journey East towards Vietnam; through fields of swaying sugar palms, past dazzling rice paddies and up into densely forested hill country transacted by thundering waterfalls.
Welcome to Mondulkuri, one of Cambodia’s last great wildernesses, a vital wildlife corridor, home to the indigenous Pnong people, a tribe of hunter-gatherers for whom their bond with elephants are at the very heart of their culture.
Sadly, the ancient traditions and livelihood of this unique community are under threat as the environmental pressures of 21st Century Cambodia fast encroach on their homeland. But there is help at hand.
Here you will stay in a simple bungalow (AKA Hefalump House!) on the slopes of the Elephant Valley, giving you stunning views over the surrounding forest. Sunsets can be spent unwinding here, enjoying the amazing sounds of the nocturnal forest creatures and the gibbons calling as they prepare to sleep. Bliss.
Despite it’s beautiful exterior, Siem Reap is one of the poorest regions in Cambodia, a town where the difference between rich and poor is stark. Communities of displaced people, army families, victims of landmines and sex-workers live in deep poverty with little access to education or basic amenities – tucked out of sight from affluent tourists.
It is estimated that only half the population have access to clean water and less than a quarter have access to a toilet. With your help we aim to build functioning wells and flushing toilets in some of these communities and in the process restore health and dignity.
You’ll literally help a team of local construction workers, digging, mixing cement, laying pipes and installing water pumps to improve daily lives. Physical but so satisfying.
Due to the vast number of adult deaths during the genocide of the Khmer Rouge regime, Cambodia has one of the youngest populations in the world. 41% of the population are children, (20% in the UK) with over three quarters living in poverty.
Sadly, the education system in Cambodia is very poor; teachers’ salaries are low, the teaching quality poor and in many cases kids are forced to leave school to work on the streets of Cambodia.
However, help is at hand as local NGO’s and foundations get busy to address this situation to provide free education and skills to children in the community.
Mr. Chea Sarin set up this school foundation to support two schools in the subsistent village of Ang Chagn - which is in a very poor district of Siem Reap.
There are about 600 families here with about 1400 children between the age of 1 – 15 who are in desperate need of an education. Here you will help his teachers, in both the Spitler and Kurator schools with support teaching in English, sport and computer studies.
Samrong village is just outside Siem Reap, set amongst lush paddy fields. Here you will assist a rural farming community, where subsistence rice farmers still live in stilt houses and children catch fish with simple wooden rods.
The major issue they face is the seasonal shortage of food, which is where we come in: the community have already started to diversify their crops and expand the farmland but with our donations and your physical help the planting and harvesting has become more efficient.
You’ll need to don your gardening gloves for this project as you head out with farmers but there will be time to sit with the women of the community to learn and lend a hand to their other income generating schemes such as basket weaving and making incense sticks.
Sometimes the most beautiful places on earth disguise the cruelest social problems. Look a little harder at the postcard perfection of Sihanoukville’s beaches and you will see some of the city’s poorest children working among the happy holidaymakers. Children are often forced by their families to work because tourists are more likely to buy a can of coke or crafts from a youngster. These children are incredibly vulnerable to abuse and miss out on the most valuable years of education in order to scrape a living.
Under the direction of Starfish, you will work at both the Sakura School and at the Computer Development Center.
Sakura is a public school built by the Japanese in 1998, however the founders stopped giving their support 14 years ago. Hundreds of new students are coming in every year and they really need help, From painting their gates, tables and chairs to teaching their students arts, sports (football), and any other special skills or talents that you would like to share with them, they will be happy to learn from you. Students are from 6-18 years old.
The Computer Development Center was founded in 2013, to provide an education for the poorest families at the fishing village. Today, the school has 8 classrooms and caters for 285 students from 5-15 years old. They need help with teaching computer skills, sport and with basic school repair.
An amazing opportunity to live and volunteer in the ‘Elephant Valley’ a secluded jungle-bound project rehabilitating these gentle grey giants and protecting the Pnong tribe’s rural way of life.
Get down and dirty as you give practical help to improve the project’s infrastructure, from digging trenches and vegie-patches to constructing accommodation and water towers.
Working alongside local mahouts (elephant keepers) you will care for the rescued elephants, some of which have been abused or cruelly maimed by landmines. Spend many, magical sun-drenched hours escorting your elephant on it’s ambling adventures as it roams free through jungle and grasslands, washing troubles away in the river and simply observing the largest mammal on Earth at incredible close-quarters in the wildest reaches of South East Asia.
Cambodia’s iconic temple is the very heart and soul of this fiercely proud, spiritual nation - and a glimpse of the sun rising over its majestic peaks is definitely not to be missed.
The largest religious site on earth, Angkor’s history spans a millennium and comprises of hundreds of temples spread throughout the jungle, some spectacularly reclaimed by nature. Recently made famous by the Tomb Raider films we suggest you make like Angelina and pay a visit – it’s about $20 for a day pass.
South East Asia’s largest inland lake, Tonle Sap is the very life source of Cambodia. Home to rare birds, half of Cambodia’s fish stock and (yes, we admit it) quite a few crocodiles, it’s the remarkable floating villages which make a cruise on the lake truly un missable.
An entire community living in houses of reeds drift on the ebb and flow of water, look out for schools with playgrounds on their rooftops! Budget about $15.
As the chosen base of the Khmer Rouge in the 1970’s Phnom Penh bears the scars of this brutal regime more prominently than most. Although harrowing, a visit to one of the city’s two genocide museums is an important step to understanding both the deep trauma that runs through this nation and strength in overcoming such horror.
The Killing Fields, on the outskirts of town, are a site of mass murder and burial and a memorial to the estimated 17000 men, women and children who were executed here 30 years ago. $2 entry fee.
You’ll be pretty busy with your project work, 5 days a week, for about 5 - 8 hours each day but your weekends and evenings are free to get stuck into some of these backpacker favourites - all of which can be arranged once you’re out there the costs being pretty reasonable.
Nightlife: Pub Street Arguably Siem Reap’s most famous attraction after Angkor Wat Temple Complex. This imaginatively named area in the centre of town is home to more than just a few watering-holes and also offers top notch world cuisine (from dim sum to burger bars), karaoke, internet cafes and is gateway to a night market touting everything from designer knock-offs to knee trembling massages.
Phnom Kulen Waterfall An incredible waterfall, tucked away in the luscious jungle 40km from Siem Reap. Cool, clean water crashes down the rocks, onto a riverbed etched with ancient carvings.
Mountain Biking Blessed with flat roads and a plethora of dirt tracks Siem Reap and the surrounding forests provide the perfect terrain.
Swimming Pools Siem Reap boasts some luxurious hotel complexes with 5* living that even non-residents can enjoy. For a meagre $6 per day you can relax in splendour by a rooftop pool and quaff cocktails like a celebrity.
Scuba Diving/Snorkelling Smack bang in the middle of a Marine National Park, Sihanoukville offers uncharted, virgin scuba dive sites with excellent visibility. Budget about $85 per dive.
Island Tour by Boat Surrounded by tropical islands the coast of Cambodia is probably best explored by sea and there are plenty of islands within day-trip distance on board “party boats”.
We have different departures to Cambodia throughout year. The January, April and September departures are for the full eight weeks, taking in all the sights and experiences you’ll find described on this page with plenty of downtime for you to explore the country as you please.
The five week program in July aims to pack as much into a shorter period as possible and is ideal for the gap between A-Levels and results day.
However, we are very flexible, so if you need to arrive late or leave early? No problem, get in touch and we'll help you sort something out.