Soak up spell-binding ancient culture, surround yourself with elephants and sample tongue-tingling exotic flavours whilst helping Cambodia recover from a turbulent past. The brutal Khmer Rouge regime of the 70s led to the massacre of millions of innocent people, and plunged the country into deep poverty with a two-decade civil war.
Miraculously what has emerged is a peaceful, verdant land with arms outstretched to visitors. Over the course of this Leap you’ll live in the backyard of the Eighth Wonder of the World, take in the neon-tinted raves of ‘Pub Street’, paddle in crystal clear seas and walk with the largest mammals on Earth.
But we guarantee that it will be the unbreakable spirit and inspiring optimism of Cambodia’s people that stays with you the longest.
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 of 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 help to 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.
The CDO was founded by a local Cambodian in 2006, who’s mission was to ‘lift these children out of extreme poverty and provide them with stability, care and a good education.’ And so his orphanage was born, where we take great pride in helping year after year.
These vulnerable kids require a loving and energetic care team (that’s you) to meet their emotional needs as well as patient teachers (you again) to practise their english, maths and science – giving them a brighter future and equip them with the tools to gaining employment.
In addition to this you‘ll also provide the manpower needed to keep up with the renovations needed to keep this ‘a comfortable home not just a refuge’.
The ELMA School trust was set up in memory of Alice Elma Thomson, a brave, bright and beautiful woman who was loved and respected by many. Her daughter, Jacquie Lawrence, founded the orphanage and school in 2006 in her memory. ELMA stands for Education, Love, Motivation and Action.
It is located in the peaceful rural village of Sambour, just outside Siem Reap. Their mission is to provide free education and a home for orphaned or disadvantaged children. Here it is hoped you will help with teaching English, sport and creative arts.
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 amongst the women of the community to help with other income generating schemes such as basket weaving and making incense sticks – new ideas always welcome.
Let Us Create (LUC) is a day center providing nutritional food, clean drinking water, educational lessons and a creative outlet for over 100 registered children who would otherwise scavenge through garbage bins or sell souvenirs to tourists on the beach to help support their family.
These identified children come to the LUC center every day where they are given breakfast and lunch in a safe environment, where the children can learn, play, be creative, challenge themselves, have fun and grow into happy, healthy young adults.
The working days at LUC are not strictly structured and generally responsive to the needs of kids and skills brought by volunteers. However on most days you‘ll be teaching English, sport and dance to the kids, helping prepare their food, taking the kids on outings, helping in the art gallery and monitoring the health of these little ones.
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 four different teams departing for Cambodia each year: January, April, July and September. Typically programs are ten weeks long, 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 exception to this is the July departure date, which is a six-week program and aims to pack as much into that shorter period as possible. It's an ideal fit for that gap between A-Level exams and results day, or for those on university summer holidays.
Want to join a ten-week program in January, April, or September and leave early? No problem, get in touch and we'll help you sort something out.