PMGY volunteer in Cambodia participants are based 90 minutes away from Phnom Penh in the Takeo Province. Get ready for rural village life as you are based in a small local community during your volunteer placement.
Set along the banks of the mighty Mekong, Phnom Penh, Cambodia’s capital, is the Asia many people dream about as well as an attack on the senses. And that’s all part of the attraction! From the glimmering spires of the Royal Palace to the trendy café culture, the city is one of the hippest in the region and fast becoming an essential feature in the itinerary of anyone travelling to South East Asia.
Participants generally volunteer on a Monday-Friday basis and the weekends are free to relax or travel further afield. As our volunteers will testify, the wider travel opportunities are extremely important to the whole experience and it is something we certainly recommend. Our local team are able to arrange activities, transport and accommodation but please note this is usually an independent experience outside of the core program.
S-21 (TUOL SLENG) PRISON
Today, S-21 Prison is known as the Tuol Sleng Museum of Genocide. This prison was the Khmer Rouge’s primary interrogation and extermination centre, designed to purge anti-Khmer Rouge elements from the new society Pol Pot and his henchmen began ruthlessly creating. Before the 1975-79 regime, the building was a school. The prison cells contain a variety of information about the history of the Khmer Rouge, victims of the S-21 prison and an insight into what went on behind the prison gates.
Choeung Ek, commonly known as the ‘Killing Fields’, is where thousands of Khmer Rouge prisoners were executed and buried. It is particularly harrowing when you discover the sheer scope of the atrocities that took place. We suggest that you watch the film ‘The Killing Fields’ by Roland Joffé and read ‘First They Killed My Father’ by Loung Ung and ‘Year Zero’ by Francois Ponchaud. These will give you a strong insight as to what happened in Cambodia during these torrid years and heighten your experience of visiting Tuol Sleng prison.
The Royal Palace is located opposite the ever present Tonle Sap River. Although not as large and impressive as the Grand Palace in Bangkok, Phnom Penh’s Royal Palace is still a point of immense beauty. The Silver Pagoda is simply brilliant and the surrounding gardens are extremely beautiful. It’s best to visit the temple first thing in the morning whilst it’s cooler and before the large tour groups arrive and end up in every photo you take! Be warned you must cover your shoulders and knees in order to gain access.
Located just north of the Royal Palace, the National Museum of Cambodia is housed in a graceful terracotta structure of traditional design (built from 1917 to 1920), with an inviting courtyard garden. The museum houses one of the world’s largest collections of Khmer art, including sculptural, Khmer ceramics, bronzes, and ethnographic objects. Its collection includes over 14,000 items, from prehistoric times to periods before, during and after the Khmer Empire. This is a must visit to get the vibe of the city and country, for any visitor.
SUNRISE BY THE TONLE SAP
If you’re not out too late the night before and fancy a bit of exercise, then head down to the Tonle Sap river front and join the masses of early morning Cambodian exercise enthusiasts. From as early as 4am you will find literally hundreds of local residents carrying out a whole range of exercises by the river front. These include group aerobics, badminton, football and general stretching. The atmosphere is brilliant, the weather is mild and to top it off you will see the majestic sunrise over the Tonle Sap.
A cool thing to do in Phnom Penh is to take a river cruise along the Tonle Sap and enjoy some beautiful views of the city. You can even visit a floating village. Prices are usually negotiable so it’s a good idea to bargain in advance. There are also a number of tours such as bicycle, food and photography tours. Cooking classes are always a fun activity to get involved in, you can get a massage or even watch a movie. Flicks movie house is a wooden Cambodian house with a beautiful terrace, you can grab some popcorn and watch a movie outdoors!
This Angkor temple complex in Siem Reap is simply stunning. The 500-acre site is one of the largest religious monuments in the world and represents the architectural pinnacle of the Khmer Empire. Originally dedicated to the Hindu god Vishnu, it has been a place of worship since it’s founding in the 12th century. Thought to be a mini replica of the universe, its composition of towers, moats and walls reveal an architectural sophistication. The town of Siem Reap is a fantastic location offering visitors a range of facilities and a buzzing nightlife.
If you are looking to hit the beach and party then Sihanoukville is the place for you. Serendipity beach is the most popular stretch of beach consisting of a number of restaurants and bars across the seafront. There are a plenty of affordable guesthouses in the area as well. Seafood lovers will be spoilt for choice by the beachside barbecues where you can pick up a barracuda for only a few dollars a plate! There are a number of places you can go snorkelling and scuba diving, and for a more laid back beach break try Otres beach nearby.
Founded as a seaside retreat for the French elite in 1908 and a favoured haunt of Cambodian high-rollers in the 1960s, the sleepy seaside town of Kep is perfect for those looking for some peace and quiet. It’s more of a place to hang out and relax but there’s still a few cool things to do, including Kep National Park, Phnom Kampong Trach Cave, a butterfly farm and some interesting local markets. The main attraction from Kep is Koh Tonsay (aka Rabbit Island). Here you can dive, see beautiful fish or relax on the pristine beaches under a coconut tree.