Volunteering in Cambodia. What is it like to work in a hotel on an island paradise?

Volunteering in Cambodia. What is it like to work in a hotel on an island paradise? cover 2

As you may know, I volunteered abroad three times. The first was during my studies in Saint Petersburg, Russia, the second on a farm in California, USA and the last one – teaching kids and adults English in Thailand. I would like to show you the topic of volunteering as well as possible so I invite other bloggers and travelers to share their experience.

Today Hania from HiHa blog tells us a story of her volunteering in Cambodia. She worked in a hotel on an island paradise! 🙂

How To Volunteer Abroad?

Volunteering in Cambodia in Asia

volunteering in Cambodia

Why did you decide to volunteer in Cambodia?

First of all, we needed holidays from our holidays. A year before with my husband Piotrek we set off for a hitchhiking journey around the world.

It happened to us before a couple of times that we stopped on the way (for example on a very random volunteering in Kyrgyzstan where we only planned to spend Christmas and ended up staying one month cooking and organizing Christmas for the poor). After a few months of intense sightseeing in Central Asia and China we dreamed of… routine!

It has to be one of the most unusual reasons to look for volunteer opportunities in Cambodia 😉

How did you end up in a hotel on an island paradise?

volunteering in Cambodia

Our budget didn’t include paying for such websites as workaway, wwoof or housesitting. I found all possible Facebook groups to look for volunteer work in Cambodia. On one of them, I found an offer in a hotel on Koh Rong Samloem island. They were looking for a bartender and a gardener.

A lot of hotels around need English-speaking staff. First of all I browsed the Internet for reviews and opinions, I talked to the current staff to make sure most of the jobs are kept for the locals and we will not take work from them. Some Cambodia volunteer programs do that and it is not sustainable at all.

Additionally – except for the standard accommodation and food, for 5 hours of work we got unlimited free drinks and fruits. How awesome is that? 😉

What were you doing while volunteering in Cambodia?

volunteering in Cambodia - working place

Piotrek’s responsibilities during the 6 weeks we spent doing volunteer work in Cambodia evolved from gardener, through garden designer to construction manager. He cut, re-planted and arranged the plants, put flowers around the houses, recovered parts of the garden covered in jungle and laid foundations for new villas.

He often started his work at 5 am to be able to enjoy his time in a beach bar with a ventilator during the worst heat.

I mostly worked in the beach bar. Sometimes in the morning, serving coffee and fruit cocktails. Sometimes in the evening – it was fun because I could let my imagination go wild and experiment with colorful drinks.

As the bar was also a reception desk and a restaurant, I often was a waiter and receptionist, I was taking physical inventory and placed orders.

After some time I also started taking guests for tours around the island, from the jungle through snorkeling to night observations of glowing plankton. I don’t know who had more fun 🙂

What were you doing after work?

volunteering in Cambodia - after work

It was up to us. We could be guests of the resort, use the snorkeling equipment, walk around the beach, read books.

Together with other guests we could go to an interesting place on the island (if there was a tour organized for the guests we could take it for free). We could use the kitchen (do you know how great it is to have a stove, proper frying pan and fridge after one year of cooking in a small pot on touristic gas stove?!). We could connect with the locals – or simply spend time with each other.

What were the biggest challenges of volunteering in Cambodia?

volunteering in Cambodia

Without a doubt, the biggest challenge of this work for me was khmernglish. The cook or cleaning ladies to whom I had to pass guests’ orders and wishes reacted to everything with a big smile and an understanding, happy “OK!”. In real life, they knew only a few words in English – not the ones I just used! Realizing this took me a couple of frustrating days.

Feeling good in an environment totally different from the one we are used to in Europe was a great opportunity. It included not only communication with the co-workers but also adjusting to their priorities and work style. Considering that most of the guests were from the west – here the real culture juggling begins!

Another inconvenience in South-East Asia was local fauna – a spider under the toilet seat, a gecko in the shower, ants in your keyboard. And this is nothing in comparison to a lizard, wannabe-suicider, which kept going inside my blender.

I loved thinking about these existential issues looking at the laguna from a hammock in our private villa (!!!), eating just-fished oysters and drinking an ice-cold piña colada…

About the author


Hania – a linguist, backpacker, sleepyhead. One day (with one Piotrek and two backpacks) she left the house, hitchiked – and since then continues east, long enough for it to become west. She communicates in languages she doesn’t know, tries food she can’t name and dances to street artists’ music. On her blog HiHa.pl you can find adventure, sarcasm, hitchhiking, exotic stories and unicorns – all under one roof, usually of a tent.

Check this practical post about organizing your volunteering time. And if you feel like reading more volunteering stories, check the articles below 🙂

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