Oct 23 2012
You’re touring around Asia, having a whale of a time I hope, but fancy settling your travel-weary bones down in one place for a little while. It could be time to time out, sit back, breathe and reflect on everything that you’ve seen and experienced so far, the people you’ve met, the highs, and lows, the long bus journeys. And Siem Reap is a great place to do that. If you’ve got the right background, or just the determination to work hard, and good timing, who knows what might turn up.
For example, if you’re a yoga teacher, artist, musician, alchemist, dancer, permaculturalist, administrator, or simply have your own special gifts and talents to give, then Hariharalaya Retreat Centre is interested in hearing from you right now. They have positions for resident community staff who can commit to a minimum of two months, and in exchange of 25 to 30 hours of work per week they offer free room, board and participation in their many programmes (yoga, meditation, and much more).
Hariharalaya Meditation Retreat Centre is gorgeous. Surrounded by lush, green countryside about 15 kilometres east of Siem Reap, it’s in the area beside Bakong temple, which was the first state temple of the Khmer Empire and is flanked by rich forests and small villages. It is a place where the pace of life is naturally slower, where rhythms are dictated by the changing seasons and rise and fall of the sun and the moon.
The retreat centres around a large wooden house which has rooms for guests, a big airy commune area with a library, collection of musical instruments and a massive kitchen that churns out the most delicious vegan food. In the grounds around the main building, you’ll find the yoga/meditation area, a creativity zone, meditation huts, dormitories, a mud bath, jungley fruit and vegetable gardens – all created following permaculture principles – an outdoor jungle gym, a tree-platform (perfect for evening cocktails) and so much more. Check it out.
That’s not your only option if you fancy hanging around for a while though. Siem Reap seems to be one of those places that draws out the inner settler within nomads, for a little while anyway. The expat population feels like it has exploded in the last few years (or, at least, I no longer recognise anyone in The Warehouse anymore, but that may be a sign of old age and failing eyesight) and is chiefly made up of people working in hospitality and tourism, for NGOs, teachers, and those who’ve taken the plunge and set up their own businesses to meet the growing tourism market. You’d be surprised at the range of professions that can fit in here.
Provided you have a visa for the time you stay — which would be a business visa, which you can apply for either on arrival ($25, instead of $20 for a tourist visa), or convert your tourist visa after the first month has expired — working in Cambodia is incredibly, some might say absurdly, easy and uncomplicated. There are regulations on work permits, which should be managed by the hirer and you can discuss that with them as everyone seems to have their own approach to this issue. You should also register with the local immigration police, which helps them to help you in case you should ever need it.
Looking for jobs, keep an eye on the Phnom Penh Post and Cambodia Daily pages, as they often advertise positions. You could also ask to join the Siem Reap Job Posting page on Facebook, and the Siem Reap Expats and Locals Living in Siem Reap page too, though I warn you now, if you ever had any romantic notions about what it means to be an expat, prepare for them to be shattered. And, most importantly, talk to people. Talk to the people who own or run your guesthouse, talk to a tuk tuk driver, barmen and waiters — in expat bars preferably. Find an expat, buy them a drink (red wine for me) and talk to them too. Serendipity has a funny way of happening if you actually look for it rather than wait for it to find you.
It should be noted that short-term volunteering at an orphanage should not be considered an option unless you are a social worker, qualified teacher or have some other specific skill(s) that you can, ideally, teach to the staff who are already there. Cambodia’s children are not tourist attractions, and their privacy, security, emotional well-being and futures are profoundly compromised by the burgeoning, unregulated ‘voluntourism’ industry. There are other options for those who want to help, such as giving blood at the children’s hospitals (perfectly clean and safe!), raising funds or skills sharing. There are some organisations that can guide you in the right direction, and Concert is definitely worth talking to if you’re interested in pursuing this avenue.
Finally, good luck!
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