Phnom Penh was once known as the “Pearl of Asia,” and today it’s your oyster for volunteering projects. Even with its tumultuous past in the 1970s, Phnom Penh continues to rise from the ashes to revive its culture and status. Make no mistake — with its spiral temples, French colonial landmarks, celebratory festivals, and steamed pork buns, you’ll relish the sights and smells here. The city has its share of difficulties, but your contribution will be another step towards revival. Volunteer abroad in Phnom Penh to help improve the lives of the locals in this beautiful city!
How to Volunteer in Phnom Penh
When you volunteer abroad in Phnom Penh, you’ll gain hands-on experience that will make for an impressive resume (some volunteer programs even double as internship placements!). Not to mention you’ll be making a difference. Cambodia’s capital city offers a plethora opportunities in a variety of areas for volunteers from reforestation to construction to legal matters and more.
Popular causes/projects in Phnom Penh. Unfortunately, poverty in Phnom Penh is prevalent with a high youth population, and healthcare and education are lacking. English teachers are in high demand, orphanages desperately need more assistance, and public health workshops need lecturers. Cambodia also suffers from high illiteracy rates and high HIV/AIDS cases, so you can also assist in fighting these problems.
Short term volunteer programs in Phnom Penh. If you’re short on time and looking to save money, many weekly, monthly, and summer programs are available, especially in social work. For those interested in summer programs, just an FYI: The climate in Phnom Penh is fairly hot and humid all year with the rainy season running from May to October. It’s recommended, however, for volunteers to stay long as possible to maximize their impact and for cultural immersion.
Long term volunteer projects in Phnom Penh. By staying longer than six months to a year or multiple years, you’ll get the most out of your Cambodian riels. With short-term programs you only see the culture on the surface, but by staying longer, you delve deep into learning about this country from a local’s perspective. You’ll also have more opportunities to travel to neighboring countries and practice the local language of Khmer.
Life in Phnom Penh for Volunteers
Most of your days will be filled with hard, rewarding work, but in your free time, you’ll discover unique surroundings and buzzing activities. You can stroll through French colonial villas, see the view from over 30,000 feet at Vattanac Capital Tower, and tour museums to learn about its history. Phnom Penh hosts several festivals throughout the year, from Chaul Chnam Thmey in April (a big water party celebrating the new year) to the Water Festival in November with colorful boat races and fireworks.
You’ll also want to explore its architectural kaleidoscope from the ornate gilding of the Royal Palace, the gleaming silver floors of the Silver Pagoda, and the inviting terracotta structure of the National Museum of Cambodia. Browse the jewelry and clothing in Psar Thmei (Central Market), slurp noodle soup in one of its restaurants, and watch a traditional dance show in Cambodian Living Arts building.
GoAbroad Insider Tips
Phnom Penh is not as dangerous as most think it is, but it’s important that you remain cautious. Take care to always keep your smartphone and bags with you at all times, as these types of robberies are common, especially with tourists being targets in most cases. Don’t stare at your smartphone when you’re walking around, as this is an easy way for it to get snatched. Also, don’t keep your valuables in hotel/guest house safes, as they can be open relatively easy. If you’re on a motorbike or tuk tuk, keep your belongings in between your legs.
Scams are also very common — avoid beggars posing as monks in grey robes in the riverfront area, Psmar Thei, and Russian Market. Scammers will usually begin a conversation praising your clothing and asking you where you’re from, and they may even invite you to your house. If this happens, say that you’re leaving soon and that a chauffeur is waiting for you. Your program will have support staff to brief you (usually during orientation) on the best ways to avoid being a victim of robberies and scams.
With all that said, Cambodia’s charming palaces, fascinating history, friendly locals, and savory foods will make for a memorable international experience. Additionally, with a low cost of living, available homestay accommodations, and prevalent public transportation, you won’t be breaking the bank by volunteering here. By changing other people’s lives, they’ll change yours in the process as well by volunteering in Phnom Penh.
Want more? Read our comprehensive guide on volunteering abroad in Cambodia.