The first time I came to Cambodia it was love at first sight. Everything about my first trip there, from being crammed into a taxi as it careened down bumpy roads honking the horn incessantly, to majestic temples of Angkor Wat, made me fall in love with a country that is filled an enigmatic mix of hope, survival, integrity and despair. The dusty roads will lead you to the most beautiful places that have a dark past, and the smiling faces you meet on the way will break your heart when you remember they have hungry bellies. Cambodia has a tumultuous past, but hope for a brighter future can be found in and out of the schools with energetic students eager to learn and practice their English.
After that first visit to Cambodia, I have traveled back three times in the past year. With each visit my love grew and just over a month ago I chose to relocate to Phnom Penh, Cambodia after living and working Thailand for a year. Phnom Penh has the convenience of a city, but the charms of a small town. I can go see a Western film and get lost in a local market place all in the same block. If you need unwind from the hustle and bustle of the city, you can go to the riverfront and relax in the shade or pop into one of the many pubs and catch up with the lively expat community. Whatever you chose to do, the traditional culture will follow behind like a loyal dog reminding you of where you are. Perhaps it will be a monk walking down the street barefoot for daily alms, or women dressed in ornate clothing whizzing by on the back of motorbikes or older men and women wearing checkered scarves on their head or waist. All of these things will warm your heart as you sip on some cold, fresh sugarcane juice available on every street corner.
Life in Cambodia is cheap! I spend only $3-4 per day on food. Good food. Not a cheap, fast food meal or frozen dinner, but good food made with local, fresh ingredients and bursting with flavor. I'm a vegetarian, and despite my limitations, I've eaten some of the best food here, ever. Fresh fruit is in abundance and I'm always drinking a fresh coconut. Vegetables overflow the markets and are easily cooked to sweet and spicy perfection served with a side of rice. Oh the rice! Rice gets such a bad rap by Westerners, but that is because they have never had STICKY RICE. Sticky rice is a gift from the Asian people and whoever thought of cooking sweet rice with coconut milk has my undying gratitude. Bamboo sticky rice, sticky rice with banana, sticky rice meats, sticky rice with beans and sticky rice with more coconut; the list goes on and a guarantee every singles creation is delicious, and cheap. If food isn't your weakness, maybe clothes are? There is so much to chose from at the markets and you won't spend more than $2-3 on a shirt. Check out the open-air markets and haggle. It's not rude. It's a way of life and trust me, you will get them to go down on the price and you will walk away feeling so much better about your purchase!
You want to travel? Cambodia has everything you would want to see in Asia. White sandy beaches, dense jungles, waterfalls, caves, mountains and the holy grail of all temples, Angkor Wat. So, maybe you have had a rough week of teaching and need to wind down on the beach? Sihanoukville has plenty, including my favorite, Otress Beach. A bungalow on the beach costs a mere $3/night and every morning you can wake up and take a dip in the warm, clear water. If you fancy some island hopping, Bamboo Island and Monkey island are popular destinations and desolate compared to the islands of Thailand; you won't have to share the beach with hundreds of other tourists! Or perhaps you prefer a trekking adventure in the jungle? Ratanakkiri and Mondulakiri provinces are off the beaten track and provide you with an incredible opportunity to visit the jungle and meet indigenous people still living their traditional way of life. You can hitch a ride with an elephant to some of the many beautiful waterfalls and take a dip to cool off! The Koh Kong province includes the mysterious Cardamon Mountains which haven't been fully explored. There is loads of outdoor activities there, like mountain biking, for the outdoor enthusiasts. And last, but certainly not least, the hundreds of Buddhists temples dotting the country including the World Heritage site, Angkor Wat, in Siem Reap province. This is not something to be missed and it is an honor to live in a country with such a beautiful piece of art. All the temples here are magnificent, but Angkor Wat takes the cake and the most ornate and intriguing of them all. Even though Angkor Wat is the main attraction, Siem Reap is a pleasant town on the river with a relaxing atmosphere.
Now, at this point, you might be wondering, what about the teaching? Well, I always save the best for last. Teaching here is such a privilege and a humbling experience. There are plenty of jobs available, including for first-time teachers. Teachers are in high demand here as parents and students realize the potential of speaking English and the importance of the language for lifting their country out of poverty. When you are teaching English here, you are not just helping your students, you are helping the whole country. Cambodia is still considered a third-world country, and many people survive on less than a $1 a day. When you come here and donate your time, whether as a volunteer or a paid teacher, you are making a direct impact in stabilizing the country and lifting it out of poverty. Knowing English leads to better jobs and opportunities to learn and work abroad, thus enabling young people to gain skills and knowledge to fix many of the problems that plague this country. Their smiling faces and determination make teaching such a joy. I am doing volunteer teaching here, and I am always humbled and amazed by the integrity of these kids who have struggled so much and yet have never lost hope and are motivated in their studies.
Why should you TEFL in Cambodia? Because they need you. There are so many people here bursting at the seams to learn English and would be so grateful for your help. The deal isn't so bad for you either: attentive students, beautiful beaches, green jungles, a World Heritage site and a cheap cost of living. So don't hesitate any more, do what I did and get your TEFL, scour the Wanted Ads(check out www.camhr.com and www.bongthom.com) and come to Cambodia and start making your dreams come true!
Hey everyone! If you're itching to go to Cambodia and start changing lives, including your own, please vote for my "Come TEFL With Me..." by leaving a comment that says "I vote this one"! This competition has now closed.
Thank you very much! ("Akoon Tran" in Khmer)