Tell us about yourself and why you chose to move to Battambang in Cambodia…
I’m Robyn, a 34 year old Australian female. After living in London for 2 years, I lived in Cambodia for 6 months. I chose to move there to volunteer my time at an education NGO. A non-governmental organisation is a not-for-profit organisation.
How long have you been there?
6 months. I recently returned to Australia.
Did you need a visa? What was the process?
Cambodia has to be one of the easiest countries to get access to a visa. I arrived at the airport with $35 USD and 2 x passport photos and received a 1 month business visa immediately. A month later I renewed my visa for another 6 months by simply sending it away with $175 USD to the Cambodian embassy.
Did you move solo or with a significant other?
How did you get there? Is this the best way?
Moving to Battambang was a very last minute decision so my flight from Melbourne to Siem Reap was definitely not the quickest. It was 20+ hours including a long stop-over in Singapore. There aren’t any direct flights to Cambodia, so there are stop-overs in either Thailand, Singapore or Malaysia.
What were your first impressions?
Immediately upon arriving in the small, relaxed airport in Siem Reap I felt a very calm presence and knew that I would enjoy my time here. The people are amazing, always smiling!!
Where did you stay when you first arrived?
A house rented out by the CEO of our NGO.
How did you find a place to live?
I have been fortunate enough to be able to stay in the house rented by the CEO of our NGO as he has been out of the country so I have been able to skip this process. Other expats find accommodation through word of mouth, an internet group set up for expats or flyers in cafes. Some choose to live in serviced apartments and others in Khmer style houses.
What is your room or place like?
It is behind a Khmer hotel, so very nice with a mix of traditional Khmer and western feel.
What are your tips for others trying to find a place to live?
The best way for expats to find accommodation in Battambang is through the Google group “Battambang connect”.
How many places have you lived in since you’ve been there?
Just the one.
Where is your place in relation to the city centre?
It’s a great central location, right across the road from the central market.
Transport – how do you get around?
Push bikes are provided to us by our NGO. We hire mountain bikes on the weekend if we would like to venture out to the country or get tuk tuks. When travelling outside of Battambang you can either catch a bus or hire a driver.
This depends purely on how you decide to live here. You can live very cheaply here or you can spend a lot. Rent is between $250-$300USD. At a Khmer restaurant you can get a meal for as little as $1.50 or go to a western restaurant and spend up to $10-$15USD.
What are you doing for work?
I am an international volunteer in Finance for an Australian registered Education NGO.
Is the salary comparable to what you’ve earned elsewhere?
As I am a volunteer I only receive an allowance to cover the cost of living expenses.
How did you find the job?
How long did it take you to get a job after you arrived?
This process all happened from within Australia so I had the job before I arrived.
How much money did you have saved up before moving over?
This was a last minute decision so just used my existing savings for travelling. Living costs are covered by my allowance.
What tips do you have for others trying to get a job there?
Ethicaljobs.com or escapethecity.org are the two best websites if you are interested in volunteering.
What do you do after work and on the weekends?
Battambang is a small, quiet town. On weekends I could be either found sitting in a local café for hours on end or on a mountain bike exploring the countryside and many temples in the area.
Is this something you started when you moved overseas?
My lifestyle in Cambodia is a lot different to life in London or Australia generally.
How is your lifestyle different there?
It is much quieter here. Battambang is a small town so is a lot different to my normal lifestyle in the city.
What’s the weather like?
I arrived in the wet season so it’s cooler for the locals but it has been consistently 30+ with high humidity. There will be down pours of rain throughout the day at some point but normally only last an hour or so.
How did you make friends?
I spend the majority of my time with the other volunteers I work with.
What do you eat for dinner every night?
I eat out for lunch a lot so for dinner I will cook up some basic vegetables from the local market.
Do you eat out often?
I eat out everyday for lunch, breakfast on the weekends and sometimes for dinner.
While we’re on the topic, have you got any local favourite restaurants or activities we must try?
Battambang has some really nice western cafés run by other NGO’s including Kinyei café, Jaan Bai and The Kitchen. The best dumplings I have ever had can be found at the Chinese Noodle Man.
I recommend hiring a mountain bike or tuk tuk and exploring the country side, temples, pagodas and mountains outside of Battambang. A couple of fun tourist attractions to try are the Bamboo Train and the Bat cave at Phnom Sampov.
What are the biggest cultural differences?
Battambang is still very conservative so PDA is frowned upon so you will never see anyone holding hands.
What has been the most local experience you’ve had so far?
Besides working alongside some pretty incredible locals, I personally loved being a part of their local festivals. I was lucky enough to be in Battambang for their Water festival which brings thousands of people to town for markets, fireworks and lantern releasing. Oh and having my photo taken with the Governer of Battambang!
Where is home? How often do you travel there and why?
Australia. I didn’t travel back home during my 6 months in Cambodia.
What do you miss most about home?
My friends and family.
Do you think you’ll go back there to live?
Yes, I return to Australia in February but who knows what city I will end up in!
How do you feel about going home?
Excited but also a little scared, it can be tough going home after such an experience.
What’s been the best thing about this experience?
Definitely the locals, I came here thinking I was going to be helping them but from the first week I learned I was going to take more from them than I could ever give them.
What would you do differently?
Take Khmer lessons from the beginning and practice to be able to better communicate with the locals.
Hints and Tips… do you have any other tips for living and working abroad in Cambodia?
Research the town you will be living in before you arrive. Battambang is not for anyone that doesn’t like being isolated. Party animals would be better suited to Phnom Penh.
How do you know Jodie from Hoff to Explore?
I met her when I lived in London and she visited me in Battambang!
And lastly: describe living and working in Cambodia in one word!
Interview date: February 2017