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Greenway Cambodia

VOLUNTEER PROGRAMS, TRAVEL AND WORK IN CAMBODIA

FAQ’S

Before you arrive

1. Can I come on my own or do I have to come as part of a group?

You are welcome to come either with a group, a friend, family or on your own. If you are coming on your own don’t worry, you will make lots of great friends while you are with us.

2. How old do I have to be?

Generally 18 or older, and there is no upper age limit. In the end it depends on which options you choose for instance, we run school exchange programs, voluntary projects and adventure opportunities, each with very different demands mentally and physically.

However, we do have younger children stay with us who accompany their parents and if in doubt, please check with us first before booking.

As mentioned, there is no upper age limit, we are finding our programs are becoming increasingly popular with many mature guests, some of retirement age and a good number a lot older.

3. What should I bring?

A smile and a positive attitude are the most important things, but as for clothes our general advice is to travel light and avoid heavy luggage which weighs you down. In the end most things can be bought here for much cheaper prices than back home. If you bring sufficient clothes for a few days it is generally easier and cheaper to find a laundry service.

Whilst there are distinct wet and dry seasons it is advisable to have some light rainwear with you regardless of the time of year, a rain poncho or umbrella will come in handy, but once again, both can be purchased inexpensively here.

Other clothing you bring depends upon the time of year of your visit as Cambodia has 4 seasons.

November to February is cool and dry with mid day temperatures in the mid 20's centigrade, and night times below 20. If you join our project in Samraong, which is in the Dângrêk mountains in north western Cambodia, night temperatures can drop to about 16 degrees.

These are regarded as the best months from a weather view point, the downside is it is also peak season with a massive influx of tourists.

March to May are very hot and dry, but with sporadic showers. Temperatures hit high 30's in April, especially inland, but coastal areas can still be bearable.

June to August is hot and wet as the monsoon rains start in May and June, cooling a little the hot, humid air. Happily the rains are very predictable, falling afternoons or evenings, and lasting mostly for no longer than a couple of hours. However, in coastal areas the rains can be more frequent and may last much longer.

September to November is cool and wet with the rains ceasing in late October. Temperatures during the day are falling from mid 30's to below 30, a very pleasant time of year to visit, especially as it is before all the tourists arrive!

Hopefully that brief overview of the weather will give you some idea of what to pack, but before moving onto a minimal list to bring, let me say that comfortable sandals are a must. They should be easy to slip on and off, as shoes are always taken off before entering someone's home or a religious place.

Here's the list:

  • Protective measures against mosquitoes, you might consider a net for your bed but that can be purchased here. See our comments below under health concerns to be aware of.

  • Your mobile phone (it is easy to buy a local SIM-card for your mobile phone)

  • Something from your country, just small gifts, (posters, music, postcards, map, video, food) to introduce you to your hosts and the other participants.

  • Medicines you may require and especially if you have to take specific medicines on a regular basis, bring them along. Also you can bring a small simple first aid kit with yourself.

  • Toilet paper (not provided in our centers or homes as we do not use it )

  • A sleeping bag: just in case required.

  • A torch.

  • A photo or video camera (essential for good memories!)

  • Sun tan/Sun screen lotion.

  • Hat

  • Swimming costume / bathing trunks

It is also advisable that you have photocopies of your passport / visa and also insurance and tickets.

But most of all bring along lots of enthusiasm, goodwill and most of all the smile.

4. Will you send me any information before I arrive?

Yes, we will send you a pre departure info pack based on the information you give and the options you have chosen. It will inform you how and where you will be met at the airport and escorted to the project.

5. Do I need a visa?

Yes, a visa is required for all foreign nationals entering Cambodia (except nationals from Laos, Malaysia, Philippines, Singapore, Vietnam, Thailand and Indonesia, who are exempt).

There are two alternatives, either a tourist visa (US$20) or a business visa (US$25), both issued for one month. Which one you choose depends upon the length of your stay, a tourist visa can be extended only once and only for one month, and does not allow for re-entry. On the other hand, a business visa is easily extended for longer periods and allows for multiple entries and exits..

But before you start on the visa trail, ensure that your passport has at least 6 months validity, if not a new passport would be advisable.

Assuming your passport is in order, you have a number of options, with most visitors deciding to obtain their visa upon arrival at Phnom Penh and Siem Reap airports, or at one of the land border crossings. As this is the favoured way to obtain a visa the problem can be a substantial wait upon arrival.

There is also the added hazard, if using a land border for entry, of substantial overcharging by immigration officials, it really is worth planning ahead. A passport sized photo will be required, if you do not have one a "fine" may well be imposed!

An easier option is an online e-visa (US$25) which can be obtained through the Ministry of Foreign Affairs (www.mfaic.gov.kh), or Cambodian Embassies in your home country will issue visas BEFORE you leave your country.

Whether you obtain a tourist or business visa, if you stay longer than 30 days you will require an extension, which can be done officially or unofficially, with the latter the quicker but slightly more expensive option. A number of travel agents and also motor bike rental shops in Phnom Penh can help with visa extensions.

6. What insurance do I need?

Comprehensive travel insurance is advisable to cover you for at least medical expenses and your personal belongings. Unfortunately, we are not able to assist with your insurance so please make arrangements before you leave your home country.

7. Any advice on exchanging money and using credit cards?

The first thing to do before you leave home is to tell your bank and credit card companies the dates that you will be in Cambodia, if you do not their fraud protection may well cut off your cards the first time they are used in Asia.

US Dollars are accepted in most places and it is a good idea to have a small amount with you, say $50 to $100, in cash.

As for local currency, the airport upon your arrival, is as good a place as any to obtain Cambodian Riels. There are numerous bureaus where you can exchange cash or travellers cheques and you should find the rates are all fairly compatible. During your stay, if you do find someone offering a rate too good to be true, it is most probably just that, too good to be true! Be very careful, you are most likely in grave danger of getting ripped off.

ATM's are everywhere that take Cirrus and Plus but care is also needed here as this may not be the cheapest way to exchange your home currency into Riels, do your homework before you leave and find out the bank charges.

As for credit cards, Visa and Master Card are taken almost everywhere across Asia but American Express may be a bit more difficult, except in the more up market hotels and restaurants.

8. What is included?

  • Accommodation and meals

All accommodation is included during your stay on our program within the schedules / itineraries provided. Accommodation will be comfortable, clean and is single gender, either twin or dorm style, with adequate bathroom and toilet facilities including running water/ shower.

Single supplements are provided at an extra charge. 3 good meals are also provided every day of the program, and on weekends only brunch and dinner, our menu is strictly vegetarian. If you do choose to eat outside the centre, food is incredibly cheap in Asia, the average meal costing 2-3 Euros.

Weekends you are free to relax and explore the local area.

  • Program Schedule

A full program will be provided, with the assistance of a coordinator, but we always stress that schedules may have to be altered, sometimes at short notice, due to many factors.

  • Program Support

Throughout your stay, you will have the support and guidance of our local program coordinators, who will provide you with competent assistance and help with anything that you may need. We will also provide you with a 24 hour emergency telephone number so that a member of our team can always be reached in the event of an emergency.

9. What is not included?

  • Air Flights

You will need to arrange flights to arrive ahead of your program start date and advise us at least 2 weeks before where you are arriving and when, both the time and date. Upon arrival at the airport you will be met by a representative and transferred to either a hotel (in the event your flight arrives very late in the evening or night) or to the program site by comfortable public transport.

  • Miscellaneous stuff

  • There is a Pickup charge for less than a 2 week stay of 50 Euro per Pickup

  • As mentioned above, all meals are provided at the house however, if you choose to eat outside this will be at your own expense.

  • A private room needs to be booked in advance and if available has an extra charge for 50 Euro per week per person.

  • If you decide to change programs there maybe an extra charge, if we are able to accommodate.

  • The centers do not have washing machines therefore you will need to wash clothes by hand however, in some locations outside laundry services are available, at an extra charge.

  • As mentioned above in question 6, insurance is not included, please make your own arrangements.

10. What happens if my fight or bus is delayed and I cannot make the agreed arrival time?

The Green Lion Cambodia staff will be checking arrival times and be aware of any changes which are made to your flight or bus. For your own peace of mind we advise calling the emergency contact number, when arriving late.

11. Will I have to arrange my own travel?

We have largely covered this in question 9. but just to reiterate a little further. As soon as you tell us your travel plans (at least two weeks in advance) on how and when you are arriving into the country we will arrange where and when to meet you. This may be at Siem Reap airport or perhaps at a border crossing, and whilst you are with us we will ensure all your travel with us is taken care of. We can also assist with booking any weekend travel you wish to make.

12. What will I eat and drink while I am with you?

All of our centers serve a pure vegetarian menu which are on rotation, which means you will not have the same food over and over again. We also have safe filtered water and strongly advise you to drink only from bottled water whilst out of the centre, unless our staff advise otherwise. At our Cambodia center, a small shop is available outside, selling many basic commodities.

13. What should I wear? Is there a dress code?

Although your dress code depends on which project you choose and what time of year it is, you should bear in mind some basic points.

It is best to observe how local people dress and copy them, they will take this as a great complement and a sign of respect for their culture.

The locals do tend to dress more conservatively than most westerners and the safest choice of clothes to bring is "smart casual."

Whenever you go into a temple ladies MUST cover their shoulders and knees, and basically the more that is covered the better. Carrying in your bag a large scarf to cover shoulders and arms and a sarong for the legs, is a good idea. For men it is also best to cover as much as possible in a religious site.

Consider bringing some formal wear, and here we are not talking about tuxedos, evening dresses and tiaras. What we are recommending is a minimum of a decent pair of trousers and smart shirt for the guys and a smart / casual dress or trouser combination for the girls.

And the reason? Firstly, you will notice early in your visit that family ties are strong in Cambodia and also families are very extended.

Next, we have the unmistakable fact that there are a number of colourful and meaningful ceremonies to mark the passage from birth, to puberty, marriage, childbirth and death, and each family could very well have a number of such occasions each year.

As you will have the opportunity to meet and work closely with people locally, there is a possibility you will receive an invite to one or more of these ceremonies, and just in case it happens to you, come prepared.

Orphanage... 

14. Do you have mosquito nets in the house?

No, this is something you will need to bring with you, or as mentioned above, buy here.

15. Do the centers have washing machines?

No, you will be washing your clothes by hand.

16. How will I keep in contact with my friends and family?

Whether you choose a local internet café or one of the numerous international phone boxes, you will have no problem reaching loved ones.  We will also show you where the post office is and advise you about sending packages overseas if you wish to do so. 

As for your mobile phone, we can help you buy a local SIM card or even buy a new mobile phone (as using a mobile phone from outside of the country can become very expensive or may not work). This can make it easier to keep in touch with other volunteer friends you may make, handy for those spur of the moment adventures, or for calling a taxi.

17. What we expect from you?

Our programs are designed for proactive individuals, and groups. Those who will undoubtedly obtain the greatest rewards for their efforts, will keep in mind one precept with volunteer work, which is the more you put in, the more you get out. That is number one.

Number two is to smile and be patient. Remember that working in this part of the world is very different to your home country, Cambodians view time from a much more flexible perspective than most westerners, and regard our obsession with making appointments and punctuality rather quaint.  

For this and a number of other reasons the scheduling and activities of our programs are subject to change, but this is part of what makes overseas travelling the interesting adventure and incredible learning experience that it is.

It will make your stay with us far more pleasant for yourself, and everyone around you, if you can try and leave at home any western obsession with punctuality you may have. Life is lived at a slower, more relaxed pace here which means events may not start on time or people arrive when planned.  

Do not become annoyed, let politeness and calmness be your mantra, it is better to take a deep breath, you will be amazed that things do tend to work out, all be it not quite as planned, but more often for the better! 

18. Can I stay longer?

You will probably want to, and we will do our very best to help, but it may not be easy as it will depend upon the availability of accommodation and places on your chosen project. 

Obviously the more notice you can give us if you wish to change or extend your trip the better however, for the reasons stated, we cannot guarantee we will be able to accommodate any changes to your original booking.

There is also your visa to consider, please see the answer to question 5 above.

19. Can I get drunk at the centers, guest houses or at the host family house?

We do not allow drinking inside our centre's and ask you to respect that drinking alcohol in a host family home would be disrespectful if it is not the family offering, this also applies for guest houses. 

However, we do want people to be able to relax and unwind or be able to get ready for a night out, after all you are on holiday, all be it of a working nature. So, light drinking of alcohol outside the centre's buildings, whilst in the centre compounds, is allowed.

Please talk with your centre staff as some centre's have restrictions on times and locations. This also applies for smoking.

20. Can I smoke cannabis?

The categoric answer to this is NO.  All drugs (unless prescription) are illegal, anyone caught with drugs or "doing" drugs in anyway will be asked to leave the centre on the spot and without refund.

Please, please, do not in any way even consider bringing drugs into Cambodia or purchasing them when you are here, you will get involved in a world that is far from safe and ultimately very unpleasant. If you are caught, you will discover your treatment very different to what it would be back home. 

Do not expect to be considered innocent until proven guilty, do not expect quick access to your embassy, instead you may well meet some new friends in an unsanitary, overcrowded cell in Prey Sar prison, and foreigners here are the lucky ones compared to some. In fact expats and tourists languishing in prison, will consider themselves lucky to those who often achieve posthumous notoriety. Khmer newspapers seem to take great delight in publishing  gory post-mortem photos of foreigners who have met an untimely end through drug abuse, perhaps not the holiday photos you would wish to be remembered by?  

And some general stuff

21. Are there any health concerns I need to be aware of?

It is recommended that you visit your GP, personal physician or a travel health clinic 4 to 8 weeks before your departure to Cambodia and bring a record of all vaccinations on an International Certificate of Vaccination, which should be kept with your travel documents. 

The list of recommended vaccinations may seem long but many travellers have received these inoculations already, and only require booster injections from time to time

  • Diphtheria and tetanus  
  • Hepatitis A & B
  • Typhoid
  • Japanese B Encephalitis
  • Polio
  • Rabies
  • Tuberculosis
  • Yellow Fever

 I would stress, please check with your own GP. 

Cambodia is not a high-risk area for malaria and tablets can be considered controversial. Most foreigners living in this part of the world do not take anti malarial tablets, instead most use a DEET based mosquito repellent and cover up with a long sleeve shirt and trousers, especially early mornings and evenings.

Dengue fever is another mosquito borne illness to be aware of and it is   recommended that you do some research and make your own decision on this. 

You might want to bring a prescription of Keflex, or another type of oral antibiotic that can help with stomach ailments. Even though the places you eat will be clean and hygienic, there is always a chance of upset stomachs, often depending upon how delicate your constitution, but the problem normally passes quickly with suitable medication.

22.  What will happen if I fall sick and need to visit a hospital?

All our projects are located no more than forty minutes away from the nearest hospital. Should you require surgical medical treatment you will be taken to Siem Reap, or in extreme cases Bangkok.  

23. What is the weather like?

We have covered the weather in some detail in question 3, "what should I bring?" 

Whilst there are 4 seasons, the year divides into a dry season from late October to April and a wet season from May into October. 

The wet season brings 75% of the annual rainfall with the rain tending to fall very heavily for a few hours each day, with all day downpours occurring occasionally. Whilst getting very wet is a distinct possibility during these months, the rain can also make travelling very difficult, turning roads into mud tracks.  

The plus side of the rainy season is no dust (it is mud!), amazingly lush greenery and fewer tourists to bother you; if you do not like crowds the wet season could be for you.

I will take advantage of the fact that I am in the driving seat of this Q&A, and state that the rainy season is my own personal favourite time of year. The vegetation is a lush, deep green and the air is clear and fresh after the rain, making this not only a comfortable season but also a very photogenic one. 

November to January is considered the cool season with temperatures around high 20 degrees C, rising to a peak during the dry season of high 30's in April / May. This is also the time of year you are likely to experience the highest humidity and also an increased number of tourists.

24. How do I get around?

Our strong advice is to only use the transport we provide however, if you have the urge to venture off alone or in groups either use a bus or hire a taxi.

We would certainly not advise you to hire a motor bike during your stay. Driving a car in Cambodia is challenging, riding a bike should only be undertaken by very experienced riders on a dirt or road bike, no smaller than 250 cc. 

Even then we would advise against it. The roads, especially outside the main towns, can be in a dangerous condition, especially during the rainy season. If you then add to this:

  • speeding taxis
  • other road users riding towards you on the wrong side of the road
  • slow cows
  • pedestrians who just wander out into the road
  • and many more, especially if travelling at night (many locals do not seem to need lights!)

If you enjoy walking to explore an area, caution is needed (see next question "Is Cambodia safe?" In view of the risk of land mines stick to exploring the town and only use well trodden paths.

25. Is Cambodia safe?

Our simple answer to this is "yes" but with the added caution that the holiday mood should not let you drop your guard too much, you need to always exercise caution. 

Let's consider 4 aspects to the answer of this question; theft & general threats to your personal safety, terrorism, land mines and lastly beggars, which you will find is more of a nuisance than life threatening. 

Terrorism first. Whilst the threat is very low, there have been a number of grenade / bomb attacks and shootings. These were mostly linked to personal, business or traffic disputes and it would seem foreigners were not the targets. Having said that, you do need to obviously exercise caution, especially if you are staying in an international hotel, or other areas where tourists are more numerous. 

However, if you are reading this you are probably much less likely to frequent such places, choosing instead the road less travelled in more serene surroundings. Our opinion is that such places, in the very heart of Cambodia and its people, has possibly less threat of terrorism than many places in your home country.

Secondly, the threat of land mines. Cambodia is one of the most heavily mined areas in the world and also has an uncountable number of other unexploded devices left after years of conflict. The end result is one of the highest numbers of amputees in the world, 40,000, and an estimated similar number who have died. 

For the average visitor who comes to visit the main tourist sites, the good news is that the area around Angkor Wat and the central plains near Phnom Penh, are already cleared of mines. Also, the vast majority of casualties have occurred in the north west, but this should not lead to any complacency, especially to our volunteers. The north west is where our much needed work is situated in Samraong, the capital of Oddar Meanchey province.

Therefore, we cannot emphasise the point too much, that whilst de-mining efforts have cleared away mines in the cities and villages, there are still some less-inhabited areas that have not been reached. ‘Danger Mines’ signs should be taken extremely serious, even when you need to pee urgently (in the road may be less elegant, but much safer!). 

Also, walking through fields or other places where you don’t see any locals is not recommended. Backpacking in the mountains or casual strolls through the countryside are still not a good idea, and it is best to stick to the well trodden paths.

Thirdly, the danger of thefts and threats to your personal safety. Once again, in comparison to your home country, when walking the streets, shopping or generally just enjoying the sights, you will find the Cambodian's  one of the most friendliest and trustworthy people in the world.

However, whilst violent crime is rare, foreigners are an attractive target for criminals and the use of guns in a robbery does occur from time to time.

There are also petty crimes mainly in the tourist hot spots and beach areas. You need to exercise precautions against pickpockets, do not flaunt jewellery, expensive watches, or leave phones, computers or cameras unattended.

In short, be sensible and keep your wits about you, be ever vigilant. 

Lastly, beggars and hustlers on the Streets should be regarded as just one of the downsides of travelling in a developing country. Just remember that whilst  some will be genuine, a very large proportion are not and are likely to be part of an illegal scam. The same is often the case of those cute little street kids selling leather wristbands and other trinkets, they are often part of a gang and receive next to nothing for their efforts from whoever runs the gang. 

Whilst it is your money, and you are free to give it to whoever you choose, just remember that your kindness may not be good in the long term for the child beggar and many like him. By giving you are supporting a system that keeps children out of school, and in the hands of adults who often subject them to abuse.

The child is unlikely to be a budding future entrepreneur, starting at a very early age, instead they are mainly in the control of an adult who keeps most of the money.  

If you really wish to help children, consider donating supplies to a school, pens, pencils and notebooks are always in demand.

To conclude "is Cambodia safe?" 3 last bits of advice, which should apply to anywhere in the world, let alone Cambodia:

Never walk alone by yourself at night, especially if you are a lady.

Do not carry excessive amounts of cash around with you, never flash your money around and leave your jewellery at home. Without any doubt, if you do not take this advice, you could very well be noticed and one careless moment could ruin your holiday.

26. How do I haggle?

A question you are probably not asking now sitting in your home country but you will when you are here and go shopping as haggling, or bargaining over the price, is a way of life with vendors here.

Having said that, if you are buying small amounts of lets say fruit, and the price is reasonable, you may just decide to pay and be done with it.

However, if you are buying something a little more expensive, perhaps clothes, the first point is NEVER pay the price the vendor asks for. You are spoiling his fun if you don't haggle and in the end if you pay the first asking price they will think you are just a stupid foreigner with too much money.

Secondly, try and have some idea of what the price should be, stay relaxed, don't get aggressive and just enjoy the experience and as a rough rule of thumb, whatever they ask half it and bargain from there.

Thirdly, always be ready to walk away if the price does not suit you, most of the time the vendor will call you back and reduce his price.

Lastly, haggling does not take place in the more up market shopping malls, you are probably wasting your time trying.