Alison Smith - General Journalism Projects in Cambodia
The life I imagined I would have in Phnom Penh and the reality of it were very different, but not in a bad way. I first came to Phnom Penh in 2011, but I was only in the city for 24 hours. It was from that moment that I knew I had to come back. The wide avenues near the Royal Palace, the soft evening light, the kind people, I couldn't wait to come back and experience this for a longer period of time. When I did return last November, I found the country had changed massively in the past two years and is continuing to change at a rapid pace.
Journalism in Cambodia
I chose to do a journalism placement because I wanted to improve my skills in writing. The Southeast Asia Globe magazine is an English-language magazine about the whole region and they also have a business magazine called Focus Asean.
The best thing about my placement was that in order to do a great job, I had to read widely. I got to know the politics and issues that are affecting Cambodia really well. The country is in the middle of a political crisis and it was fascinating to learn about, and see, the struggles of the locals and how they are trying to change their lives.
As part of my job I also got to interview different people, one of these people was the country's director for the documentation centre of Cambodia, Youk Chhang. The centre is responsible for the collection of documents and information about the Khmer Rouge and piecing together the events of that terrible period of Cambodia's history. Youk's latest project was a film about music called 'Don't think I've forgotten - Cambodia's Lost Rock and Roll' - a documentary about the artists and songwriters of the 60's and 70's. I went to his office to talk to him about it and I was also invited to the film premiere in Phnom Penh.
Many of the people here lived through the Khmer Rouge and to see interviews with singers who had to lie about their profession in order to stay alive, to hear stories about celebrities of that time and how they died was one of the most moving experiences I have ever had. The film really showed how resilient Cambodians are and Youk has documented a piece of history that is important for the education of young people. The Khmer Rouge is such a prominent part of history that to hear and watch what life was like in Phnom Penh before the genocide was completely uplifting.
Work life in Cambodia is different to Europe of course, and even though the majority of people in the Globe office are European, it had a typically laidback Cambodian atmosphere. I didn't start work until 10am; I was surprised at the time at how late that was but my boss put it simply "Creative people need more sleep!"
Accommodation in Cambodia
There are four apartments in the northern part of Phnom Penh where we lived, in a neighbourhood called Toul Kork, near to the ministry of defence. I was sharing a room with another girl from the Netherlands and we had a lovely lady called Rath who made our lunch and dinner everyday. I was worried at first about sharing a room (I was used to having a whole apartment to myself) but it worked out really well. Every night it was great to come home and chat to the other volunteers around the dinner table. Rath is a fantastic cook and she made delicious Khmer favourites, including her signature deep fried banana rolls - amazing! We could also chill on the roof or pop down the street to the Library Cafe for a drink and free Wi-Fi.
As I was only in Cambodia for three months, I planned out my weekends very carefully. As a country with the most public holidays in the world, there was a lot of time to visit different places but the most popular mode of transport is by bus. It generally takes 5-7 hours to get most places in Cambodia, on some of the worst roads I have seen.
Aside from the typical traveller destinations - Siem Reap and Sihanoukville - there are some beautiful places to visit. I would highly recommend going to Mondulkiri, a province in the eastern highlands near Vietnam, and Koh Kong, a city on the south coast near the Thai border were my favourites. Mondulkiri is vast and open with rolling green hills and countryside that is different from anything else in the country. Koh Kong has wild jungle, stunning waterfalls and deserted beaches.