I can’t remember how I came across Workaway, but I can tell you from the moment I learned about it I knew it was something I wanted to incorporate in my travels. For a small fee of $29 ($38 for two people), you have access to thousands of odd-job postings from around the world, from working in a hostel to website design. The membership is good for two years, which is more than enough for most travelers. Most of them involve 20-25 hours of work a week and in exchange you get free accommodation and often food and/or drinks as well. The length of employment could be as short as a few days or up to a year for some jobs. For a long term traveler this is a great deal. The idea of moving a little slower than your typical backpacking trip was appealing to me in many ways. I could be more like a local and see a different side of the places I would be going that most tourists don’t see simply because they don’t have the time, and it would be much better on my budget than bouncing from place to place every few days.
I started browsing the website and found so many different jobs I wanted to do. I wanted to be a chocolate farmer in Costa Rica, a hostel bartender in Portugal, and everything in between. The majority of the jobs involve either farming,hostel/hotel work, or English teaching. One gig however jumped out at me for some reason and it was the one that really got me interested in Workaway: working at a movie theatre in Phnom Penh, Cambodia. I had never worked at a movie theatre as a kid, but I do love movies and Phnom Penh was on our itinerary so I saved the post and kept it in the back of my head. Anyone I work with in the kitchen at Santarpio’s can attest I talked about this listing for a while leading up to my trip.
Fast Forward One Year
We’re in Siem Reap and we can’t decide what to do next. We originally planned to backpack through the entire country, starting in Siem Reap,working our way south to Battambang and Sihanoukville, then west to Kampot and ending in Phnom Penh, but last minute we decided we should settle down for a bit and do our first Workaway. The movie theatre first came to mind but the host needed a one month commitment and only one person, while we could only offer three weeks and there are two of us. We found a really fun looking post working at a party hostel in Sihonukville, a beach town in the south of Cambodia,but unfortunately they never responded to our message 🙁
I really wanted to work at the cinema, but was bummed about them only needing one person. Breada said it best with “closed mouths don’t get fed”, so we sent the host an e-mail explaining we were two people and could only do three weeks, but we would only need one room and could provide double the work a single person could. It didn’t hurt to ask and we’re lucky we did because he promptly replied and said he would love to have us!
A few days later we were walking into “The Flicks” and it was everything I wanted: nice and small with a relaxed vibe, comfy cushions to watch the movies, and a bar with cheap drinks. It was Game of Thrones night so it was nice and busy and you could tell most of the customers were regulars.
It didn’t take long to get into the swing of things. There are two locations we worked at: Flicks 1 which is right above the house we stayed in with the host/owner Ramon and the other volunteers and Flicks 2, which is located closer to the riverside and built inside of a hostel. Ramon is one of the more interesting people I have ever met in my travels. He was a pioneer of sorts. Before the days where “Couchsurfing” was a travel norm (or even a website), he had his own website “Let Me Stay For A Day”, where people from all around the world could invite him to stay with them and experience the local culture. He managed to travel around the world using his website for over two years with no money! I think it’s safe to say he’s lived quite the interesting life. If you want, you can check out his blog Here I Go Again On My Own.
The “work” was pretty straightforward : sell tickets, drinks, and popcorn, play the movies, and keep the customers happy. After working in a high volume kitchen, this was a breeze. While the movie was playing I had the time to myself, or I could watch the movie with the customers. In exchange for our services, we had a free private room, free drinks (I usually stuck to soda or good ol’ fashioned Cambodia beer), and the privilege of hanging out with 6 cats! Peri Peri, aptly named after the delicious sauce and both oldest and biggest of the cats was my favorite, but don’t tell the others!
Staying in Phnom Penh longer than just a few days was nice. There really wasn’t a ton of things for tourists to do in the city, so I get why some backpackers don’t enjoy this particular stop so much. However, once you meet the right people you find out there are a lot of cool things going on in the city, they’re just usually not known to backpackers. There was “Katy Peri Pizza”, which is a brick oven built on the back of a motorbike which serves pizzas with peri peri chicken on them until 4 am every night. There’s “drink and draw” night at Showbox, the local expat bar we would frequent. Once a week someone volunteers to pose naked while the others drink and draw or paint them. Since I can only draw stick figures and they’re always naked anyway I declined, but it sounded like a pretty fun time!
I really enjoyed my time at Flicks and I was sad to go. Between the other volunteers, Ramon, the customers, the cats, and everyone in between, we met so many interesting people through the job and just when we were really starting to get a feel for the city we had to leave. One thing I hadn’t anticipated prior to working at Flicks was what a networking opportunity it could be for Breada and myself. We’re chatty people by nature, so we would strike up a conversation with almost every customer. Most are teaching English in the city or working for an NGO, and had we planned to stay long term I’m fairly confident we could have secured jobs just through the people we’ve met while working at the theatre.
Thursday right now a week ago ( I gotta get better as posting faster! ) for Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam. We’ll be in Vietnam for 3 months, traveling for 2 and doing a Workaway teaching English in Hanoi for 1. I know we’ll enjoy Vietnam, as everyone we’ve met traveling raves about their time spent there, but I will miss The Flicks and Phnom Penh a great deal. Breada and I have already talked about possibly coming back to volunteer again, but for a more extended period of time. Who knows. That’s the beauty of traveling without a set plan, we can do anywhere and do anything!
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