One of the real benefits of working as an English teacher in Cambodia is the free time you’ll have to pursue social or recreational interests and to take in what this truly magnificent country has to offer. You might feel inclined to take a Khmer cooking class, practice yoga, join a gym or pursue a hobby that you’ve often thought about, but have never had the time (or money) to do. The bulk of the teaching work occurs in the nation’s capital city, Phnom Penh, during the daytime, Monday to Friday. Typically, foreigners who are working as an English teacher in Cambodia teach around 25 hours a week (100 hours a month) and earn a net monthly salary of approximately US $1,300.00. With the cost of
living being low, most foreign teachers save around 50% of their net monthly income. In a nutshell, working as an English teacher in Cambodia means you’ll have plenty of free time – and money in your pocket.
There are many reasons why people put all their worldly possessions in a bag and leave their home country to teach English abroad, but from my personal observation there are a couple of common denominators, adventure and lifestyle. With free time and cash to spend, you can expect adventures and a great lifestyle in Cambodia.
During my free time in Cambodia, more specifically in Phnom Penh, I’ve tried my hand at a few pursuits, but it was old French buildings that captured my attention and interest. I know most people would find checking out old buildings incredibly boring, but it gets my blood pumping. If folks can go ‘bird watching’, I can go ‘building watching’. When was it built? Who lived there? Who worked there? What became of the occupants? What’s it being used for nowadays?
Here are some of my favorite, old buildings in Phnom Penh.
Phnom Penh Post Office
Corner Streets 13 & 102
Phnom Penh, Cambodia
The Phnom Penh Post Office was designed and built by Daniel Fabre (1830-1902), a renowned French architect and town planner. The building was completed around 1895. It’s a stunning example of French colonial architecture – painted bright yellow, high arched doorways and windows, balustrades, pillars, columns – and most striking for me, an extraordinary red tiled roof and arguably the most impressive nineteenth century clock tower you will see anywhere in the world.
In the late 1880s, Hyun de Verneville was appointed by the French Government to be the Senior Administrator of Cambodia, a French protectorate at the time. By all accounts Hyun de Verneville went about his job running the colony with considerable gusto. The Post Office building was part of his grand-plan to turn Phnom Penh into a modern city, the hub of French administration in the region.
Corner of Streets 67 and 136
Phnom Penh, Cambodia
As the name suggests, Central Market is located in the centre of Phnom Penh, within easy walking distance of the Riverside precinct and other key attractions. It’s a must visit destination if you’re in to shopping, people watching or like me, drooling over remarkable infrastructure. The superb ‘art deco’ shape and form of this building are what make it a sight – and a site – to behold. The centre of the building is basically a huge dome (26 metres high) and there are sizable, rectangular ‘halls‘, 4 in total, protruding from the dome – north, south east and west. Each hall is home to a particular category of merchandise making it relatively easy for shoppers to navigate the building and find what they’re looking to buy.
Central Market was officially opened in 1937 after a 3 year building project. At the time, it was apparently the largest market in Southeast Asia. The original idea and design were put forward by Mr Jean Desbois (1891-1971). He was the Chief Architect in Phnom Penh, working in the French Protectorate. The building works were supervised by another French Architect named Mr Louis Chauchon (1875-1945).
Despite occupation by the Japanese, abdications, bombings, terrorist attacks, the scourge of the Khmer Rouge and a fragile economic and political landscape for as long as anyone can remember, Central Market is indicative of the resilience of Cambodia and the Khmer people. As a side point, it’s also a great place to buy cheap, professional clothes, footwear and stationery supplies for working as an English teacher in Cambodia.
The Old Chinese House
45 Sisowath Quay
Phnom Penh, Cambodia
The Old Chinese House is located in the Riverside area of Phnom Penh, immediately north of the night market, near Street 84. It was built in 1904 by Mr Tan Bunpa (1871-1952), a businessman of Chinese origin who was involved in importing and exporting food and timber. Apparently members of Mr Tan’s family continued living in the Chinese House until 1975 when they were forced to leave Phnom Penh under the Khmer Rouge and sadly, were never heard from again.
What I like most about the Chinese House is that it’s one of only a handful of buildings in modern day Phnom Penh that’s more than century old but is still pretty much in its original condition. There are three smaller buildings that have been added over the years, but the main house is largely unaltered. If you have an hour or two to spare in Phnom Penh, you really should visit this absolute gem. Over the past decade, the Chinese House has been carefully and expertly renovated, with parts of the natural decay that you’d expect with a building that’s more than 100 years old, being incorporated into the refurbishment. The exposed beams, brickwork and the plaster from the era are striking.
Hotel Le Royal
92 Rukhak Vithei Street
Phnom Penh, Cambodia
This place is special, very special indeed! Jacqueline Kennedy (wife of President John F Kennedy), Charlie Chaplain and a plethora of other world-famous people have stayed in this iconic hotel that dates back to 1929. With its grand façade and refined interior, the Hotel Le Royal oozes influence and wealth, which characterised the life of the average French colonist, but is a stark contrast to Cambodia today.
The Hotel Le Royal was purchased by the Raffles Hotels and Resorts Group in 1995. After 2 years of painstaking refurbishment, the hotel recommenced trading in 1997 under the name, Raffles Le Royal Hotel. While the building is simply stunning and well worth a quick look, unless you’re a king, queen or someone of that stature, you may well struggle to pay the nightly tariff.
Working as an English teacher in Cambodia means you’ll have plenty of free time to live life to the full and enough cash in your pocket to pay your way. Regardless of whether you live in Phnom Penh or elsewhere in Cambodia there’s a good chance you’ll find yourself stumbling across examples of classic, colonial architecture. If it happens that you don’t share my passion for old buildings, that’s fine, there are plenty of other things to see and do in this truly magnificent country. Enjoy! Live the dream, working as an English teacher in Cambodia will give you the opportunity to do precisely that.
About the writer: Peter Goudge is the Managing Director and owner of AVSE-TESOL in Phnom Penh, Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City. AVSE delivers an Australian Government accredited TESOL programme in Cambodia and Vietnam for aspiring English language teachers. If you’d like to learn more about working as an English teacher in Cambodia, feel free to email Peter directly: firstname.lastname@example.org