Lost Girl's Workaway tips (or 'Dear Hannah')

Dear Hannah,

Lovely to meet you in Rotorua. I was planning to write a blog on Workaway and thought after our Bangkok chat I could address it to you. Sorry if you already know some of this, I'm putting it up on my website so am starting at the beginning.

What is Workaway?

Workaway is a site that connects travellers to hosts all over the world. You work for them, normally for around 5 hours a day in return for room and board. Some may pay, some may charge you for food. Every host is different but the site makes it very clear what the deal will be.

There are other sites that do this, most notably Worldpacker. You have to pay a subscription for these sites (£30 a year for Workaway) and Workaway had some projects I was interested in, so I chose them.

Website work.jpg

What can you do on it?

Pretty much anything. I created a website for a sustainable resort in Sri Lanka, looked after dogs in Bangkok and I'm going to help tend to an olive grove on New Zealand's South Island. There are a NGOs, lots and lots of teaching English roles, farming, social media stuff, animal care, work on ski resorts, housekeeping, all sorts.

How do you pick the right Workaway?

The reviews are key. Reading what other volunteers thought will help you get a clearer sense of what your stay will be like. Do bear in mind that most reviews are kind, after to staying with someone for a week or more it's tough to be overly negative, so assume things are a little less rosy than the reviews would imply.

Make sure you choose a mutually beneficial workaway, you’re committing your time and your energy to a project, you should get something out of it. Perhaps you’ll develop a new skill or an in-depth knowledge of a fascinating area or maybe you’ll get to play with some dogs… My friend Matt, who was also volunteering at Green Tails, was looking at workaways on Japanese ski resorts where you get access to their kit and the runs in return for a few hours housekeeping.

My advice would be to consider:

Location - Can you get to it? Is it near other activities you'd like to do in your down time? Will it fit into your itinerary or is it worth the detour?

Accommodation - Lots of workaways have shared accommodation, which can actually be a bonus as it mean there will be other volunteers to hang out with. If you’re in an expensive country it might also be a chance to sleep in your own room for a week or two without paying a fortune.

Type of work - There's a few hosts that rang alarm bells for me. Some places should obviously be hiring staff rather than trying to get volunteers. Other hosts include families who seem to want an au pair and are okay with it be an unqualified stranger who can only stay for a week. It's good to pin down exactly what you'll be doing before you arrive. You can also suggest projects you could do for them based on their profile. It’s definitely possible to do work you enjoy.

Hosts - I've been extremely lucky so far with two outstanding hosts. The reviews, including the host's reviews of their volunteers, gives you an insight to their attitude. Lots of hosts offer to show you the area and give advice on travel and this is a real bonus.

My workaways

I chose my workaways for similar reasons- they offered a break from routine and a chance to help with a 'worthy' venture.

Tilak's estate

My first workaway was on Tilak's estate in rural Sri Lanka. He is creating a sustainable resort on his working coconut plantation.

powercut.jpg

The description, and the reviews, made the estate seem like paradise, a perfect place to repair body and soul after being on tour. It offered three meals a day, kayaks, hammocks and a chance to get to know the real Sri Lanka. In return I would spend five hours a day making and populating his website.

The estate certainly lived up to my expectations, the open house we stayed in was a strange experience as it was somehow comfortable and predominantly outside at the same time. I also enjoyed making a difference, I left Tilak with a site that can go live when he's ready.

The other volunteers did different jobs on the estate. Sahir taught English at one of the houses at the community and did some writing for the website, Kevin (a Doctor) organised the first aid supplies and then helped with jobs around the estate and Jean got involved with the day to day running of the plantation, including building paths, clearing trees and fixing machines.

It was a bit of a mission to get anywhere from the estate, but worth it when we made the effort. We (myself and three other volunteers) had to entertain ourselves in the evenings, but Tilak had some cards and I had bought Bananagrams with me. There were also SO MANY MOSQUITOES, the only safe place was inside our nets. If you’re going into the countryside in a warm country get the best repellent money can buy. One of the other volunteers had treated his clothes with repellent before coming too which made a huge difference.

Tilak's motivations were interesting. As well as the work we provided, Tilak also wanted the Puttalam community to get used to travellers of all different shapes, sizes and colours- especially female tourists. I can see why, this is one of the only places I've been where I've been openly starred at.

Green Tails - Paws B&B

The second workaway I chose because of the dogs.

Stevie.jpg

There were other reasons for my interest in working at Natsuko's place in Bangkok, my own room (although sometimes volunteers share with a human or a dog), a week in one place after a couple of months of backpacking, three meals a day, payment for overtime and a chance to revisit Bangkok. But mostly I wanted to play with some dogs.

It was a chance to give something back to the canine community. I had passed so many starving, miserable strays on my journey through Asia and, at Natsuko’s, we looked after dogs who had been rescued from the streets and were awaiting adoption.

Some of the dogs had really heartbreaking stories. One dog, Olive, had been attacked by a woman with a machete and another, a puppy called Mukki, had been pretty much bitten in half by another dog. I did learn that there are ‘rescuers’ all over Asia, so if you see a dog suffering you might be able to find someone in the area to ‘rescue’ them.

The work was easy - taking the groups of dogs out, cleaning up after them, playing with them and helping to feed them. Natsuko cooked for us or ordered really delicious takeaway. Her beautiful house was about 40 mins from central Bangkok, a perfect place to relax and still have access to the city.

Hannah (and everyone) you should definitely get in touch with Natsuko about volunteering at Green Tails.

(I'd say the same for Tilak but he wasn't taking volunteers last time I checked.)

The Olive Grove

Workaway number three, which I haven't done yet, is helping Helen with her olive grove in a gorgeous part of New Zealand. Primarily I was looking for a week to stay still in a great place and this ticked all the boxes. The area, Oamaru , has hikes, penguins and wine, three of my favourite things. Will let you know how it goes!

Things to look out for:

Hosts taking the piss. A friend escaped a workaway in the middle of the night after being treated like a slave and only fed bread. This was a brewery in Scotland who should know better. You're not a serf, you're a volunteer. Your time is valuable- it's certainly worth decent meals.

Enthusiastic overworking. I did this in Sri Lanka. I got so into my project for a while that I forgot to take time enjoy myself and explore. Another volunteer, and then Tilak, pointed this out and I redressed the balance. Again your time is valuable, if you've agreed to five hours a day don't do loads more for free.

Getting bored in your downtime. If you’re not likely to leave your estate/farm/resort/manor house/family home up a mountain take stuff to do. Books (like Afterlife for example) or games. My new favourite game is Monopoly Cards, it’s got all the capitalist viciousness of Monopoly but only takes fifteen minutes to play.

That's all I can think of for now. Let me know if you have any questions. Have a great time!

Love,

Helen xxx

Admin

If you think my writing is interesting why don’t you check out my first book ‘Afterlife’? It’s like a really long blog with chapters and a thrilling storyline…

Also have you tried booking.com? I use them pretty much exclusively now as my ‘genius’ discount makes them cheaper than everyone else. Here is a link that gets you £15 off the first time you use them* Try booking.com.

Hey, and if you look to your right you can sign up to my mailing list…

*This is a genuine recommendation, but an affiliate link (I’ll make a little money)

Lost Girl's Cambodia tips (or 'Dear Esther')

Dear Esther,

So nice to see you in Vietnam! What are the chances we'd book the same hostel in Ho Chi Minh?! Anyway, below are my tips for Cambodia which I'm also putting on my blog, I've got some general stuff first and then what I did/enjoyed/despised listed by place.

Money

The main currency in Cambodia is the American dollar. They also use their own currency (the Riel) although mostly as change. 4000 riel is a dollar so if you want to pay for something that's $2.50 you could pay $2 and 2000 riel. It's surprisingly easy to pick up. ***WARNING*** There is a ridiculous system in Cambodia where shops won't accept old, damaged or torn notes. Check your money when it's handed to you. Also the ATMs give out $100 bills try and break these before going to the islands or anywhere rural.

Siem Reap

We stayed at Lub-d in Siem Reap in a ten bed female dorm. It had new a beautiful facilities, solid, comfy beds with stairs instead of ladders so being on the top bunk was fine. The dorm was silent at night, which was lovely. It has a pool and a nice bar. It did feel more like a hotel and it was perhaps the least social place we stayed although there are events and the staff are very friendly.

We chose the three day option for Angkor Wat and were really glad we did. It's $62 for the pass and we ended up spending another $90 for a tuk tuk for three days. We arranged this with one of Lub-d's drivers and could had probably got it cheaper if we'd asked elsewhere. He did have free water on board through which was very useful!

Kbal Spean.jpg

You'll have already read about the temples I'm sure so I shall limit myself to a couple of sentences here. On the first two days we started super early which worked as it gets really hot and/or rainy around midday. My favourite day was the river carvings at Kbal Spean and Banteay Srei, the gorgeous pink ladies temple, which are a drive out of Siem Reap.

I'd recommend getting lunch from a bakery before going to the temples as your driver will try and take you to the more expensive restaurants where they get free food. The Scandinavian Bakery is close to Lub-d, we got lunch there.

Siem Reap to Battambang

Lub-d booked us on the Mekong Express to Battambang which was one of the nicest buses I've been on. Really easy journey which only takes three hours. I didn't take the boat between Siem Reap and Battambang but I heard that it is horrible.

Battambang 

We stayed at Pomme hostel in Battambang and loved it. It has little cubicle style single rooms, a funky bar that attracts locals and expats and very friendly staff. We did the hostel run afternoon tour to the (original) Bamboo train and bat caves which was very enjoyable. It cost $8 for the tour and $5 for the train. 

We also kayaked down the river in Battambang booked through Green Orange Kayaks which was very exciting. Although, due to some slightly dodgy directions, we left the boat in the wrong place and they thought we'd drowned... Using MapsMe and a waterproof phone cover and getting our hostel to ring them when we got back would have prevented this...

Kirsty at Phare Ponleu Selpak Circus.jpg

My other top tip for Battambang is the Phare Ponleu Selpak Circus. My circus loving friend Kirsty was desperate to go and she was not disappointed. It was excellent and imaginative. TBH I don't really like circus that much and I loved it.

Battambang to Kampot

***WARNING*** We got the Rith Mony night bus (booked by the hostel) and it was a nightmare.  There were cockroaches and other bugs everywhere. The second leg was in a minibus which the driver had jammed full of stuff he was delivering so there was no leg room. Don't let anyone book you on this company. Worst. Journey. Ever.

Kampot

Despite my distrust of this infamous chain of party hostels we stayed at the Mad Monkeys in Kampot. It turned out to be very fun, although we went for a private room rather than risking the dorms. Also our first private room stank of paint and didn't have a door handle so we got a free upgrade. 

On our first night there we did Captain Chim's sunset tour. It was $5 with one free beer which is not the best deal you'll see on the promenade. It also had no toilet or bar. But, we had it to ourselves and it took us much further up the river than the pub boats and we actually saw a fire fly! Just the one though. Captain Chim's rickety old boat is great, maybe take a couple of extra beers and a she-we.

We did the hostel run jungle trek which was $8, quite muddy, but enjoyable. I did fall in a river and almost get washed away... will tell you about it over a beer.

Our big activity there was Climbodia which was EPIC! It's a bit pricey at $40 for half a day but well worth it, it's been described by several friends as the best thing they did in Asia. You do climbing, ab- sailing and traversing and then a climbing session in the caves.

Kampot had my favourite bar and favourite burger place in Cambodia. 'Oh Neils' the Irish bar has great music and the Burger Shack is cheap and excellent and has a MacDonalds sign outside which is pretty funny.

Kampot to Koh Rong Samleom 

Mad Monkeys booked this for us with Kep Travel. The journey was fine, it's not too long, bus, shuttle bus, boat... it's only about a three hour journey in total.

Koh Rong Samleom 

We initially stayed at Dragonfly in M'Pai Bay, also known as 'The Village'. The Village was great, there was still lots of Cambodian life happening, kids, schools and midnight beach cows.

The Dragonfly dorm was nice enough, single beds, mosy nets, did get a bit hot. The bar there was fun, it has a good spot for watching the sunset (you'll need to get someone to show you). Have a look what you think, there's also an Easy Tiger there which is next to Dragonfly and highly recommended.

***WARNING*** There are no proper showers in M'Pai and lots of signs saying to save water. There's also no ATMs. They also hate it if you take $100 bills so try and break big notes.

We did the walk from M'Pai to Driftwood which takes about an hour, along beaches and through the jungle. Wear decent shoes. That was fun. Driftwood was cute (and vegetarian Esther!) And we could get a boat back for $5 each.

There was also a boat tour with snorkelling with a guy called Clayton who hangs out in the town in the morning before the tour leaves at 11.30. This was a brilliant day.

For our last night we moved to Saracen Bay to a hostel that was possibly called Yuvo??? I can't really recommend it. Saracen Bay's beach is much nicer and very resorty, fun for a night as there was also a party at Blue Dog hostel.

Koh Ring Samleom to Phnom Phen 

We got the boat back to Sihkanouvile (which looked a bit dull) and, because the boat was an hour and a half late, just made our Giant Ibis bus to Phnom Phen. That bus was long but pleasant. If you're short of money try and go to an ATM before you get on board as it stops at quite a pricey restaurant half way.

Phnom Phen 

Phnom Phen smells. You'll see. 

We stayed at the Mad Monkey again, again in a private room ($15). It was directly above the bar so super noisy until midnight. They do have a quiet side though so you could maybe request that. Despite my deep distrust of Mad Monkey pub crawls we went on theirs and it was really fun.

Activities-wise we did S21 (the prison camp) which was horrific and then the Killing Fields (which was also horrific). This is the best order to visit them in. I think the tuk cost us $18 for the day. These are heartbreaking attractions but must-dos. Just prepare yourself for the horror and take some tissues.

... there we go! Hope that is helpful. . 

Have a great time! 

Xxx

Admin

If you think my writing is interesting why don’t you check out my first book ‘Afterlife’? It’s like a really long blog with chapters and a thrilling storyline…

Also have you tried booking.com? I use them pretty much exclusively now as my ‘genius’ discount makes them cheaper than everyone else. Here is a link that gets you £15 off the first time you use them* Try booking.com.

*This is a genuine recommendation, but an affiliate link (I’ll make a little money)