Traveling solo as a young woman has its challenges. More so, in countries with profound gender inequality and concerns for personal safety like Cambodia. I don’t say this to scare you… I live here now so it can’t be that bad! But it’s important to keep in mind that precautions one might take a travelling solo as a woman in Thailand or Vietnam, need heightening here. Local knowledge of English and the availability of wifi is also lower.
From my experience, there are no particularly dangerous spots or areas to avoid in Cambodia, and for the most part, locals are respectful. But it pays to be careful and you must always keep your wits about you. Getting to travel on weekends with other volunteers, if you choose, is one of the perks of going with a program. Having said this travelling independently is empowering and I never had any trouble. But Cambodia is not as ‘touristy’ as some of its more popular neighbors, so it’s best not to wander too far off the beaten track. Plan and be practical – if your bus arrives at 1am you should have transport to your guesthouse or equivalent sorted in advance. No loitering. User-friendly transport apps like GRAB and PassApp are only available in Phnom Penh.
Dressing modestly and acting more conservatively are easy adjustments. As is being mindful of gender dynamics/roles. You’ll catch on quick to how men and women behave and interact with each other – or more so, don’t interact with each other. As travelers/volunteers, we have an obligation to do our research before we arrive, to be respectful to the culture, and adjust behavior accordingly. But I know who I am and what I stand for, and there are things I won’t adjust to or accommodate for – like being hassled, harassed or treated poorly. The female voice isn’t very loud here in Cambodia, but that doesn’t mean you can’t and shouldn’t use yours when needed.
Being a smart, capable, and young western woman working in a conservative country has daily challenges. It’s obviously also hard for local women, hence the gender inequality! But navigating these socio-cultural barriers in Australia is no walk in the park either! The challenges are real but are not a deterrent to me volunteering and now living here. If anything, they spur my determination to stay here and keep contributing. If it were easy, everyone would be doing it!