The most famed of all of Cambodia's temples is a short cycle from the home of Irish man Donal Mulvey.
"I live in Siem Reap, the seat of the Khmer kingdom, which is just 8km from Angkor Wat temple. "
Immortalised in the country’s flag and in Lara Croft: Tomb Raider, the 12th-century temple mountain has created a tourist hub of the city Mulvey calls home.
“I’ve seen it change so much since moving here in 2015. Tourism has brought great prosperity to many in the region. In the last seven years, the minimum monthly wage has increased from around €70 to €120, roads are improving and the number of SUVs on the streets has increased exponentially.”
Originally from Virginia in Co Cavan, Mulvey had no aspirations to move to Cambodia but, after completing a media production course in Ballyfermot College, he decided to travel to Australia on a one-year visa. "I had a great job managing a vineyard in Perth, leading a team, and wanted to stay, but once my visa was up, I had to look at other options.
"I wasn't ready to return to Ireland so, in 2010, I moved to Vietnam. I was delighted to get a teaching position in Ho Chi Minh City within a few days, before I got a job at TTXVN – the official state news agency based in Hanoi as an English editor. The Vietnam news agency operates over 60 bureaus in Vietnam and 30 globally and has over 400 radio and TV stations and 1,000 reporters under its umbrella."
“I worked there for two years looking after . . . news products, including TV, magazines, mobile platforms and websites belonging to the group.”
Mulvey says he got to know Hanoi – the landlocked capital – very well during his time there. “It’s a really bustling place, with temples and a busy old quarter.
“But it’s the loudest city I’ve ever lived in, with drivers choosing to beep their way around rather than follow any rules of the road.”
After a short spell in the Netherlands, Mulvey moved to Cambodia to teach English, but found work freelancing as a proofreader.
"All business in Asia is done through English, so all documents need to be proofread. I work for businesses of all sizes, especially those involved in the tourism industry. It's a great freelance position, which pays quite well by Cambodian standards."
Mulvey says he proofs for local businesses, from restaurants to finance houses, as well as companies in surrounding countries. “Before the pandemic, Cambodia underwent a significant transition, reaching lower middle class-income status and growth increasing annually. But it was really affected by Covid-19, especially in tourism and manufacturing.”
Things are slowly recovering. “It was incredibly quiet during the pandemic, as around 2.6 million people visit Angkor Wat from overseas each year. They’ve just started coming back again, which is great for the region.”
In terms of living space, Mulvey counts himself as very lucky. “I live in a nice one-bedroom apartment for just €150 per month. Needless to say, I wouldn’t get anything like it back home. Previously I was living in pure luxury for €350, which also had a pool.
“I don’t drive here, but I do have a bike and cycle everywhere. Pre-pandemic, I was also travelling a lot around Cambodia and southeast Asia. The beaches here are beautiful and I regularly visited M’Pai Bay and Saracen Bay, which are stunning. I look forward to travel again. I’ve been mostly here since the pandemic began.”
Mulvey says the Irish community in Vietnam and Cambodia has grown rapidly in recent years, with more than a thousand Irish people living in the region. “Most of these, like me, work in education or business. In Vietnam, there is an Irish business association and the Embassy in Hanoi provides support for Irish people in the region with community activities.”
“I believe there is a GAA club here but I feel most Irish people here are happy to create a new life for themselves so they don’t seek each other out. That said, I have met some great Irish people living here.”
Mulvey says visas are easy to apply for for westerners. “There’s still a misconception that they think white people are wealthy, so if you apply for a work visa, you will get it.”
Much has changed since Pol Pot's regime fell from power, where the Khmer Rouge killed up to three million people in pursuit of a classless agrarian society. "The conflict ended over four decades ago, and most people were born after the conflict and have no experience of it.
“That said, it’s political, but not at ground level in day-to-day life. The country is run by the Cambodian People’s Party, with a monarch as the head of state. If you keep the head down you won’t get into any trouble.”
Mulvey says he is happy living in southeast Asia and has no plans to return to Ireland.
“I’m happy to live in a beautiful spot, take bike rides daily and enjoy the food and hospitality of the people. It’s an easy life for me, but it has slowed down a bit and I’m looking forward to finding more opportunities, as it opens up to the world again.”