Phnom Penh, Cambodia Report of what it's like to live there - 10/09/10

Personal Experiences from Phnom Penh, Cambodia

Phnom Penh, Cambodia 10/09/10

Background:

1. Was this post your first expatriate experience? If not, what other cities have you lived in as an expat?

No. Shanghai, China; Tokyo, Japan; soon Frankfurt, Germany.

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2. What is your home city/country? How long is the trip to post from there, with what connections? How easy/difficult is it to travel to this city/country?

I am from California. Generally it will take about 24 hours to the West Coast with connections. Have to go through Seoul or Bangkok.

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3. How long have you lived here?

From May to October, 2010

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4. What brought you to this city (e.g. diplomatic mission, business, NGO, teaching, retirement, etc.)?

U.S. Government

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Housing, Groceries & Food:

1. What is your housing like? What are typical housing sizes, locations, and commute times for expatriates?

Housing is either a villa or an apartment. The housing is not bad, the villas are huge, the apartments are generally nice, although the layouts are a bit strange sometimes. If you are affiliated with the U.S. Embassy, and are allowed to ship household effects, I would suggest bringing as much of your own furniture as possible. You may want to bring a car if you have one - people who don't have cars often use tuktuks, but this can be inconvenient during monsoon season when streets flood quickly. Overall, commutes don't take more than 20 minutes - Phnom Penh is not a very big city.

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2. How would you describe the availability and cost of groceries and household supplies relative to your home country?

I don't know how much groceries cost, my maid did most of my shopping. But, if you choose to shop at the markets for foreigners you will pay more than you would in the States - still the prices aren't totally outrageous.

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3. What household or grocery items do you wish you had shipped to post?

More consumables, a car, and my own furniture.

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4. What typical restaurants, food delivery services, and/or takeout options are popular among expatriates?

There is a KFC, but I wouldn't eat there. There are a few local fast food places, and I REALLY wouldn't eat there. If you choose to do so, I doubt that a meal is more than $2.

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5. What kinds of organic, vegetarian and allergy-friendly foods are available, such as organic produce, gluten-free products, meat substitutes for vegetarians, etc?

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6. Are there any unusual problems with insects or other infestations in housing?

Mosquitoes! They can carry dengue fever in the rainy season, thus it is important to carry repellent during rainy season months.

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Daily Life:

1. How do you send and receive your letters and package mail? Are local postal facilities adequate?

U.S. Embassy personnel will use the APO or diplomatic pouch.

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2. What is the availability and cost of household help, and what types of help are typically employed by expatriates?

Cheap. I had a maid for 40/hours a week who cooked and cleaned for $200 a month - which was on the expensive side. Most people don't pay more than $120 a month, but my maid spoke some English, was a fantastic cook, and could be completely trusted. This is not the case for most domestic help.

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3. What kinds of gyms or other sports/workout facilities are available? Are they expensive?

There is at least one nice gym, but it will run you $70 a month or so..

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4. Are credit cards widely accepted and safe to use locally? Are ATMs common and do you recommend using them? Are they safe to use?

You can withdraw money at most ATMs, especially ANZ Royal bank - however, you will pay at least $3 or $4 in surcharges. Cambodia primarily uses the dollar.

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5. What English-language religious services are available locally?

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6. English-language newspapers and TV available? Cost?

If you have cable, the TV comes feeds come from Hong Kong and Manila, so mostly US programs in English. The Phnom Penh post and the Cambodia Daily are two newspapers that are in English.

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7. How much of the local language do you need for daily living? Are local language classes/tutors available and affordable?

Hmm, it may help in some situations, and the Khmer people will certainly appreciate it, with that said, most people, even the poorest, can speak a little bit of English.

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8. Would someone with physical disabilities have difficulties living in this city?

Um, a person without physical disabilities may have trouble in the city.

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Transportation:

1. Are local buses, trams, trains or taxis safe and affordable?

No trains.. Buses: I never used them myself, but I heard the buses to Vietnam, Siem Reap, and Sihanoukville were quite comfortable and inexpensive.

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2. What kind of car do you recommend bringing to post, given the terrain, availability of parts, burglary/carjacking risks, etc.? What kind of car do you advise not to bring?

You can survive with a sedan, but you may find it more practical to have an SUV during monsoon season. Carjackings are non-existent in Cambodia (so far).

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Phone & Internet:

1. Is high-speed home Internet access available? How long does it typically take to install it after arrival?

It was included in my rent, so I am not sure how much it was - but I know it is expensive - and the speed was not that good.

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2. Do you have any recommendations regarding mobile phones? Did you keep your home-country plan or use a local provider?

If you work for the U.S. Embassy, you will be provided with one. Otherwise you can buy a sim card locally. Cambodian cell phone service is surprisingly good and inexpensive.

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Pets:

1. Are qualified veterinarians and/or good kennel services available? Do animals need to be quarantined upon entry to the country? Are there other considerations regarding pets that are particular to this country?

Not that I am aware of.

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2. Quality pet care available (vets & kennels)?

I think there may be a vet.

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Employment & Volunteer Opportunities:

1. What types of jobs do most expatriate spouses/partners have? Locally based or telecommuting? Full-time or part-time? Can you comment on local salary scales?

Not sure how "decent" - but it depends on skills and education level. In general I would say not really, unless you find something before you arrive. You can always teach English I suppose.

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2. What is the typical dress code at work and in public places? Is formal dress ever required?

Pretty casual, most of the U.S. Mission direct hire employees rarely wore ties.

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Health & Safety:

1. Are there personal security concerns to be aware of at this post? Please describe.

The U.S. Department of State, Bureau of Diplomatic Security rates Phnom Penh as a HIGH threat crime post. The police pretty much disappear after 5PM, and purse snatchings and crimes of opportunity are quite common. Generally speaking, if you handover whatever the thief is demanding, you will probably be ok. If you resist, however, things can turn ugly quite fast. I never had any problems, and I frequently went out late at night. However, I would suggest doing so with a group of friends. If you read the local newspapers, you will see that when the crime does get violent, it is REALLY VIOLENT (acid being thrown on people, people being hacked to death, shooting people for really ridiculous reasons).This is by far one of the most violent countries in Southeast Asia.

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2. Are there any particular health concerns? What is the quality of available medical care? What medical conditions typically require medical evacuation?

Yes, dengue fever. Also, you don't want to get in a bad accident. There is a Thai hospital that is ok, and there is the SOS clinic for simple illnesses, however, for anything serious you will be headed to Bangkok or Singapore.

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3. What is the air quality like at post (good/moderate/bad)? Are there seasonal air quality issues? Does the air quality have an impact on health?

Phnom Penh is very much a developing city with lots of small motorcycles, and really nothing to control pollution. During the dry season dust can be quite bad, not helped by the fact that there is a lot of construction going on at the moment. With that said, Phnom Penh only has about 1.5 million people, and most of them do not have cars - thus, smog and industrial pollution endemic to other cities in the region is almost non-existent.

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4. What is the overall climate: is it extremely hot or cold, wet or dry, at any time of year, for example?

Hot, hot, and hot all the time. Monsoon season from May - November. Really dry and HOT the rest of the year.

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Schools & Children:

1. What is the availability of international schools? What has been your general experience with them, if any?

I don't have children so I have no personal dealings with the schools. However, I know some people have chose to send their high school aged kids to school in other countries due to the quality of the international high schools in PP.I also know people who sent their kids to the local international high schools, and were quite happy with them.

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2. What accommodations do schools make for special-needs kids?

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3. Are preschools available? Day care? Are these expensive? What has been your experience with them, if any? Do the schools provide before- and/or after-school care?

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4. Are local sports classes and/or activities available for kids?

I think so.

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Expat Life:

1. What is the relative size of the expatriate community? How would you describe overall morale among expatriates?

thousands

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2. Morale among expats:

Pretty good - most people love it.

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3. What are some typical ways to socialize, either with local people or with other expatriates? Are there groups or clubs that you can recommend?

Bars, restaurants, house parties.

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4. Is this a good city for single people? For couples? For families? Why or why not?

It is definitely not a bad city for singles, especially single males. Families seem to fine things to do: trips to Angkor, the beach, etc.

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5. Is this a good city for LGBT expatriates? Why or why not?

Definitely not a bad place, however, compared to other cities in Southeast Asia, it will probably leave a lot to be desired. There is one main gay bar, and at least one other one more for locals that I heard about. People have to be careful though, as a lot of the guys at the gay bar are prostitutes. There is one club which is mixed after about 1am: Heart of Darkness. Many of the gay and bi guys go to Heart instead of the gay bar, it's not as conspicuous, and there are a lot of straight people (foreigners and locals) so it is easy to blend in. Unfortunately, Heart of Darkness is currently off-limits to U.S. Mission personnel.

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6. Are there problems with ethnic, race/racial minorities or religious prejudices? Gender equality?

Not really.

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7. What have been the highlights of your time in this country? Best trips or experiences?

Visiting Angkor Wat, traveling to Bangkok and Saigon. Visiting the dark (but interesting) sites dedicated to the atrocities of the Khmer Rouge.

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8. What are some interesting/fun things to do in the area? Can you recommend any “hidden gems"?

Tuol Sleng (the school turned torture prison where the Khmer Rouge brutally murdered tens of thousands of people), Killing Fields, Royal Palace. After the aforementioned places, there is not much to do besides drinking. It is nice to get out of the city once a month.

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9. Is this a "shopping post"? Are there interesting handicrafts, artwork, antiques, or other items that people typically buy there?

Lots of carvings of the Buddha, Apsara, and other local icons can be purchased.

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10. What are the particular advantages of living in this city?

Fantastic historical sites: Angkor Wat. Also, very easy to travel to Laos, Vietnam, and Thailand. If you work for the U.S. Government, you will find that the hardship pay for Cambodia is quite generous (25%).Things are generally pretty cheap, especially alcohol. Two people could easily fill themselves up on $10 total.

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11. Can you save money?

Definitely - if you don't spend too much money traveling to Bangkok all the time.

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Words of Wisdom:

1. Knowing what you know now, would you still move to this city?

Absolutely.

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2. If you move here, you can leave behind your:

Winter clothes.

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3. But don't forget your:

Sense of adventure.

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4. Do you recommend any books or movies about this city/country for those who are interested in learning more?

"Off the Rails in Phnom Penh" - a must read. "Preah Ko Preah Keo." "Bophana".

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5. Recommended movies/DVDs related to this city:

The Killing Fields, Apocalypse Now, any documentaries about the Khmer Rouge.

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6. Do you have any other comments?

Cambodia is a great country, while at times it can be a challenging place to live (especially when compared to its larger and more successful neighbor - Thailand), it is definitely worth a visit. I was originally supposed to be there for longer than I was, but I had to cut my tour short due to work related reasons. With that said, I would gladly go back if the opportunity arose.

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