Phnom Penh, Cambodia Report of what it's like to live there - 08/13/13
Personal Experiences from Phnom Penh, Cambodia
1. Was this post your first expatriate experience? If not, what other cities have you lived in as an expat?
No, I have also lived in Malawi, Congo, and Brunei.
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?
From the East Coast it is about 14 1/2 hours to Seoul, then another 8 hours on to Cambodia.
3. How long have you lived here?
4. What brought you to this city (e.g. diplomatic mission, business, NGO, teaching, retirement, etc.)?
Housing, Groceries & Food:
1. What is your housing like? What are typical housing sizes, locations, and commute times for expatriates?
In BKK 1 the houses are big but on the older side. Most of the houses in the city have a small front yard but a backyard is rare. Apartments generally have workout facilities and pools but limited, if any, green space. There are two main gated communities, Bassac Gardens and Borei Chamkar Morn. Both have a good neighborhood feel to them and would be good for kids who want to ride their bikes and play. Bassac also has a small Canadian preschool and a shopping center with a Western grocery store and several other shops opening.
2. How would you describe the availability and cost of groceries and household supplies relative to your home country?
You can get anything here, for a price. Groceries (especially fresh fruit) that has to be shipped here can be very high priced -- but it is available. It's better to eat fruit that is in season here as it is very cheap and delicious. Same goes for household supplies, use the local brands and it won't cost much, but can be cheaply made too. If you are not wanting to switch brands then I would suggest either shipping consumables in advance or preparing to spend a lot of money.
3. What household or grocery items do you wish you had shipped to post?
More consumables like shampoo for which I don't want to switch brands.
4. What typical restaurants, food delivery services, and/or takeout options are popular among expatriates?
There is KFC, Dairy Queen and Burger King. There are also several knock-off fast food places like Lucky Burger (McDonald's), Pizza Company (Pizza Hut) and Fatboys (Subway). All have prices similar to the U.S. You can also find just about any kind of food here for a reasonable price. And you can have pretty much anything you want delivered to your door (hot cup of coffee, pint of ice cream, a meal that is still hot). With all the choices available you'll find that you end up ordering in or going out more than you ever cook.
5. Are there any unusual problems with insects or other infestations in housing?
Ants get into everything. Even things that are sealed up can be compromised. It's best to keep anything sweet or easy to get into in the fridge. There are also lots of mosquitos, and as dengue fever is a problem here, you should be careful not to get bit. You will see cockroaches around (usually at night) but they generally stay outside the house.
1. What is the availability and cost of household help, and what types of help are typically employed by expatriates?
Most people have a housekeeper at least, sometimes a gardener, driver, cook or nanny too. You can put up an ad for househelp or hire someone's housekeeper as they are leaving. Most of them speak at least a little English and are always wanting to learn more. However it can be very frustrating as most of them will happily nod their heads yes they understand what you're saying when they have no clue. You may go through several before you find someone who fits your needs.
2. What kinds of gyms or other sports/workout facilities are available? Are they expensive?
Yes there are gyms around the city, though some may not be up to most U.S. standards. Most of the hotels have gyms that you can join and some of the bigger ones have tennis courts and a pool. There is also the Cambodian Country Club which is just outside of town (down the road from North Bridge) which has tennis courts, a swimming pool, horseback riding, a playground, basketball courts, a restaurant, a skate park, and is currently building some apartments. There is also a gym at the Embassy.
3. Are credit cards widely accepted and safe to use locally? Are ATMs common and do you recommend using them? Are they safe to use?
Some of the bigger hotels will accept credit cards (with steep overhead charges) but otherwise it is best and easiest to use cash for everything. Make sure to have plenty of small bills (ones, fives, tens) when you arrive because you will be using them for everything.
4. English-language newspapers and TV available? Cost?
The Cambodia Daily is a good English summary of Khmer and international news. There are a few English channels, though it's mostly reality shows, CSI and Nat Geo. You can use a VPN to watch Netflix or Hulu.
5. How much of the local language do you need for daily living? Are local language classes/tutors available and affordable?
Lots of people speak a little English but people tend to be happier when they know at least a little Khmer. Cambodians are very appreciative if you attempt to speak their language and a simple "thank you" in Khmer goes a long way.
6. Would someone with physical disabilities have difficulties living in this city?
Loads. The sidewalks are barely pedestrian accessible as they are used for parking and are littered with trash and chunks of rock and tile.
1. Are local buses, trams, trains or taxis safe and affordable?
Taxis are safe as long as you use a service, you can call them to pick you up. There are some buses that the locals use which are small and have no AC, most people don't take them. There are bigger buses with AC that will take you to villages outside of Phnom Penh, but they tend to be crazy drivers as they are the biggest car on the road so they can get away with it. Tuk tuks are a good option for traveling around the city. Most people find a driver that they like and just call them when they need a ride, or you can pick one up almost anywhere. A regular tuk tuk ride (a few blocks) costs about two dollars, same with a taxi.
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?
I would recommend not bringing a very long car as parking could be tricky, most places have pretty limited parking. If you plan on doing a lot of driving outside of Phnom Penh then an SUV might be best for the dirt roads. Otherwise, any car works here.
Phone & Internet:
1. Is high-speed home Internet access available? How long does it typically take to install it after arrival?
We use Ezeecom, it is pretty good, I can stream movies and video easily, though at peak times it can be slow. It goes out every once in a while but is usually back up after an hour or so. We pay US$175 a month for 4GB unlimited service. There are cheaper deals too though.
2. Do you have any recommendations regarding mobile phones? Did you keep your home-country plan or use a local provider?
Bring an unlocked cell phone and you can get a sim card here (have your housekeeper do it, otherwise you will need to bring your passport). You can get phones here but they are all knock-offs at the same price as U.S. equivalents.
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?
2. Quality pet care available (vets & kennels)?
I think it's best if you learn how to groom your own animal so you don't have to try and deal with that here. Most people just pay their housekeeper a little more to look after their animal if they leave. If you need a vet there is Agrovet, I haven't been there, though.
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?
Teachers are always welcome. Lots of expats have started restaurants here. Labor is very cheap here though, so most places prefer to hire Cambodians.
2. What is the typical dress code at work and in public places? Is formal dress ever required?
Work is pretty casual, but you can also dress the same as you would in DC. Most women wear work skirts or pants with a nice blouse or a dress. Men wear wear a suit or pants and a button up shirt. In public dress the same as you would in the U.S. but slightly more conservatively (not super short shorts, short skirts, spaghetti tank tops, etc.).
Health & Safety:
1. Are there personal security concerns to be aware of at this post? Please describe.
Petty theft, ocassional break-ins, demonstrations. Just keep your wits about you and you should be fine. Be wary of tuk tuks after dark (pay attention during the day too though), don't carry anything with you you wouldn't be willing to lose. Don't take out anything of value in a tuk tuk, people will drive by and snatch it from you.
2. Are there any particular health concerns? What is the quality of available medical care? What medical conditions typically require medical evacuation?
Medical care isn't great, basic injuries can be treated here but most people go to Bangkok.
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?
There is constant constuction in the city and as a result the air is always filled with dust. No matter how much you clean your porch, within and hour it will be covered in a fine layer of dust again.
4. What is the overall climate: is it extremely hot or cold, wet or dry, at any time of year, for example?
Hot and dry and hot and wet. During "winter" you will see Cambodians bundle up in winter coats as it gets down to a chilly 85 F. At night it can be plasantly cool, though.
Schools & Children:
1. What is the availability of international schools? What has been your general experience with them, if any?
There is the International School of Phnom Penh and Northbridge. ISPP is in BKK 1 and so very accessable for most families. Northbridge is just outside of town (about a 1 hour drive) so not many Americans go there, though I have heard that it has very nice facilities.
2. Are local sports classes and/or activities available for kids?
There are some after-school activities for kids and sometimes ISPP will work with the Cambodian Country Club to have kids go after school for horseback riding lessons, swimming or tennis. Kids can also take tennis or swimming lessons at hotels.
1. What is the relative size of the expatriate community? How would you describe overall morale among expatriates?
Pretty big; there are a lot of Europeans here that tend to hang out at a lot of the same places. You will easily find all the expat hangouts.
2. Morale among expats:
Fairly high, I think. The community gets along quite well (excusing the older gentlemen who hang out at bars with young Khmer girls).
3. Is this a good city for single people? For couples? For families? Why or why not?
Yes, yes and yes. Phnom Penh is very family friendly but has plenty for everyone to do.
4. Is this a good city for LGBT expatriates? Why or why not?
I have not heard of any incidences.
5. Are there problems with ethnic, race/racial minorities or religious prejudices? Gender equality?
Cambodians are very friendly towards w]Westerners, especially Americans. I have heard however that some people with darker skin have a bit harder of a time here.
6. What are some interesting/fun things to do in the area? Can you recommend any “hidden gems"?
In Phnom Penh there are movie theaters, lazer tag, ice skating, rock climbing, lots of cafes and malls to hang out at, markets, historical sites and spas. Just outside of Phnom Penh there is Oudong, and a couple hours away is Kep where you can see the ocean and explore the crab market. About 7 hours away there are more beaches with sand, and a little further are the Wats. There are lots of Wats though, so definitely make several trips up there because each one is unique.
7. Is this a "shopping post"? Are there interesting handicrafts, artwork, antiques, or other items that people typically buy there?
Statues, scarves, fried tarantulas.
8. What are the particular advantages of living in this city?
There is lots to see in Phnom Penh and just outside of it, if you can stand the heat. There are many great places to visit besides Angkor Wat, like the beaches (some only a couple of hours away), and the villages can be fun to explore too if you're more adventurous. The culture is very rich here and you won't get tired of seeing monks hopping on the back of motos or tuk tuks for a quick ride.
9. Can you save money?
Yes, if you don't only buy very Western things.
Words of Wisdom:
1. Knowing what you know now, would you still move to this city?
2. If you move here, you can leave behind your:
Logic (seriously, no one uses it here), winter clothes, bad attitude.
3. But don't forget your:
Smile, all the patience you have, kitchen knives (knives here are very dull).
4. Do you have any other comments?
Fair warning, the driving here is often described as the "wild west" and that's pretty accurate. People go where they want without regard for any laws and the police will only enforce the law when they see someone doing something wrong that they think they could get a bribe out of. Cambodia is certainly an interesting post and it can exhaust you after a while but you will make lasting friendships out of it.