Phnom Penh, Cambodia Report of what it's like to live there - 05/18/15

Personal Experiences from Phnom Penh, Cambodia

Phnom Penh, Cambodia 05/18/15

Background:

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

Others Asian and European cities.

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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?

U.S. takes 18-22 hours and 1-3 days (depending on the routing). Most direct is through Tokyo but others go through Seoul (or even Singapore).

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3. How long have you lived here?

Three years in the traffic-filled, noisy, construction dust, purse-snatching expat neighborhood of massage parlors, coffee shops, "international schools," and fast food restaurants known as "BKK1" living in a locally-built mid-rise noisy apartment house.

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

Assigned by my 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?

BKK1 mid-rise apartments are filled with loud/noisy neighbors. BKK1 stand-alone houses are disappearing and converting to businesses/big apartment blocks. People are moving farther south to a few gated communities. If you want to live like a local, then you can get a cheap room rental for a cuople hundred bucks. Expat apartments are usually US$1,300-2,300/month. Things are surprisingly expensive for housing/living like rents, restaurants, and groceries (more expensive than Thailand or Vietnam).

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

Can buy things but not always in stock. Pencil carries a good variety of Thai or Vietnamese-made household stuff. AEON Mall has a grocery store with Japanese products. Thai Hout carries a lot of French household products and food.

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

More nuts, chocolate, and my favorite detergent/soaps. Anything imported is expensive and you don't know what the importers will want to buy.

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

Burger King. Some Japanese restaurants. KFC. Normal to a bit higher than U.S./Japan prices.

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

Ants of many types. Cambodian city rats are the fattest/ugliest around and you'll have them in every yard or parking garage. Normal cockroaches for Asia. Mosquitos abundant along with malaria and dengue fever. Flies with their usual nasty little diseases. In some darker sidewalks, you will find human execrement. Some companies will provide mosquito nets to its expat employees.

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Daily Life:

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

Local mail has worked for me to send/receive letters to neighboring countries. FedEx is also surprisingly fast from the United States.

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

Your US$250 or whatever a month means a lot to help them move up in the world and to support their family. Yes, pay for their English class, driving class, cooking school, etc. It's just a small amount of money to you but will increase their life-long earning potential. In reality, it's really hard for one person to live on US$90-100/month in Phnom Penh. They also need money for school supplies, their family, an occassional t-shirt and for a treat.

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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?

Credit cards are only used at hotels and big restaurants. Cash is better but US$20 bills and lower.

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

Yes. Not many sidewalks. Even then, they are taken-over by plants, motos, and cars. Streets have pot-holes. Very hot and noisy outside. The only blind people we see are beggars playing flutes while being led by a young boy with a string (or working in Japanese shiatsu-type Seeing Eye massage shops). The deaf live in isolation without education or sign language.

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Transportation:

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

Just started a local bus service in the city. Cheap but not sure how often (or where) it runs. Local buses are popular with backpackers to other cities - but they seem to often crash.

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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?

Anything Toyota; especially Land Cruisers, Highlanders, Camry. Kia Vistos. Just think like you're the most obnoxious, Type-A driver in the USA and buy the biggest/showiest SUV with tinted windows. You will fit in perfectly. Import duty is 85% of the government's estimated car cost according to engine size. Haven't heard of carjackings as much as moto jackings. (Maybe coz the locals have off-duty cops riding shotgun as body guards and supposedly a lot of people have a gun in their car.)

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Phone & Internet:

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

Just buy a cheap local phone and use it until it gets stolen. Keep an eye out in the Phnom Penh Post for the latest calling promotion.

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Employment & Volunteer Opportunities:

1. What volunteer opportunities are available locally?

Lots of teaching jobs because most people stop school before finishing high school. Take your pick: girls, poor kids, etc.

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

Expats are rich. Should dress the part at least with a tie if you're a teacher or office worker.

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Health & Safety:

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

Tons of purse-snatchings which can lead to hospital stays and death. An occassional home burglary in the expat neighborhood leading to death. Occassional casino robberies in the neighborhood where winners have been robbed/shot outside their apartment. Reports of people getting their laptop stolen either a.) as they're sitting in a coffee shop using it or b.) while carrying it across the street to get to that coffee shop/mini-mart. People getting car parts like side mirrors stolen.

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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; malaria, dengue fever, chicken pox/measles, cholera, bird flu, infections, etc. Bad health care. Even the King goes to China for his medical checks. Middle class goes to Vietnam. Upper middle class to Thailand and the rich to Singapore/United States. The only time you'd visit an expensive/limited international clinic because of a life-threatening illness. To Calmette hospital for a traffic accident. Buy your medevac insurance!!

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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?

City is at the base of four rivers so our "soil" is sand which leaks out and gets blown around. So it can get dusty. You also have the "dust" from multiple construction sites at different stages. I just cleaned-out my vacuum cleaner and had to get out the tootbrush to remove what appears to be cement at the bottom.

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4. What do people who suffer from environmental or food allergies need to know?

MSG is here (and some of us love it). Pork is abundant. Not many nuts in dishes coz nuts are expensive imports.

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

Great weather. Sunnier than Jakarta. About the same as Ho Chi Minh City. Only 2-3 months a year when it's not humid. Otherwise hot and humid the rest of the year. Can get big rain which means some streets flood within 5 minutes (then 45 minutes after the rain stops the streets usually unflood). But this is water mixed-in with raw sewage and can get into your car; so think about that! And water-borne cholera.

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Schools & Children:

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

Only that there's an "international school" on every other block.

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2. 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?

See above answer but if I had young kids I wouldn't bring them to Cambodia because there are too many observed and reported crimes involving children as victims (think pedophiles, seriously).

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Expat Life:

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

Eating, drinking, traveling, seeing a movie at one of three theaters. Some expats focus on religious recruitment.

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

Families and single men seem to like it the best. Couples and other singles would find it too small, dirty, moderately expensive (except alochol) and BORING. Plus even the locals get inside their home and lock the gates around 8:30 p.m. It's still dangerous at night because of crime and drunk drivers. Lots of hit and runs. Crimes don't get solved here.

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

Probably although the Royal Government hasn't followed the lead of the late King-Father to allow same-sex marriage or equal rights. It's a taboo subject in general but the population is Buddhist which are more tolerant and understanding than more Western-orientated dogmatic religions.

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

Like other Asian countries, Africans aren't treated well. They seem to allow the Mormons, Baptists, and others to do their recruitment thing all over the country. The only Catholics are the Philippinos and the down-trodden ethnic Vietnamese.

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

Weather is usually pretty sunny. It's just hot and humid (sometimes with rain/flooding). Seeing Siem Reap and Angkor Wat a few times since can get there through US$12-15 buseses and cheap guest houses.

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

There's some temple on a mountain on the outskirts of town. The only hidden gem in Phnom Penh would be the latest hidden bar or expat restaurant.

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

Tailored clothes and rough wood carvings. Best bet are inexpensive semi-precious stones like smokey topaz and enhanced stones.

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

Hardship differiential, cheap hired help and tuk-tuk drivers. Tuk-tuks are fine for a while. But better just to buy a car instead of relying on a tuk-tuk driver. You can always use the extra money to hire another maid. Locals don't earn much so it's nice to spread the wealth; especially to the poorer young adults with little education.

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Words of Wisdom:

1. What do you wish you had known about this particular city/country before moving there?

How dirty the sidewalks and streets were.

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

Attitude. No one care about how things are done in your country. Standing in line, not spitting, not tossing trash on the ground everywhere, not pissing in the street.

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3. But don't forget your:

Umbrella.

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4. Do you have any other comments?

If you come here, be nice to everyone (but don't let the tuk-tuk drivers and touts walk all over you). Learn 5 words/phrases in Khmer and use them. That's enough and it'll be a nice thing.

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