Phnom Penh, Cambodia Report of what it's like to live there - 10/24/16
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. Previous postings (though it has been many years) in West Africa, Eastern Europe and Thailand.
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?
Pacfic Northwest USA. About an 18-hour flight usually through Seoul or Tokyo.
3. How long have you lived here?
We lived in Phnom Penh from mid 2011 to mid 2015.
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?
The first year and a half we had a modern spacious apartment; then we moved a bit south to a gated community, stand-alone house (4 bedroom) with a small "yard." Embassy and other USG housing is shifting from the apartments to houses.
If your kids are in the International School of Phnom Penh it might be a good idea to be south of BKK 1 which is the main expat enclave, because ISPP has opened its new campus about 15 minutes south of there.
2. How would you describe the availability and cost of groceries and household supplies relative to your home country?
You can get anything you need or want in Phnom Penh though you may not find it all in one place. Of course you may not find exact brands. Imported items like berries are expensive but overall things are moderately priced. shopping in local markets for local fruits and vegetables is very cheap. There are decent grocery stores in addition to many markets and now big malls.
3. What household or grocery items do you wish you had shipped to post?
I really did not miss much except specific microbrews and a few specialty items or perhaps some pet supplies.
4. What typical restaurants, food delivery services, and/or takeout options are popular among expatriates?
Everything and anything of varying quality but generally this is easy and cheap and there are many many great restaurants and bars in the Penh.
5. Are there any unusual problems with insects or other infestations in housing?
No, typical tropical stuff like occasional sugar ants, but overall nowhere near as bad as I would have thought.
1. How do you send and receive your letters and package mail? Are local postal facilities adequate?
Diplomatic Pouch. I never used local mail.
2. What is the availability and cost of household help, and what types of help are typically employed by expatriates?
Good availability. A full time housekeeper/cook costs around $250 per month. Quality varies but overall our experiences were good.
3. What kinds of gyms or other sports/workout facilities are available? Are they expensive?
New places open up all the time and there are numerous options including at the big hotels like Sofitel. Prices vary.
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?
I rarely (never? ) used credit cards. It's a cash economy and the US dollar is widely accepted.
5. What English-language religious services are available locally?
6. How much of the local language do you need for daily living? Are local language classes/tutors available and affordable?
None, but speaking Khmer even passably will be much appreciated, and will greatly open up and enrich your experience.
7. Would someone with physical disabilities have difficulties living in this city?
Yes, it is not easy to access places (crazy-high sidewalks in disrepair, no real ramp access for wheel chairs etc. Crazy traffic and parking would make navigating outdoors a challenge for blind folks I think.
1. Are local buses, trams, trains or taxis safe and affordable?
Yuk Tuks are relatively safe and easy. Moto taxis are available but risky. Many expats I know bought a scooter. Some rode bicycles but it also pretty risky because the traffic and driving is crazy.
Phone & Internet:
1. Is high-speed home Internet access available? How long does it typically take to install it after arrival?
It's not really high speed but it is good enough for streaming. Cost varies but we paid $100 per month.
2. Do you have any recommendations regarding mobile phones? Did you keep your home-country plan or use a local provider?
Bring an unlocked phone and get a local sim. Very easy and cheap.
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?
Yes there is one European Vet (Agrovet)that is decent though resources were limited. Bringing pets in and out was easy. No quarantine.
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?
Teaching and other opportunities abound where permitted. Not sure about current status of bilateral work agreements. My spouse worked at the International School.
2. What volunteer opportunities are available locally?
3. What is the typical dress code at work and in public places? Is formal dress ever required?
Business casual for work and casual in public though somewhat conservative (short-shorts and bare shoulders are viewed as disrespectful). More conservative dress is expected at temples.
Health & Safety:
1. Are there personal security concerns to be aware of at this post? Please describe.
Phnom Penh is rated "critical threat" for crime and we had 24-hour embassy guards at our house. However, though purse snatching is a common occurrence, exercising basic precautions, not walking alone later at night, not flashing money in public, etc etc will keep you pretty safe. I never felt threatened and Phnom Penh seemed to me like one of the safest places I have lived.
2. Are there any particular health concerns? What is the quality of available medical care? What medical conditions typically require medical evacuation?
Dengue fever is a concern though less so in the city. Food handling is not always sanitary and I advise against eating street food. There is a Thai hospital that is pretty good and an internationally-staffed clinic but serious issues will usually require medical evacuation to Bangkok. Decent dental care is available.
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?
It can be dusty in the dry season and there is some trash burning. It is not terrible.
4. What do people who suffer from environmental or food allergies need to know?
I don't know. My son has hay fever in the US but was completely fine in Cambodia. There is MSG in a lot of food I think so that might be an issue. It would be hard to avoid fish or nuts if you have those allergies.
5. Are there any particular mental health issues that tend to crop up at post, such as Seasonal Affective Disorder (winter blues)?
6. What is the overall climate: is it extremely hot or cold, wet or dry, at any time of year, for example?
It is hot except for a couple of months in the "cool" season. There are torrential downpours in rainy season but they tend to just last a few hours. Overall it is sunny year-round. I loved it.
Schools & Children:
1. What is the availability of international schools? What has been your general experience with them, if any?
The International School of Phnom Penh is excellent and my kids had a great experience there. I have several friends whose kids attended ICAN and loved it. The French School also got good reviews.
2. What accommodations do schools make for special-needs kids?
I don't think there is much.
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?
Yes, but my experience is limited.
4. Are local sports classes and/or activities available for kids?
Yes, lots of activities through the school and elsewhere.
1. What is the relative size of the expatriate community? How would you describe overall morale among expatriates?
Phnom Penh is a relatively small town but I felt like there are lots and lots of expats here. Morale is generally good -- Phnom Penh is an easy place to live overall.
2. What are some typical ways to socialize, either with local people or with other expatriates? Are there groups or clubs that you can recommend?
Lots of going out to eat, meeting friends at bars, entertaining at home. There are cinemas, a bowling alley, ice skating and a kid-tastic indoor play place and climbing gym, with more things appearing all the time. Lots of people have book clubs or movie clubs and there is organized sports like soccer.
There is a country club with horseback riding and archery and lots of stuff like that though it is a bit far out. Golf is easily accessible and inexpensive, tennis courts, swimming pools and fairly inexpensive lessons are readily available.
Fun markets to poke around in, shopping etc. Lots to do for the imaginative and open-minded.
3. Is this a good city for single people? For couples? For families? Why or why not?
I had single friends who had a great time here, it is good for families for sure. Most people seemed to like it. It is what you make of it.
4. Is this a good city for LGBT expatriates? Why or why not?
Yes, Cambodians are very open and non-judgmental in my experience.
5. Are there problems with ethnic, race/racial minorities or religious prejudices? Gender equality?
Yes lots of sexism and gender equality issues among Cambodians. Prejudice against the Vietnamese and ethnic minorities exists.
6. What have been the highlights of your time in this country? Best trips or experiences?
The Cambodian people are lovely and the country has an amazing and rich -- though tragic -- history. It was a privilege to learn about it. Angkor Wat is amazing! Good beach trips (if you can get over the trash issue)and places like Kampt and Battambang are gems. It is also really easy and relatively cheap to travel to other great SE Asia destinations from Phnom Penh.
7. What are some interesting/fun things to do in the area? Can you recommend any “hidden gems"?
One of the most memorable things we did was to rent boats and cruise on the Mekong River with friends. Many wonderful memories!
8. Is this a "shopping post"? Are there interesting handicrafts, artwork, antiques, or other items that people typically buy there?
Yes tons to buy here though I suspect much of it is imported from Thailand! Silk, of course but so many other cool things. A visit to Art Street or the Russian Market are rewarding. Lots of innovative things being made by the gazillion NGOs.
9. What are the particular advantages of living in this city?
It may be the least expensive place I have ever lived. You can literally get anything done or made if you just ask. Lots of cool and interesting people to meet. Great travel.
Words of Wisdom:
1. What do you wish you had known about this particular city/country before moving there?
I think I knew what I needed to know. Like anything else your expectations make it what it is. Be open and relaxed and flexible, take necessary precautions and enjoy this place. Things will certainly drive you crazy but overall it is pretty great.
2. Knowing what you know now, would you still move to this city?
3. If you move here, you can leave behind your:
Bad attitude and complaining; winter clothes.
4. But don't forget your:
Flip flops, sunscreen, sense of wonder.
5. Do you recommend any books or movies about this city/country for those who are interested in learning more?
The Killing Fields
Don't Think I've Forgotten: A Lost History of Cambodia's Rock n Roll
The Missing Picture