The Phnom Penh Disaster

Out of the 12 cities/towns/villages I’ve permanently lived in while traveling, Phnom Penh was by a million miles the worst – and here is why…

Earlier this year I decided to experience Cambodia while living in Phnom Penh. We started our journey by staying in Onederz Hostel. The hostel was quaint and fairly priced. It’s located next to the Tonle Sap River and there are many attractions nearby.

I was excited to wander around the city and to discover what it was all about. Like many Asian cities, there were massage parlors, street food carts, and motorbikes scattered all around.

We started out slow by walking down Sisowath Quay Road. When you’re a traveler you have to be extremely adaptable – of course, duh. For many reasons, I’ll list below, I couldn’t find myself living or adapting in Phnom Penh. Needless to say, I only stayed for 2.5 months and then I was outta there.

It’s at this point that I have to remind you that Phnom Penh is still recovering from a tragic genocide. The aftermath of the destruction is still evident in its streets.

Homeless cats (with chopped off tails) are roaming around restaurants and bars. Thieves, prostitutes, and drug dealers are active during the day and multiply by night. The infrastructure of the city makes it difficult to walk next to the street (almost no zebra crossings, non-existing sidewalks). To top it all off there’s a constant smell of ‘dead rat’ in the air.

Read my article on the Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum to find out more.

Disclosure: This review is only about Phnom Penh and isn’t applicable to other attractions outside of the city or in the country.

Visa

You can easily apply for a Visa upon arrival. You will stand in a disorganized bundle and a few officials sitting behind desks are quick to take your money and staple your new visa into your passport – no questions asked.

There are 2 kinds of visas upon entering Cambodia:

Tourist (T) Visa – $30
Valid for a single-entry 30-day stay
Ordinary (E) Visa – $35
Valid for a single-entry 30-day stay with the exception that it can be extended.

Don’t be a dumb fool like me – upon arrival get an ordinary visa – it can be extended to a multiple-entry 1/3/6/12-month visa for an additional $35-$360.

You can’t obtain a work visa with a Tourist visa – ONLY with an E-visa. You’re welcome!

If you enter the country with a Tourist visa (like loose-goose me) you will have to do a visa run. There are cheap $11-$25 bus rides from Phnom Penh to Vietnam/Thailand.

Right before the visa run, we were informed, by expats already living in the city, that doing an overnight run across the border will be suspicious. Officials might turn your request down if they see you going in and out of the country within a day. If you have time to do a 3-day visa run to save some travel costs – do it. If time isn’t on your side opt for a budget flight with Asia Air – $80-$110 return.

If you enter Cambodia on land here are the border crossings:

– Border crossings with Thailand: Poipet, Cham Yeam (Koh Kong), O’Smach
– Border crossings with Vietnam: Bavet, Kha Orm Sam Nor
– Border crossing with Laos: Dom Kralor

Accommodation

After our stay at the pleasant Onederz hostel we wanted to discover another part of the city (since the riverside area was extremely touristy) and booked a week at the Blue Corner Hotel . It would be during this time that we search for an apartment and get settled.

Best Area To Live In for Expats in Phnom Penh

Asking around we discovered that the best expat areas are:

Boeung Keng Kang/BKK1,
Tonle Bassac, and
Toul Tom Poung

Room rental signs will be put outside buildings with vacant accommodation.

Most rental companies will advertise properties to expats that are close to ‘Russian Market’ – apparently this is where it’s at. Because my friend got a job at a school in Tuol Kok we ended up renting a flat there. Tuol Kok is a more residential area and being a stay-at-home writer I would enjoy the quiet atmosphere.

Accommodation

What will you get for $80-$150 p/month? – basically a sh*thole. No Wi-Fi, No working toilet, No TV, bad conditions, No working A.C., extremely small room, and shared space with other renters.

What will you get for $200-$350 p/month? – A small bachelor style service apartment. If you’re lucky you can find pretty decent ones in areas close to attractions.

What will you get for $400-$550 p/month? – A western-style 1-bedroom service apartment with decent furniture and amenities. Perhaps an in-house swimming pool and gym. Working AC, fridge, TV, and balcony.

What will you get for $600-$800 p/month? – A western-style 2-bedroom service apartment in a good area. Rooftop swimming pool and gym area. Working AC, and other amenities.

Do bear in mind that most monthly rental prices exclude electricity, gas, Wi-Fi, and other apartment building services.

In order to rent you need to pay 1-2 month’s rent as a deposit + 1 month’s rent.

Real estate companies – IPS and Realestate.com

Facebook group where private and agents advertise.

Security

Listen up! Phnom Penh is a breading spot for petty theft and scammers. Being used to China’s low crime rate I did, unfortunately, have my guard down and boy did it cost me – $900 to be exact.

I don’t like leaving cash unattended in a hostel or hotel room – not even in a safe lock (I was born in South Africa and know that if a thief wants your money they’ll break through anything to get to it).

Even though I’m extremely embarrassed to share this story – I want to, it might help someone else. Go ahead and read How Someone Stole $900 in 10 Minutes.

Petty theft happens all the time in Phnom Penh. Whether it’s a gang of 4 pre-teens attacking you on the street or motorcyclists grabbing your bag from the Tuk-Tuk – robberies are pretty common.

Take normal precautions and NEVER leave your valuables unattended.

Costs

Cambodia’s currency is the riel or KHR. 4,000 KHR equals $1. In most cases you’ll pay in dollars. Bear in mind that when you pay with a $20/$50/$100 smaller vendors won’t have any change available.

FOOD

No doubt that Phnom Penh is a great place to tickle your taste buds. There are a huge variety of restaurants available scattered around the city. From low budget to high-end, from American to Indian to Thai cuisine, you’ll find it all.

Chat to locals to find the best deals on Pork & Rice. You can pay as little as $1 for a decent bowl of Pork & Rice. Indian cuisine can cost you anything between $4.50-$8.00 per dish. A Thai soup or dish between $3-$8. An all-you-can-eat buffet with seafood and steak between $20-$30. A decent hamburger and chips between $5-$10.

Depending on where you drink you can pay as little as $0.75 for a draft beer or as much as $10. Cocktails, which is usually a Gin fizz, Daiquiri, or something fruity varies between $5-$12.

Recommended restaurants:
Kabbas Restaurant for affordable and delicious Thai cuisine.
Full Moon Steakhouse for delicious all-you-can eat Brazilian meat buffet.
Sonoma Oyster bar for delicious (but pricey) fresh oysters.
Namaste Indian Restaurant for eye watering hot Indian cuisine.

GROCERIES

These Grocery prices in Phnom Penh are based on shopping at Aeon Supermarket, corner convenience stores, and Makro wholesale.

Milk (1L) – $2.40
Coca-Cola/Soda (350 ml) – $0.70
(2L) – $2.00
Bottle of Beer – $0.75
Bottle of Wine – $10.00
Bottle of Water (500ml) – $0.50
Chicken Breast (1kg) – $4.00
Cheese – $12.50
Loaf of bread – $1.50
French Baguette – $0.60
Ham – $3
Apples (1kg) – $3.50
Bananas (1kg) – $1.50
Cigarettes pack of 20 – $1.50
Gasoline (1L) – $1
Pack of crisps – $1-$1.50
Candy/Chocolate – $1.50-$3
Extra classes/activities – $10-$30

Go onto Cambodeals.com for extra specials and promo codes.

Weather

Phnom Penh’s weather is first of all extremely humid, stuffy, and hot. A true tropical climate with warm temperatures throughout the year.

The city has 2 seasons: Northeast monsoon season (December to April) and Southwest monsoon season. (May-November)

Expect sunny and dry weather during the Northeast monsoon season, and sudden bursts of rain between the months of May-November (these rainstorms are welcomed as they cool down the warm earth from the day’s heat).

No matter what you’ll be sweaty, sticky and uncomfortably hot throughout your visit.

Salary & Employment

It seems like Phnom Penh is a few steps behind when it comes to employment and how the rest of the world goes about it. Instead of scouting for work online you have to print out your CV and take to the streets. Walking around from business to business you will see that some shops, schools, and restaurants advertise vacancies on big banners on their outside walls.

Employment options in Phnom Penh:

Barlady/Barman – $200-$400
Child care-taker – $500
Teaching English – $900-$1400
University Lecturer – $1,400-$1,800
Higher Teaching Position (principal, HOD) – $2,000-$3,000
IT/Tech/Software developer – $500-$1,000
Project Manager – $1,000-$1,500

Transport

The streets are noisy and busy

By downloading the GRAB app you will be able to zip around the city in a Tuk-Tuk. This is by far the most convenient thing in and around Phnom Penh. Look out for promotional codes that you can enter to get a few extra KHR off of your trip. Promotional codes are usually: cheap.

A round trip can cost you between $2-$6.

You can rent your own motorcycle for less than $55 per month. Given you have a safe place to park it at night and a very secure lock.

Locals

The Phnom Penh locals are extremely friendly. They are always willing to help, share a story or have a chat. Even though some locals do try to scam tourists, the majority of citizens are extremely pleasant.

Conclusion

I’ve come across Expats who absolutely adore the city of Phnom Penh. Even though I’m extremely adaptable, to me, it was a different experience and it became one city I wouldn’t want to visit again.

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