The High Life For Less in Cambodia’s Capital

Cambodia is known for its sheer affordability and the abundance of opportunities it offers expats to enjoy the finer things in life without the high price tag. I’ve made my home in the capital, Phnom Penh. My cost of living here is a quarter of what it was back home and, as a bonus, I can enjoy all the little luxuries that were beyond my reach in my old life.

Everything I do here, I can do in style. You can find fun and adventure at every turn and for me, when the weekend rolls around, I’m ready to make the most of what this vibrant city has to offer.

In Cambodia, Friday is known as “T’ngai Sok” or “happy day” and I know I’ll have a smile on my face as I wander down a tiny little lane on Street 308 where a bunch of hip little bars and restaurants are waiting to be explored.

Drawing in expats and locals, this area has fast become one of the happening hotspots for those who like the cool vibe as well as the choice of great places to eat. My personal favourite is an authentic Italian restaurant called Piccola Italia Da Luigi. Here I feast on one of their amazing pizzas and enjoy a couple of drinks for $14.

On Saturday, I appreciate a lengthy morning lie-in before heading to my local coffee shop to grab some freshly blended Vietnamese coffee and a traditional Cambodian breakfast of “bai sach chrouk” – grilled pork with steamed rice and pickled vegetables. Delicious—and all for less than $5.

Then I might make one of my regular trips to the tailor. I’ve been using the same place for the past decade and get all my trousers and shirts made to measure using the finest of materials. The cost depends on the materials I choose but averages about $20 per item.

While I’m out and about I head to a few different places so I can get some weekly shopping done. The local markets are good for daily shopping trips but I like to stock up in advance so I opt for western style supermarkets like Thai Huot. It has an amazing range of imported goods and I can fill my trolley up for under $40.

By mid-afternoon I’ve worked up a thirst, so I’ll either stop off for a fresh fruit smoothie that will set me back $2.50 or, even better, I’ll buy a coconut from a passing vendor for just 80 cents.

Recently a lot of people have been joining local Buddhist Meditation classes held at the Wat Langka temple near Independence Monument that take place on Saturdays at 6pm, myself included. And as well as all the benefits meditation offers, it’s also conveniently located near one of the area’s best restaurants, Saffron, where they dish up Pakistani and Middle Eastern curries to die for, with main courses ranging from $7 to $10.

Sundays are another opportunity for me to enjoy a nice lie-in followed by a freshly brewed coffee sipped slowly on my balcony as I watch people coming and going about their day.

If I have guests in town or I’m having a celebration, then the Sunday Champagne Brunch at the five-star Raffles Hotel Le Royal will be high on my “to do” list. Offering a free flow of champagne, wines and cocktails alongside a top notch spread of lobsters on ice, foie gras, oysters, cured meats from Europe and all sorts of other tempting dishes, the brunch has become an expat institution. At $115 a head it’s far from the cheapest option in town but is well worth it for special occasions. It’s one of those little luxuries that, thanks to savings in every other area, I can afford to splash out on here.

Another great thing about the weekend in Phnom Penh is that all the major TV stations hold live Khmer Kickboxing championship matches. Known in Cambodia as Pradal Serey or Kun Khmer, the sport actually predates similar forms of kickboxing popular in Southeast Asia and is an amazing way to spend your Sunday afternoon surrounded by enthusiastic crowds of locals. Groups of expats regularly go to the local CTN television studios where they can join the audience free-of-charge and see the country’s top kickboxing champions battle it out live for a few hours.

After working up an appetite watching the kickboxing I often get a hankering for some authentic Chinese food. Here in Phnom Penh the largest concentration of Chinese restaurants is on Monivong Boulevard. There must be 50 different establishments to choose from but the best bet for a great value feed is the much-loved Chinese Noodles where freshly made noodles or dim sum are available from $3 a dish.

My favourite way to round off the weekend is with a relaxing massage at the upscale Champei Spa. I opt for the traditional full body Khmer massage which lasts 60 minutes and, at $13, is an absolute bargain.

A fun filled weekend in Phnom Penh is an easy feat to manage and no two weekends are ever the same. What’s really great is that you can enjoy yourself for as little or as much as you fancy thanks to the wide range of cool things to do in the capital city.

Image: ©iStock.com/Pipop_Boosarakumwadi

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