“I didn’t want to move here because I thought I was happy where I was. But test-driving life in Phnom Penh soon opened my eyes to what this incredible place has to offer,” explains Melbourne native Michelle Williams.
“I have always been a firm believer of living within your means and being careful with money. But things are really different here in Phnom Penh, I mean incredibly affordable. I still tuck a bit of money away each month but what I do spend goes so much further here.”
Back in Melbourne, Michelle would consciously avoid spending on overpriced takeout coffees or splashing her cash on clothes she wanted but couldn’t afford. It was simply far too expensive to live like that. Instead, she enjoyed a reasonable but relatively basic life.
“Phnom Penh turned everything upside down. Overnight I went from an “essentials only” lady to having luxuries I’ve never experienced before. Before I was used to packed lunches, finding the best bargains at the supermarket and my idea of a relaxing treat was a long bath.
“Suddenly I became one of those ‘ladies who lunch’ as I joined a group of other expat women at least a couple of times a week and we always go to a different high-end restaurant. The thing is, even when we go somewhere really posh we might only pay $10 or $20 a person for fine French or Italian cuisine.”
Michelle’s newfound friends quickly introduced her to the fun and financially friendly world of expat life in Phnom Penh, Cambodia’s thriving capital.
“I have never been so pampered and looked after in all my life. If I’m feeling stressed or want to have a refresh then it’s off to the ladies spa around the corner from our apartment. I can get a 90-minute traditional Khmer massage for $10, an oil massage for $15 or a head and foot massage for $12. Until I came to Cambodia I didn’t realise how amazing having a professional massage was…and I couldn’t have afforded it anyway.”
Michelle also found out that getting around the capital city doesn’t have to mean walking or taking tuk-tuks everywhere.
“People don’t realise how quickly Cambodia is catching up with the rest of the world when it comes to technology. In Phnom Penh there are a lot of great taxi apps you can download on your phone and the prices are unreal. Although Uber is available, I recommend using one of the local apps as they offer a real bargain if you want to travel in style.
“You can choose a regular taxi for about $1.50 or do what I do and upgrade to the premium service. All I have to do is press a button and select what kind of SUV I want to be driven in and the minimum charge is under $2. Usually, I choose a Lexus or a Landcruiser to take me wherever I want to go. The average price I pay for a trip is rarely more than $3 and I get to sit in the back on a comfy seat and enjoy the air-conditioning.”
And when it comes to hitting the shops Michelle has a wide range of choices depending on what she takes a fancy to.
“If we need some groceries for the apartment then there are plenty of Western-style supermarkets and even shops that specialise in organic produce. Sometimes I can buy imported goods from Europe at half the price they would cost in Australia. Wine is an absolute bargain and you wouldn’t believe the quality you can get for $10 or $15. We certainly don’t go hungry or ever feel financial guilt about picking up a lovely bottle of Bordeaux.
“I had reservations about moving to Phnom Penh but it has turned out to be a total luxury lifestyle upgrade, which I did not expect. I spend so much less but get so much more for my money, not to mention the fantastic experiences I am having on a daily basis.”