Once famed as the “Pearl of Asia”, the Cambodian capital, Phnom Penh, has lots to offer expats.
You’ll find a stunningly low cost of living, bustling markets and a thriving food scene, set to a backdrop of colonial French architecture and Buddhist temples.
Expat John Grady, 65, discovered all this and more when he moved here. It was Phnom Penh’s beauty, and its people’s warmth, which inspired him to start taking photos as a way to supplement his retirement income.
John planned trips across Southeast Asia to look for a second home. But in Thailand, he decided to take a quick detour to Cambodia…and there his travels ground to a halt. A friendly local on his hotel’s staff invited him out to see the “real Phnom Penh”, away from the tourist area.
And what he saw made him realise Cambodia could be the place for him. Here was a country with a happy and welcoming population, easy access to residence visas, and an incredibly low cost of living.
“Apartment rentals in nice areas of the city are available for as little as $350 per month,” John says. “But what really amazed me was the low cost of eating out at great local restaurants. You can fill yourself with barbequed meats, grilled fish or Khmer soup, and endless bowls of rice or noodles, for less than $7.
“Back home, my limited mobile phone plan cost me $70 per month. But here, I could spend less than $14 for all my calls and five gigabytes of data. Even international calls are as cheap as seven cents a minute, although I mainly use Skype for making free calls overseas.
“The only income I had at the time was limited to my pension, which couldn’t support any kind of lifestyle back home. But here in Phnom Penh, I could suddenly afford to enjoy living the good life for a change.”
John returned home, put his goods into storage, and moved to Cambodia permanently in 2012.
Once settled in Phnom Penh, he began taking his camera out each morning to snap photos of local street scenes—vendors selling noodles from food stalls, motorbike taxi drivers playing cards on the street corner, and anything interesting that caught his eye.
“I already earn enough from my pension to cover my costs. I was always interested in photography, mainly as a hobby. But I figured, why not try and earn some income from it, as well?”
The money he earns from photography is mostly reinvested in buying new cameras or equipment.
Aside from enjoying food and photography, he now spends much of his spare time with his Cambodian wife’s extended family, and he also remains active in the expat community.
“This city is like a magnet for people from every country in the world. There are plenty of Australians here, but also nationals from every country in Europe, Americans, Canadians, Russians and even places like Kazakhstan.”
John’s advice to others looking to turn a skill into a business: “First, it has to be something that you enjoy doing, like a beloved hobby, because you need some passion in your pictures for them to sell.
“Photography works well for me, as I get to interact with local people. In fact, the locals are my main customers, since I give a copy of every photo I take to the people who pose for me. I get a big kick out of the look on their faces when they see themselves in my photos for the first time.
“Photography has been my way to get inside the beating heart of the Cambodian people. I’m just doing what I love. What better way to enjoy my retirement?”
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