You Don’t Need to Be Rich to Enjoy Life in Cambodia

My Saturday mornings usually begin with a short cycle down a quiet back road to my favorite French pâtisserie. Over a breakfast of a delicious omelet, croissant, and cappuccino, I plan my day. Picture-perfect balmy weather and a fresh, southerly breeze? Looks like I’m going sailing. Or, if I need to do some freelance writing work, I may toss my laptop into my backpack and take a short bicycle or motorbike ride to a nearby beach.

There are four in my area alone and dozens farther along the coast.

You don’t need to be rich to enjoy life in Cambodia. My Saturday breakfast costs just $3, and last Saturday, between breakfast, renting a catamaran, and dinner for two, I came away with change out of the $25 I had in my pocket that morning. I can easily afford to indulge myself whenever I want.

I call the beach town of Sihanoukville home. It’s turned out to be the best move I’ve ever made. I can’t afford a private villa on the luxury resort islands off the coast, such as Song Saa or Morakot, but I can live a lot better than I could back home.

What would I have back home? The best I can imagine is a small apartment far from the beach and a nine-to-five job or—now that I’m 65—a pension that would barely cover my basic expenses. Maybe I could scrape enough money together to take a bus to the beach on weekends, but I certainly couldn’t afford to go sailing.

A great quality of life is incredibly affordable here. I know one U.S. expat who lives on $300 a month. That may be cutting it a bit fine, but he prefers pottering around his garden to going out, so he’s perfectly content with the money he receives from back home each month.

An upper-middle-class salary in Cambodia is around $1,200 a month, and you can live that kind of lifestyle if your pension, salary, or investments earn you that much.

Eating out in Sihanoukville is incredibly cheap…and there’s lots of choice: Mexican… Italian…Indian… fresh seafood…and more.

Life here wasn’t always this easy. There were few western amenities when I first arrived. But in recent years, the area has really blossomed. Following its official declaration as a province in 2009, land titles were quickly issued and development took off at a dizzying pace.

When I went sailing at Otres Beach on Saturday, I made the six-mile journey on a newly-paved road. Closer to home, Serendipity Road, the main tourist drag, was paved and given street lights in late 2011. It’s now filled with restaurants, nightspots, stores, and accommodation.

Things look likely to explode in the near future. Sihanoukville International Airport isn’t very “international” yet, but there are now regular domestic flights. And $200 million was recently allocated to upgrade the airport for international flights.

In the midst of all the growth, though, the best parts of traditional Cambodian life remain. We still buy our sugar, soap, and other daily necessities at a little stall outside a neighbor’s house. Once or twice a day, a vendor walks past with homemade goodies or fresh fruit. Little things like these make living here special. The modern conveniences just make life a little easier. I have the best of both worlds here in my little corner of Sihanoukville.

Progress usually comes at a price to the average person, but in Sihanoukville the price has been negligible. In fact, all the modern new apartment complexes that have been springing up in town have resulted in rent decreases, not increases.

It’s easy to find a comfortable studio apartment for under $100 a month, and if you stay awhile and get to know the ropes, you can rent a brick home like mine for $250.


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