My girlfriend and I traveled to Cambodia last May to soak in some of the culture and to see what it would be like to live or retire in this beautiful country. Many people have written articles saying Cambodia is an attractive place for expatriates, and there are many wonderful things I loved about this country. Unfortunately it is not a place I would choose to retire. Here is my story. Retiring in Cambodia – The good and the bad.
The Buddhist Culture
Cambodia’s people live in a deeply peaceful Buddhist culture, and I think that is one of their strongest assets. Everyone I met was genuinely nice and friendly. When I first arrived, we took a tuk-tuk from the airport to our hotel in Siem Reap. The driver, whom we had not met, was very friendly and talkative, a common trait among Cambodian people.
A Safe Place to Visit
Cambodia is a safe place to travel. My girlfriend (from Thailand) and I felt perfectly safe whenever we decided to take a walk. We both enjoy strolling in the night markets and mingling with the locals and tourists. The markets are open, festive and a fun experience. I learned the art of negotiation a long time ago in the markets of Thailand and Mexico, and Cambodia is really no different.
Cambodia is Inexpensive
The price of just about anything you see is unbelievably cheap. Hotels, food, and transportation – all of it is very affordable. We both ate for about $5 a day. Cambodians prefer the American dollar as their currency, and I would not go there with any denominations above 5 dollars, except to pay my hotel bill. A wallet full of 5 and 1 dollar bills is all you need. Whenever you ask about the price of anything – the usual answer is “one buck” or “5 bucks.” Leave the 20 dollar bills at home, you won’t need them. I did not feel comfortable using my credit card.
The Temples of Angkor Wat
Without a doubt, the crown jewels of Cambodia are the hundreds of ancient Buddhist temples you will find throughout the country. The temples, especially around the area of Angkor Wat, are something I think everyone should see at least once in their lifetime.
Very Nice and Friendly People
We hired a wonderful driver/tour guide named Keo for $80 and he drove us anywhere we wanted to go for most of the week. He shared his many stories about the area and its vibrant history. He took us places to eat that are favored by the locals. He told us about his family, and how he was left by his parents as a child at a Buddhist temple when they tried to escape the Khmer Rouge. He misses his parents, and sadly, he has never seen or heard from them again. He considers the Buddhist monks his new family and he visits them as often as he can. By the time our trip was done, I was so impressed with his friendliness and attentiveness that I left him a huge tip of another $100 because I thought his stories and smiles were worth it. Cambodians do not make very much money, and for this, he was very thankful and gave us both a big hug.
The Bad (and the sad)
Which leads me to the sad parts of Cambodia as a place to live or retire. While I thought the people were extremely friendly, I also found them to be extremely poor. So poor, it just broke my heart. I remember many times seeing young mothers with their children, both covered in dirt, begging for food or money – and they are everywhere – begging. Most of the country outside of the city does not have electricity or running water. It is so sad seeing so many people living in destitution. The average salary, if you are lucky enough to have a job as a Cambodian, is about $1 to $2 a day.
The longer we were there, the more the sights of poverty wore on me. I just wanted to dump all of my money out of my wallet and just hand it to the very next person as they looked into my eyes, asking me if I would like to buy something. For the rest of our trip, as I bought something that “costs a buck” from a mother and her child, I would give them a five dollar bill, smile at them, and say keep the change. That tip is almost a week’s salary to them.
And for that reason alone, I would not choose Cambodia as a place to live or retire. It’s just too heart wrenching. However, I believe by traveling there as a tourist and taking the time getting to know the locals, you can help some of the friendly Cambodians by visiting their beautiful country and its people and by giving what you can.
Tell us your story about Cambodia and what are your impressions?
For more stories of where (or where not) to retire, click on our page Retire on a Budget.