Known as the “Kingdom of Wonder”, Cambodia is a country of many treasures. From learning about the nation’s rich long-standing history to traveling through its luscious landscapes, the country attracts short-term travelers and long-term expatriates alike.
Moving to a new country can be a daunting experience. Ms. Shiandy Puyao, our programs and activities manager, shares her insights into the expat experience in Cambodia.
Coming to Cambodia I can say, was one of the best decisions I have made in my life. It was here where I met my husband, built my family and was given opportunities in different fields which gave me vast experiences and confidence in my career over the past decade. It has not been a trouble-free experience being here for 10 years, but it was not unyielding either. The living experience in Cambodia is about how you embrace, adjust, adapt and appreciate the country’s culture that defines how you can live a satisfactory life as an expat in Cambodia.
There are few factors to consider when one decides to settle in Cambodia. These factors may not apply to everybody as these are based on my personal experiences since I arrived.
Cambodian People & Culture
Cambodian people, also known as Khmer (Kah-my), are one of the most kind and respectful people I have ever met. They live simple lives and they opt to live peacefully. One reason I instantly loved Cambodia and I am sure many tourists and expats can also relate is the positive attitude of the local population towards foreigners. Wherever you go, you will be greeted with a friendly “Khmer smile” and treated as a special guest.
For many Cambodians life is centred on family, faith and food, an existence that has stayed the same for centuries. Family is more than the traditional nuclear family, it’s the extended family of third cousins, uncles and aunts. Families stick together, solve problems collectively, listen to the wisdom of the elders and pool resources. The extended family comes together during times of trouble and times of joy, celebrating festivals and successes, mourning deaths and disappointments. Whether the Cambodian house is big or small, there will be a lot of people living in a shared space filled with love.
Exploring the many different facets of Khmer culture is fascinating. Here are some trusted websites to give you a glimpse into Cambodian culture and traditions.
Cambodian Holidays & Festivals
During my time in Cambodia, I have come to understand the importance of Khmer traditions and history. Here are some of the many important holidays:
- Victory Over Genocide (January) – A day that commemorates the end of the Khmer Rouge regime.
- Khmer New Year (April) – Based on the solar calendar, this date marks the Sun entering Aries. Khmer New Year is typically celebrated over a three-day period with quality time with close friends and family.
- Pchum Ben (September/October) – Also known as “Ancestors’ Day”, Pchum Ben is a religious festival marking the end of Buddhist lent which lasts 15 days. Many people pay homage to their ancestors by offering them Bay Ben (balls of sticky rice and sesame or coconut cream) at dawn.
- Cambodian Independence Day (November 9) – This day marks Cambodia’s independence from France on November 9, 1953. In the evening, the Royal Palace and other buildings are illuminated and a huge fireworks display takes place near the riverbanks of the Royal Palace.
- Om Touk, also known as Water Festival (October or November) – Water Festival is one of the major national festivals in Cambodia, which is held during the rainy month of the fishing season. It is believed to have been celebrated from ancient times during the reign of Jayavarman VII in (1181 AD) to the present. To commemorate the heroic example of the Khmer navy that liberated the land from their oppression Enemies (Cham) of the Champa Empire Bandera Front Alliberament Cham.svg Champa in a boat battle on the Tonle Sap Lake.
Weather & Climate
As with many tropical places, Cambodia is known for its warm and (sometimes) wet weather. The dry season is typically October to April, while most of spring and summer is filled with rainy days. In terms of coolness, the temperature can get as low as 16 degrees celsius (60.8 degrees fahrenheit) in January and February. During this time you can see many people wearing vibrant woven scarves or light jackets.
The Khmer Riel and US Dollars are accepted throughout the country with an average currency exchange rate of 1 USD to 4,100 Riel. When paying with cash, you want to make sure your bills are crisp without tears. Some ATMs offer a minimum of $100 bill for withdrawals, which can be difficult to use for small purchases. If you don’t mind doing a bit of math, it is sometimes easier to withdraw Riel.
Bank and credit cards are rarely used at small businesses and restaurants, so it’s best to keep some cash on you at all times. Petty crimes (i.e. pick-pocketing) is common in Cambodian cities, so make sure your cash is safely stored on your person.
Travel and Getting Around
When traveling to Cambodia, you will most likely arrive at the Phnom Penh International Airport which is the travel-hub of the country. Cambodia has international airports in Siem Reap and Sihanoukville as well (more information about these cities below) . The customs and immigration process is pretty seamless and can take as little as 30 minutes. For safety purposes, be sure to get cash from one of the trusted ATMs there and arrange transportation with a vendor booth or using a ride hailing app such as grab, opposed to stand-alone drivers.
Within the cities people ride bicycles or motorbikes, or hire tuk-tuks and private cars to get around. Depending on your distance, a tuk-tuk can be as low as $1 using trusted ride-share apps such as Grab and Pass-App. There are also be many tuk-tuk drivers waiting outside of popular venues.