Cambodia is a popular tourist destination and Phnom Penh one of the country’s most popular cities for expats.
I am therefore very excited to be able to share Jen and Stevo’s experiences living in Phnom Penh and exploring Cambodia.
In the Ask an Expat series I interview people living all over the world but outside of their home country. I try to help paint an honest picture of the ups and downs of life abroad, share tips for anyone thinking about moving abroad and information about what to see and do in the city, town or country the expat now calls home.
Expat life in Phnom Penh, Cambodia
Location: Phnom Penh, Cambodia
Names: Jen and Stevo Joslin
Age: 30 and 29, respectively.
Home town: Newport Beach, California, USA
“We’re Jen and Stevo, a couple originally from southern California. We’ve traveled extensively throughout Cambodia nearly every year since 2009. We fell more in love with the country after each return trip, and decided to move here in 2015!
Over the years we’ve had the chance to explore regions of Cambodia few travelers get to. Living in Cambodia has been an eye opening experience, and we love to share our insider knowledge about activities and destinations. We are currently based in Phnom Penh and are always learning new things about the city through our local and expat friends.”
Why did you move to Cambodia?
“I (Jen) spent six months in Cambodia in 2009 as a volunteer English teacher in the countryside. I fell in love with the people, the food, and the beauty of the country.
Stevo and I moved to China to teach English in 2011. During one of our school breaks in 2012 I brought Stevo to Cambodia to travel and meet my students. He saw why I loved the country so much, and lucky for me he loved it too!
In 2013 and 2014 we returned to the country to travel and volunteer as teachers during our holidays. In 2015, after six months of traveling around Asia, we were a bit lost about what our next move would be. We decided that since we love Cambodia so much we should just move here. And so we did! We didn’t have jobs or an apartment lined up, but we figured it out once we got here.”
What do you like about Cambodia?
“Number one has to be the people. Just walking down the street here you’ll be greeted with shouts of “hello!” and smiles from people of all ages. I truly think just being around Cambodian people has made me a happier, friendlier person.
Another thing is the chaos. I know that might sound weird, but in a strange way we love being a part of it. Even on our short bicycle commutes to work, so much can happen as you make your way through a sea of motorbikes and tuk tuks, overloaded with anything from passengers to produce to live chickens! Every day we feel the excitement of seeing or experiencing something new, whether from the environment we’re in or people we meet. We also have the time to create and work on personal projects. I think that feeling of constant learning and growing becomes addicting.”
What do you dislike about Cambodia?
“One thing that is not awesome about the city recently is the increase in petty theft crimes. We have now been robbed or attempted robbed three times in two and a half years, so that’s averaging once a year for us.
Sadly, it is becoming more common now. Often these are crimes of opportunity, such as bag or phone snatching, but sometimes they can turn dangerous. I was pulled off my bicycle in 2015 by two guys on a motorbike who grabbed my bag. The straps were too thick to break, and we all went down.
Unfortunately safety is a big concern here, and both expats in Phnom Penh and locals have to exercise extra caution with their belongings when they are out.”
What is your favorite thing to do in Cambodia?
“Our favorite thing to do in Cambodia is explore during our free time. We have visited many different parts of the country, and plan to see more this year. Cambodia has so much more to see than just Angkor Wat. And we really encourage travelers to get off the beaten path and explore more.”
What is your favorite place to hang out (restaurant, bar, etc) in Cambodia?
“This is a really tough question, but I think our ultimate happy place in Cambodia has to be the deck at Samon’s Village in Kampot, two hours outside Phnom Penh.
This laid back traditional style accommodation on the river is one of our favorite weekend escapes when we need a break from city life. Kampot is beautiful and green and offers so many opportunities to get into nature.”
What is the expat community like in Phnom Penh?
“There is a diverse and thriving community of expats in Phnom Penh. It includes interesting people, young and old, from all around the world.
There are events taking place every day of the week around town. These include networking events, restaurant openings, athletic tournaments, street fairs, documentary film showings, art galleries, plays, Nerd Nights, live music, stand-up comedy and more. Phnom Penh is a popular city for young families as well, with plenty of activities and businesses catering to children. We have met so many people from around the world doing interesting things here!”
Any tips for moving to / living in Phnom Penh?
“One of the biggest pieces of advice we can give when moving to Phnom Penh is to get involved in something you love here. Phnom Penh, at least for us, has been a city of possibilities.
The vibe here feels like a university in that there are always new people to meet and plenty of things to do. If you have an interest in something, like baking or net ball or comedy, then there are ways to get involved in those things. If a group doesn’t exist yet, it’s easy to start one.
As for finding work, in our experience looking for jobs once we got here proved to be a better strategy than applying ahead. We are both teachers, and we like to be able to see the school and meet the owners before we sign contracts.
Cambodia has one of the most relaxed visa processes in the world. If you enter the country on an Ordinary (E) visa then you can extend it for up to 6 months, giving you plenty of time to find a job. Just be sure to have enough savings for a month or two in case you don’t find something you like right away.”
Any resources you found useful during the process of moving to and/or building a new life in Phnom Penh?
“The Facebook groups Phnom Penh Housing and Phnom Penh Buy and Sell are both useful for finding accommodation and setting up your new home in Phnom Penh. I’ve written some extensive articles about the cost of living in Phnom Penh on our blog.”
Tip: If you are thinking about teaching English abroad, check out i-to-i.com. They offer TEFL courses and teaching opportunities in various countries, including Cambodia.
Is there something you just have to see or do when you are in Phnom Penh?
“One interesting area of the city is Boeung Kak Art Village. This area of the city used to be a lake. It was sold off and filled in by foreign developers in 2009. Sadly thousands of families who depended on the lake were displaced. In the past few years locals and foreigners have been working to revive the area and have transformed it into an art village, with beautiful street art and other projects. It’s definitely worth checking out!”
About Jen & Stevo
Jen and Stevo have been living in Phnom Penh, Cambodia since 2015. They love the excitement and adventures that living in Asia brings and travel as much as possible in the region. They share stories about expat life and travel in Cambodia on their blog Twocantravel.com.
If you have any questions about moving to Phnom Penh, feel free to email Jen at [email protected]
About Cambodia & Phnom Penh
Cambodia is a country in Southeast Asia, bordering Laos, Vietnam, and Thailand.
While the Angkor Wat commemorates Cambodia’s glorious history, the country has been ravaged by colonialism, the Indochina Wars, and the Khmer Rouge regime, and is today one of Asia’s poorest countries.
Modern day Cambodia is a friendly and youthful place though, attracting millions of tourists every year coming from all over the world. The Khmer temples and monuments found here are some of the most stunning examples of Buddhist architecture and art and explain why the country is so popular.
Phnom Penh, Cambodia’s capital, might be a bit rough on the edges, but it retains its former charm as a leafy South East Asian capital with a nice riverside promenade and numerous beautiful Cambodian Buddhist wats, palaces, and other artifacts. A large infrastructure catering to tourists makes it easily accessible, and many consider it to be one of the friendliest capitals in Asia, as Cambodians have not yet become jaded by mass tourism. Widespread poverty can still be seen, as in all of Cambodia, and increasing traffic can be a problem at certain times of the day.
Phnom Penh is slowly gaining high rise buildings, traffic lights, and Western style shopping malls. But overall it remains one of the most undeveloped capitals in Asia.
The innermost part of the city, known as “riverside” is where most tourists go, as it offers numerous cafés and restaurants. Standard tourist sights are few, which makes the city a place to relax, watch the street life and absorb the local color. Phnom Penh is a worthwhile destination for those who enjoy an ‘edgy’ experience or those interested in authentic South East Asian people and culture.
Are you interested in moving to Asia?
Also check out these expat interviews:
- Expat life in Vietnam
- Expat life in South Korea
- Life as an expat in Hong Kong
- Expat life in Zhengzhou, China
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