Phnom Penh, Cambodia
The harbor in downtown Phnom Penh, Cambodia

Cambodia. The mere utterance of the name conjures up images of a grim, war-torn, forbidden, faraway place in the tropics where those over 40 bear memories of a genocidal dictator's ruinous reign.

Yet this country was the biggest surprise for us in our three-country loop around SE Asia from Thailand during 2014.

Three great reasons to go there—

First, there are the people.  They’re happy despite their recent and horrific history.  They’ll return a smile quickly or greet you on sight.  They’ll help you, happily, and enjoy doing so.  And they’re honest.  If you mistakenly overpay them they’ll give you your money-back and help you.

Second, there’s the place.  It’s difficult to grasp this country’s transformation toward modernity only 15 years after the death of Pol Pot.  Even though the dust hasn’t settled from the trials of some Khmer Rouge leaders, the country somehow ekes its’ way on the path of progress daily.

Those arriving by boat in Phnom Penh will find a gleaming capital city basking in miles of modern waterfront construction running to the confluence of three rivers making up the harbor.  Majestic clean new buildings line this emerging causeway embracing a beehive of commerce.   Tour boats crisscross these waters with visitors gawking and hanging out of the windows.  Tankers, container ships, and a plethora of businesses are busy on the water and the shore.  The major streets are clean.   Parks are sweeping, expansive and welcoming.  Western businesses — big businesses — line the streets in new office buildings:  KPMG, Deloitte, Canon, Fujifilm, Toyota, Mercedes, BMW, to mention a few.

Then there’s Siem Reap about a 1-hour flight to the north.  It’s a tourist trap, and annoyingly so.  But Angkor Wat is worth seeing if only as an archaeological curiosity.  Take time to watch the NatGeo special on this place and then visit it.  You’ll leave wondering why it wasn’t listed as one of the seven wonders of the world way back when.  It is without a doubt, the largest intact archaeological building complex on the planet as far as we know.

Third, the cost.  If you think Thailand is inexpensive, wait till you visit here.  You just don't have to think about money much at all when you visit here.  For example, a bottle of Bombay Gin (yes, for those of us who need it for pain control or just for fun) costs just $10 at a local 7-11 type store.  The cost in Thailand?  About $23 U.S.   And so it goes with just about everything else you will spend money on.  Even the 5-star hotels in Phnom Penh are much less expensive than comparable places in Thailand.

While there’s room for optimism, no one can say for certain what lies ahead for this country.  Several sources told us about widespread, unabashed Governmental corruption.  One source calls the Government “ … a kleptocracy … they’re up-front about it …”.  Another cites Government fat cats arranging sweetheart deals for themselves.

Whatever happens, for now, Phnom Penh seems to be another great alternative for those looking to live abroad.  And the Cambodians welcome foreigners.

See also:

Cambodia — The Ruinous Reign of the Khmer Rouge


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