Here’s my account of my first year traveling in and experiencing Cambodia and its people.
I arrived in Cambodia’s capital, Phnom Penh, in late December 2021. I had no idea what to expect — my expectations were low after spending 3 disappointing years in Bali.
I came to Cambodia at the time as it was the only country in Southeast Asia that opened its borders for international travel while the pandemic was still ongoing.
The government had the foresight to make it easy for international travelers to enter, unlike its neighboring countries, which still upheld quarantines or complicated and expensive procedures.
I’m in the 12th month of my first year in Cambodia, and I have no plans other than staying.
It’s the best country I’ve visited and lived in — I’ve lived in 7 countries on 3 continents over the past 4 decades. I’ve also traveled to many other countries for business or pleasure.
I think that qualifies me as a seasoned international traveler and an experienced expat.
My Cambodia Uncovered story so far
I’m not close to finishing exploring Cambodia — I’ve only scratched the surface to better understand the country and its people.
That’s the main element of establishing a successful and happy life in any country — grasping its culture, practices, traditions, how things tick, and how to interact with people.
You can only function well as an ex-pat in any country if you understand and practice those basics.
Unfortunately, many ex-pats worldwide don’t bother — instead, they remain in their bubbles with each other and don’t care about the country they’re living in or how its people see them.
And that’s why expats are often unpopular, particularly in SE Asia.
Stage 1. Phnom Penh
I knew nothing about the city, where to go, and what to do. So I just threw myself right into the heat of the action.
From what I’d read, it was supposed to be a dirty, overcrowded, disorganized, and somewhat dangerous city.
Of course, like all cities in SE Asia and most of the world, it does suffer from trash issues in some areas, but it’s not at all bad.
- The central residential areas are clean
- Traffic is never that bad
- Fantastic international and local restaurants at affordable prices
- Great nightlife with live music or DJs
- Easy to get around by Tuk-Tuk, taxi, or motorbike
- Quality supermarkets, lots of organic meat and vegetable suppliers
- Easy-going, friendly ex-pats and locals
- International Airport
- Not enough green space or parks for walking and relaxing
Phnom Penh is a hustling and bustling, easy-to-live in fast-paced city.
There’s a good mix of ex-pats, and the Khmer people are extraordinarily helpful, polite, and friendly.
It’s one of the coolest cities I’ve lived in.
Stage 2. Kampot
After spending 8 months in Phnom Penh, I started longing the country life and wanted to explore nature. So, I packed my bags and moved south to the popular, eclectic little town of Kampot.
Kampot’s is so compact it’s more like a big village than a town. Nestled along a small river, it’s a quiet place. Only a few tourists were to be seen when I was there.
It’s an easy-going, super low-key place where you can get on with life and not care about anything else in the world.
There’s plenty of exploring around Kampot — Mount Bakor offers excellent walking trails and views. There are several waterfalls, cages, and creeks to visit nearby.
Kep, a quaint little fishing village famous for its crab market, is only a 30-minute drive away and definitely worth a day or two’s stay.
- Peaceful and laid back
- Nice nature day trips
- Kep Beach is close by
- Friendly ex-pats and very pleasant locals
- Sporting activities
- Not much going
- It can get a little boring
- Everybody knows everybody and their business
Kampot is a lovely place to visit for a few days to explore nature and culture.
There are a few top-rate hotels and resorts to spend a wonderful vacation, and plenty of affordable guest houses if you’re on a budget.
Kampot is an excellent place to retire if you want to live in nature and have peace and quiet.
Stage 3. Siem Reap
I knew the famous Cambodian temples are located in Siem Reap Province, and I’d heard they’re quite spectacular.
But, Siem Reap wasn’t on my radar. I went to Kampot instead, seeking nature.
What a mistake that was! Siem Reap caught me off guard and blew my mind.
More on that in a moment — first, the backstory as to why I went there in the first place.
I must thank Facebook for this coincidence. I don’t know how, but over the prior few weeks, I became a Facebook friend of a woman living in Siem Reap.
I’d see her FB work posts every other day while I was sitting alone and bored in Kampot.
She was an interesting person — I don’t usually look for people on Facebook, but this time I did.
One day I said to myself:
“Rob, you are here in Kampot, bored out of your skull. She’s up north in Siem Reap. Go there, try to meet her, and explore Siem Reap. You’ve got nothing to lose, whether she meets you or not.”
The next day I was on the bus to Siem Reap.
I went in the far-fetched hope of meeting a girl and for something special to happen.
A very long shot, but I took it anyway.
Long story short: We met. We met again and again and eventually developed a wonderful relationship.
Back to Siem Reap.
When I drove into town with the Tuk-Tuk, I was amazed at what I saw — a beautiful, well-groomed colonial city center with a lovely, tree-lined river gently flowing through it.
I didn’t expect it to be so pretty.
And not just that — the people were much happier, open, and friendlier than anywhere else I’d been.
My first walk through town, exploring its streets, markets, bars, cafes, and restaurants, told me this was the place for me to be.
After only 3 days, I decided to settle down and make Siem Reap my new home.
- A compact, busy yet stress-free, and peaceful small city
- Happy, friendly locals and ex-pats
- Vast choice of excellent international and local food
- Gorgeous resorts with beautiful pools to work from and relax
- Angkor, with its temples and grounds, is magnificent and mind-boggling
- Lovely hiking in Kulen Mountain
- Elephant Forest
- Beautiful waterfalls
- Sports: Golf, Wakeboarding, Tennis, Badminton, Archery, and more
- A massive lake with a floating village
- International airport
- Lots of day and nighttime activities
Siem Reap beats any city I’ve lived in throughout the world hands down.
It’s a beautiful place to visit for a short or extended vacation and the perfect spot for ex-pats of any age group to live, work or retire.
Next on my exploring calendar:
Sihanoukville, the Islands, Mondulkiri Province, the Mountains, and the Elephant Sanctuaries.