It's the end of March and the temperature is in the late 30s here in the Cambodian capital. I am walking along the road in the trendy BKK1 district of the city, avoiding motorbikes and the largest SUVs seen outside of California. There are sidewalks, but in Cambodia they tend to be parking places for motorbikes and everything else, meaning a slightly more hazardous walk along the road.
This time of year the sun is directly over head, and I am cursing myself for forgetting my sunglasses. It's only a 10 minute walk to my cafe of choice, and awaiting me is the strongest coffee outside of Milan, and the welcoming breeze of the air conditioning. It's another working day in Cambodia.
Sunset looking at the Royal Palace and Phnom Penh's first of many high rises
I enter the cafe of choice, it's fairly average in size, perhaps as big as a normal Starbucks. I wander up to the counter and there greeting me are five smiley faces. Almost perfect in their timing, a small chorus of 'Good Morning Sir' comes back at me from across the counter. I smile back, almost embarrassed for some daft reason, perhaps I don't like all the attention, but after so much time in Asia, I should be use to that by now, and it's not like I am shy in front of groups of people.
I order a large Latte, and take small table. It's pretty busy inside, with a cosmopolitan mix of westerners tapping away furiously on their Macs, and wealthy locals. If you are in this place and a local, then you are wealthy. I am not an expert, but the Gucci handbags do not look like they've been purchased from the night market for a few dollars. While my laptop is loading up and doing whatever it does, I count nine staff. I am assuming there must be staff in the kitchen too, and on a later trip to the toilet, I spy at least three more, slaving under a fan.
Browns cafe, Very good indeed!
A dozen staff in one medium sized cafe! Seems crazy, uneconomical even, but the truth is the profits on a couple of large Mochas will probably cover their wages. I am curious about the staff wages, but maybe I am better off not knowing. Otherwise, I might well feel terribly guilty, when I am fumbling around the $20 dollar bills in my wallet.
A mini wave of anxiety brushes over me as I finish my coffee. It's the second one of the day, and it was very strong. I like strong coffee, but too much can leave me feeling anxious. If I had a hangover now, I'd probably want to go back to my room. I press on with my work for the day and the anxiety slowly drifts away.
No I don't need a Tuk Tuk!
Siem Reap and Phnom Penh both have small, but busy airports, with Siem Reap having had another recent makeover. All in all, flying into Cambodia is pretty straight forward. There are a number of flights from the regional capitals, such as KL, Bangkok and Singapore. Flying in from Vietnam is another story, because the national airline has a monopoly.
Getting from HCMC (Saigon) is best done via one of the number of bus companies that ply the route. It takes about six hours.
This is where Cambodia smashes the Southeast Asian opposition. Most Western countries can buy a visa on arrival, the cost is $25, and lasts for one month. For $5 more you can by a business visa, which lasts for 30 days but is renewable, and you can technically work on this, or start a business. Compared to the neighbouring Digital Nomad hotspots, this is awesome!
I talked about this in one of the accompanying videos, but basically the mobile data situation is pretty good in Cambodia. For $6 I bought a sim card from CELLCARD (in one of their official shops) and with this came $5 credit. I bought 3.5GB for one month, and somehow ended up with 1.5GB free. So that's 1GB for just over $1.
Wifi is widely available. I have found that usually in cafes, wifi is hit and miss, and I'll often tether my phone data. In the hotels I have stayed in, the wifi has been good.
A quick note about cash. Virtually everything is priced in $USD, and all the ATMS spit out $, but you will often receive your change in Riel (roughly R4000 = $1). The bank named Acledia Bank has not charged me any fee on my European credit card, despite the ATM warning of a $5 fee. Canadia bank supposedly doesn't charge European bank cards either, but one of their ATMs in Siem Reap ate my card, so I haven't tried them since!
Siem Reap is pretty much walk able if you stay in the centre. Tuk tuks start aroud $2.
Phnom Penh is not so walk able being a larger city. Again tuk tuks start around $2 for tourists, $1.50 for expats and $1 for locals. If you can speak a tiny bit of Khmer you might get away with being an expat.
Taxis aside it's very easy to get around KL if you don't want to walk or hobble.
Not going to go into too much detail here, websites such as travel fish do a far better job, but I would say overall, Cambodia offers good value for money, possibly a little cheaper than Thailand and Bali. I have been paying around $30 a night in the hotels in PP. Siem Reap is much cheaper and I was paying $15 - $20 a night there. Booking.com had extensive listings.
Well overall I have a good time in Cambodia. I think it is still a long way behind Vietnam, Thailand and Indonesia (Bali) in terms of being a great destination to work from. It kind of has everything you need, and has the best visa set up too.
For me personally, I prefer the other countries, because there is better infrastructure and more people working remotely. You kind of get a good working environment if there are others around you doing similar.
Give this place five years and I believe more and more nomads will make Cambodia their temporary home.
Finally please check out my video presentation below, and share :)
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