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5 Expert Tips to Prepare Yourself for Living in Phnom Penh, Cambodia
Written by: Kate John
Last Updated: April 22, 2021
Ready, set, go! You’re off to Phnom Penh, the capital city of the Kingdom of Wonder, but are you ready? Likely you remembered all the important things like underwear, a toothbrush, and your passport, but stuff isn’t everything. Here are five ways you can prepare to live in Phnom Penh other than just packing a suitcase.
1. Keep an Open Mind:
Cambodia is not the glamorous European vacation destination. It is a country that is quickly developing, but is still in many ways impoverished and behind the times. It can be a bit of a shock, especially if it’s your first time in a developing country. So, be open minded, and prepared for some unique differences. Speaking of, make sure you’re ready for some east-west differences. Prepare yourself for an Asian cultural experience, which I personally love, but is definitely a different mindset than the western world.
Lastly, be sure to be empathetic and open to the specific intricacies of Cambodia’s history. Anyone over the age of 45 here has lived through a genocide under the Khmer Rouge. That time period has really shaped Cambodia’s modern trajectory, and is still very recent in the cultural memory. While none of this is meant to deter any hopeful visitors, it is worth learning about. I’ve found that I am much more able to connect with the community here because I have taken time to educate myself about Cambodia’s past, and kept my mind open to new ways of understanding the world around me.
2. Talk to a Doctor
Cambodia is not known for its fantastic hospitals or medical care facilities. That’s not to say you cannot receive medical care here, people definitely do, but I would not describe it as top of the line health care. So, to prepare, you should make sure you get all the shots you might need before leaving home. Trust me, the more vaccines you receive, the easier it is to diagnose those weird illnesses that might occur. The CDC has country profiles online, so you can check what they recommend for Cambodia.
I also would suggest that you see a primary care provider before leaving, and see if they will help prescribe you a few courses of antibiotics for diarrhea, or general illness. It’s possible to get those things here, but some pharmacies have been known to sell counterfeit placebo drugs, or expired medications, so check the reputation before you purchase.
Lastly, if you have the opportunity to get some medical training, even if it’s just first aid, I recommend it. Josh got in a little accident on a moto, and we were really glad we both knew how to care for abrasions, instead of needing to go to a clinic. Just like the last tip, education is the key! (Can you tell I’m a teacher?)
3. Get Ready For Hot and Wet Weather
It is literally always warm in Phnom Penh. It’s one of the perks of living right next to the equator. It’s HOT here, and it will not get cold, so be prepared. Additionally, while air conditioning is pretty commonly available, electricity to run it is somewhat pricey. Cambodia does not produce much of their own electricity, and purchases most of it from Vietnam or Thailand, which really ups the costs, expect to pay 25 cents USD per kilowatt. So running the air conditioner all day can get pretty expensive. Be ready to be warm, and try to find an apartment that gets good shade throughout the day.
Most days here are just warm, but some days (especially September through November) it rains. That’s rainy season here, and it is usually characterized by heavy rain for an hour or two. I don’t mean a light drizzle, I mean down-pouring. Like, you could shower in the streets style rain. This can cause flooding in the city. Prepare to have some soggy feet, or maybe even knees on those occasions. Coming from the Pacific northwest, where rain is our middle name, the volume of water that comes down always astounds me. It’s really something else. It makes me very happy I didn’t choose an apartment on the ground floor!
4. Line up Your Ducks
Moving abroad can be challenging as it is, and there’s a lot to remember before you leave. What all are you going to need for your new life abroad? What have you forgotten? Does my cat count as a carry on? Respectively, something to make sure you do is get everything in order back home, so it doesn’t distract you from your grand adventure ahead. Pay any outstanding bills, get insurance all sorted out if you have a car you’re keeping, and tell your bank you’ll be abroad. It is really hard to contact people in customer service to try to fix things when you are already in Cambodia. The time zone difference, and the international calling fees make it virtually impossible. So getting things squared away first will save you a huge headache. We have had to ask family members to tackle customer service calls for us, since it is so difficult from here, which I’m sure they did not love doing. While it’s not the most fun way to get ready to move, it is really helpful, and saves you so much stress down to road.
5. You’re in for Some Awesome Experiences
The teaching experiences here are unlike anywhere else, with incredibly gifted and dedicated students. The life experiences are unlike anywhere else, with crazy traffic, bustling markets, and strange street foods. The travel experiences are unlike anywhere else, with Thailand to the west, Vietnam to the east, Laos to the North, and the Pearl of Asia all around you. This is truly an amazing place. You will be experiencing so much in no time. I recommend a good camera, or trusty journal, so you can document all the amazing things you’re about to live through.
Phnom Penh is a supportive, close knit community to live in, and you’re in for a treat. Getting ready for the culture, weather, and medical situation here is definitely worthwhile. It’s not everything though, and while being prepared is always good, you’re probably going to be just fine. So, the final thing you should do to prepare is RELAX. Let yourself be psyched up for the adventure you’re about to embark on!
After volunteering for a year in the Denver Public School System, Kate felt like she needed a change. She and her boyfriend both got TEFL certified and set off on an adventure of a lifetime in the Kingdom of Wonder. Since then Kate has written extensively about her life teaching English in Cambodia as one of ITA's Writing & Content Ambassadors.
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