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Top 5 Things That Surprised Me About Living in Phnom Penh, Cambodia
Written by: Kate John
Last Updated: July 19, 2021
There’s no way to know what something will be like until you try it. I am a firm believer in the power of travel, and exploration. So when I moved to Phnom Penh I knew there would be new things that surprised and amazed me. I was not disappointed. Here are some of the things that struck me upon arrival.
1. The Widespread Use of Facebook
I didn’t really have a frame of reference for developing nations, and their social media use, before moving. That said, I was surprised by how prolific Facebook is here. They use it for community networking, businesses, retail, communication, events. I had no idea the website had so many functions until I lived here! That is how I now learn about events happening near me, talk to my friends and family, and it’s even how I found the apartment I live in. It surprised me how many people make use of Facebook, as the country is trailing the developed nations in technology by a long ways. I was glad to find out though, as it is easy to use, and allows me to connect to my community with ease. [Read More: Mobile Apps You Need to Live in Cambodia]
2. The Behavior of the Students
I had heard tell of the amazing behavior of students in Asian countries. That is not what I have found, to my relief. I prefer to run my classroom with a certain amount of chaos in it, where students feel comfortable and can chat. The silent classrooms with orderly desks I had heard about intimidated me. I found that the students here are kind, and polite, and sweet. They are also regular kids, they arrive late to class, text when they think I can’t see, and sneak snacks into the room. I am relieved to have found that kids are kids everywhere.
Phnom Penh is a city built next to the Mekong River. The river is a wide, slow moving one, with a shallow bed. In the rainy season so much water falls so quickly, the river flows backwards. It fills up the areas around the river, bringing healthy nutrients back to fields. But, it’s not so healthy in the city. It was built quickly in many places, without much thought about drainage. When heavy rain falls, a lot of streets fill up with water. I had never experienced floods like that, it’s so much water! It goes away quickly, but it can be a real nightmare if you’re stuck in the rain.
4. Affordable Prices
It’s no secret that life in Southeast Asia is way less costly than in the US, but it still surprised me. Even more surprising was the first time I traveled out of Cambodia, and found that I had become accustomed to those prices. Rent, food, transportation, everything you could think of is less expensive than you’d think. I genuinely forgot that $5 is an average rate for a beer in the US, with the $0.50 ones so common here. It’s a pleasant surprise!
5. Life Without Conveniences
Looking back on my time in Cambodia, I wouldn’t call it uncivilized by any stretch of the imagination. But there are conveniences we don’t have here, that I didn’t realize I relied on so much, or that I could live without. The easy access to a fully-stocked grocery store, or a commute to work on streets with rules. I was surprised to find that the easy life that I had in a western world was not the thing I felt I missed when I moved. Sure, conveniences are nice but I don’t find myself incapable without them. It is empowering to find that out, and is one of my favorite things about moving.
Cambodia is an adventure unlike any other I’ve taken. I know it’s not for everyone, but I also know that my life is richer and more amazing through having moved here. I highly encourage anyone who is thinking of moving to consider Cambodia. It truly is a Kingdom of Wonder here and everyone should have the opportunity to be surprised by the amazing things it has to offer.
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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