5 things I wish I'd known about Cambodia

Author Gabrielle Yetter reveals five things she wished she'd known before moving to Cambodia almost three years ago

6 mins

1. Cambodians are lovely!

I've travelled in SE Asia quite a bit and come upon plenty of scams around the region ("Yes, I know a good place to get a massage..."). In Cambodia, however, I've never been scammed once. More than 95% of Cambodians are Buddhist and live their religion through being generous, kind, thoughtful and honest. We've had tuk-tuk drivers return money when we overpay and a store clerk once ran after us because we left something behind.

Even the poorest Cambodians find a way to dig down into their poverty and give to those less fortunate and I am constantly humbled by their generosity and gentleness in the face of adversity.

2. You can find anything you need

Before moving to Cambodia, we thought we'd have to do without most of the things we take for granted (ice cream, sushi, good hairdressers, cappuccinos, etc). We soon discovered there's nothing we can't get, when we're feeling a little homesick. I've eaten some of the best cupcakes anywhere, discovered a Japanese hairdresser that treats me like a princess (for a fraction of the cost), tasted good French wines and experienced supermarkets filled with creature comforts. We personally prefer Cambodian markets and experiences, but the western ones are there if you want them.

3. The US dollar is king

While Cambodia has its own currency (the Riel), everyone everywhere uses US dollars. It's important to have a supply of single bills on hand as they are needed constantly for small purchases -- and tuk-tuks never have change. In Phnom Penh, trips around town cost $2 for most fares, $3 for slightly longer trips across the city and $7 to the airport.

There are ATMs in all major cities but not in smaller towns such as Kep (and only one in Kampot).

4. It's hot almost all the time

Cambodia has two seasons: one is hot, the other is rainy and hot. Rainy season generally starts in May and lasts till November (when the Tonlé Sap river changes direction) but it's not a deterrent to doing things. The rain comes down in torrents, often with lightning and thunder and strong winds, but usually lasts only an hour or so. The "cool" season is usually between November and February when temperatures drop to the low 20s.

5. Something generally goes wrong...

Having lived in Cambodia for almost three years, we've found one thing to be consistent: never expect things to go according to plan. Chances are your bus will break down, your power will go out, your tuk-tuk driver will get lost, you'll get the wrong dish in a restaurant and you'll get a stomach bug. So make sure to bring a dose of patience and a sense of humour. It's all part of the experience.

Gabrielle Yetter is a freelance contributor living in Phnom Penh. She is the author of The Definitive Guide to Moving to South-East Asia: Cambodia, as well as The Sweet Tastes of Cambodia (a book on traditional desserts). You can find out more information about Gabrielle and her work as a freelance journalist here.

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