A lot of expats love Siem Reap for its affordability and laid back vibe. You see them wandering into the street from the bars they own wearing harem pants with elephants all over them. It’s probably a pretty wonderful life with a few caveats.
Since it’s smaller than Phnom Penh, Siem Reap feels a little more cozy and less hectic. Everything is a little cheaper, including tuk tuks which should never be more than $2-3 around the center of the city. But frankly, it’s small enough to walk anyway. It’s a little hipster with some bar areas made of shopping containers, my favorite trend that’s sweeping the world. There’s good food and a lot of places to chill in front of a fan and have a 50 cent beer. I could probably live that life for a good month or two before I got sick of all the sweaty douchebags from Chicago that just “gave up the corporate life, you know?”
I also get the feeling that foreigners are treated a little differently here, since Siem Reap is the opening act for Angkor Wat. I felt that people were a little more aggressive about their selling, which makes getting around popular areas and markets as a clearly-not-Cambodian kind of annoying.
All tourist predation aside, I did find the people overwhelmingly sweet. People looked delighted that my friend was walking around on crutches, both curious and kind of proud that she didn’t need no tuk tuk to see the temples. Like Phnom Penh, some people are very bashful about accepting tips. For instance, we bought a mango shake from one woman’s cart and sat on a bench next to it. She gave us a free shake, cut up pieces of mango, and two bananas. And she twice refused a tip. She was just being nice. There’s a general attitude of respect and kindness toward your fellow man that a lot of societies would benefit from adopting.
We met one expat working at a pizza shop whose rent is $85 a month. Think about that for 3 seconds. This man has a roof over his head for less than the cost of your cell phone bill. The great thing about this is that it’s a good place to go and just stop working for a while. Just eat fruit and rice every day and do whatever you want without making a dent in your bank balance. Cards are rarely accepted though, so you need to survive entirely on what you actually have in your bank account.
One of the nice things about the major cities in Cambodia as a whole is that everyone speaks English. Even though it’s a vastly different culture, I can go to a pharmacy and the pharmacist will speak perfect English, which gives you a lot of peace of mind. This would actually be an upgrade from my current life where I sometimes have to mime things to get by in Prague.
One not so nice thing is that given the poor infrastructure, the city suffers from random blackouts. They don’t last very long, but they affect huge swaths of the city. While we were there, we went to restaurants with no power and even our super nice hotel lost power for several seconds throughout the course of a day. And as a freelancer, this would really affect my work. Also my ability to survive without air conditioning, which is marginally more important to me than work.
Total livability score: 5/10
I really loved Siem Reap. I had a semi-serious desire to leave my old life in Prague behind and just hang out there for a while, which doesn’t happen to me much anymore. But I’m not that laid back all the time. I would definitely get sick of the heat. And ugh, wet season in that climate? I don’t think I could do it.