Phnom Penh, Cambodia


The magic of Cambodia struck Joanna as soon as she visited Phnom Penh more than twenty years ago. ‘I fell in love with the place straightaway,’ she said, ‘and I’m still trying to work out why. I’d go out to visit a village and see that there is a cycle of growing rice, and it meant something to me. Maybe it is the connection with the cycle of life and nature. And the people are so delightful.’

Joanna rents a two-bedroom apartment that is above a cafe. It is in the centre of town, right opposite the palace wall and on a tree-lined street. She leases it from the owner of the cafe below, who is British. She pays a little over A$1000 a month, which is about average for the area. ‘Prices vary but in the centre, where I am and which is very popular, it is a bit more expensive. I like this street so much; right next to the palace wall, it is a mixture of Cambodians and foreigners.’

Joanna believes that the cost of rent is ‘up there’. ‘Some things cost more,’ she said. ‘Petrol is expensive. I run a car for security. I bought my car for A$5000 ten years ago and it is still worth A$3000–4000. So it has kept its value.’

However, she quickly added that other costs of living are super low: ‘Vegetables are really cheap. I go to a little shop on this street and buy three days worth of vegetables for A$3, or even less at the market. Fruit is a bit more expensive, but it is abundant. Three days worth of fruit might cost about A$5.’

Her electricity bill is very low, Joanna said. She runs all the usual appliances like a fridge, instant hot water service, lighting and fans, plus constant air-conditioning in the bedroom in the hot months, and it costs her between A$45 and A$95 a month.

‘Mobile phones are very cheap, as are landlines,’ Joanna said. ‘On my landline it is a couple of dollars for a half-hour call to Australia. And there’s also Skype.’ The internet costs Joanna about A$10 a month.

Joanna estimates that, for her, the overall cost of living in Cambodia is about a quarter of the cost of living in Australia. She added that she can also have part-time house help for less than A$100 a month.

‘And if I’m going out on Saturday night, I can have my hair washed and blow-dried, plus a manicure and pedicure, all for A$12.’

The cost of living in Phnom Penh is, in fact, around half of what it costs in Sydney. Grocery prices are around 40 per cent lower, restaurant prices are more than 70 per cent cheaper, rent is almost 75 per cent less in Phnom Penh, and a beer is 80 per cent cheaper.