Phnom Penh, Cambodia

Garry and Rita

Garry and Rita’s move to Cambodia was driven by factors other than retirement or need for a change.  It was a move of necessity.  They had to move because of the work they did.  Their story fits with many people working in the West who are over 50 years of age.

As Rita explained, ‘Garry is in marketing and he got to around 50—it is extremely difficult in that field (and in Garry’s specialty area) once you are past your 40s. The company bosses told him that, looking forward, they really didn’t have anything for Garry in Sydney but they wanted to expand in Asia.  We got here on a twelve-month contract and we loved it so much we have stayed for nearly five years.’

Garry was given the choice to work for the company anywhere in Asia.  They chose Phnom Penh and they are now sure they made the right decision.  Garry believes that many other Asian cities, like Hanoi, Ho Chi Minh, Kuala Lumpur, Singapore, Bangkok and Jakarta, are just big and relatively expensive cities, especially if Australians are looking for a cheap, laid-back lifestyle.

‘When you boil it all down, it gets to just a few places,’ he said.  ‘Cambodia is one. Vientiane (in Laos) is another—but there are problems with Vientiane and Laos.  Thailand is fine, if you get out of Bangkok.  A lot of friends have retired to Krabi in Thailand.  Penang is another one. ‘But Cambodia is old Asia—still intact, the way it used to be.  It is exotic.  It is French.  It has got French colonial architecture.  It is the way Hanoi used to be.

‘Cambodia is not going to get ambitious because the Cambodian people are not ambitious like the Vietnamese or the Thais.  Cambodians are very laid-back, not lazy, but laid-back in their style.  They are more like the Laotians.’

The Laotians, according to Garry, were voted the happiest people in the world recently.  He cited the example of a cab driver who might take three fares one day and then decide that’s enough, he’s happy with what he has earnt that day, so he will take the afternoon off and have a drink with his mates.

Garry and Rita live in the NGO/Westerners’ part of Phnom Penh, BKK1.  It’s full of restaurants and bars and it is very comfortable.  They rent a large two-storey house. It is spacious and luxurious. You can live well in Phnom Penh.

Rita is aware that corruption and human rights in Cambodia remain real problems.  This concerns her but she said: ‘Let’s say that you are totally self-serving and that the things you love to do are to eat great food, drink good wines, have a beautiful place to live for very little money, have lots of domestic help, never have to wash a dish or do whatever, then Phnom Penh offers of all this, and more.  ‘It offers easy and cheap access to surrounding countries, too,’ she said.  

Rita is shocked by the fast pace of change in the city.  ‘Relative to when we came here four and a half years ago, I cannot tell you the amount of world-class restaurants and little back-street bars that have opened. Twenty places where you could walk in and feel like you’re in Double Bay, Sydney, Melbourne or even in Paris, New York, London . . .’

Garry and Rita always felt that Phnom Penh was the right place for them, and now they are certain of it—their son, John, has since followed them to Cambodia with his partner and now they live there, too.  The young couple has a great apartment—two bedrooms, two bathrooms, front and back courtyards, air-conditioning, and all for A$300 a month.  You can’t do that in Sydney.

‘We were earning really good money in Sydney but absolutely struggling with no quality of life,’ said John. ‘Here, we earn a quarter of the money—but last year we could afford to travel to Germany, Portugal and Greece.  We are leading a life we couldn’t possibly afford in Sydney and yet we are earning local salaries here.’

This shows you how far your dollar goes in Cambodia.  The cost of living is low, very low.