Adjusting to Living in Cambodia

Living in Phnom Penh / Thursday, February 19th, 2009

Moving to a new country requires one to undergo a lot of changes and adjust to it. Living here in Cambodia was not easy at first but we (daughter and me :P)  managed to adapt well. Looking back, the changes and challenges we have experienced really put a toll on me both physically and emotionally even if I was preparing for the move for quite sometime. I’m  well adjusted here already so I put this article together for those who are considering moving to Phnom Penh.

  • Do some research before you go. It’s really a big help if you have an understanding of the Khmer culture. Adjusting to the place can be really difficult and stressful. When I say research, I mean an idea about the what types of food are available, what are main social do’s and dont’s.
  • Be prepared for the changes. Psyche yourself up especially if you are making the move with your children. All routines will change and since you are unfamiliar with the place you are bound to make mistakes. Be prepared for being stressed and irritable. This could put a strain on your relationships. I remember my husband complaining I was always snapping at him ;P..
  • Keep an open mind. At first, I developed a feeling of derision for all Cambodian things. Try to overcome this by acknowledging that it is natural. Spend some time mingling with the locals. Discover more about the culture. I found Cambodians to be naturally friendly and genuinely nice people.
  • The language difference is another big adjustment. It is particularly difficult in moving around the city because majority of the people cannot speak English. Buying stuff in the markets also prove to be a challenge because of the language differences. Learn at least how to say hello, how to introduce yourself, how much, how to get there and here in Khmer. (I’m drafting a post on the basic Khmer, I promise to post that asap..)

  • Food can be difficult particularly for those who are unused to eating Asian diet, which usually consists of rice, soup, fried meat mixed with vegetables, or fish. Don’t despair though, more and more supermarkets are opening up as well as Western fast food style restaurants around the city. Luckily both me and my daughter, being Pinoys, are rice eaters so the adjustment with regards to food was not much.
  • The traffic as well as the transportation is another change. Moving around Phnom Penh has been a setback for us. People here usually go around with their own motorbikes or cars. If you don’t have your own transportation you can hire moto-dops, tuk-tuks or a taxi (which is t’lai or expensive) to bring you around. Negotiating the price with the drivers can be frustrating. Ask a local for the usual fares going to the places you frequent so you’ll have a bargaining ground.
  • You will most definitely experience feelings of homesickness. I’ve somehow managed to keep homesickness at bay because I constantly keep in touch with my family and friends. Take advantage of the cheap international internet calls. You can find internet cafes offering VOIP services in almost all corners here in Phnom Penh. Calling to the US costs about 100 Riels/minute so you can chitchat for 40 minutes and pay only a dollar. The calling rates to other countries (about 200 Riels/minute for calls to the Philippines) vary but its still cheap so take advantage of this and stay constantly in touch with your family.

The transition period can be difficult but it is normal when you move to live in another country. Keep in mind that you are in a new place so don’t try to impose your own culture on others. You are in Cambodia, not in your country, so you have to adjust. That being said, do enjoy your stay and have a grand time in Phnom Penh.

5 Replies to “Adjusting to Living in Cambodia”

  1. I am also a pinay with a Cambodian boyfriend but he is currently living in New York and I went back to the Philippines for a vacation, to sort things out so to speak. We will be tieing the knots hopefully next year, yet I am a bit skeptical about the fact that I need to embrace a new cutlure though my partner is already americanized but his parents still have Cambodian spirits in them. Like what you said there are setbacks being with a person who has different culture and race as yours, however, as you try harder to create a family you both need to swallow and embrace what you are and what you will become. Thanks for all the information. I would love to go to Cambodia someday to experience what you have experienced and find out how my partner’s roots were. 😉

    1. Hi Snippets, thanks for reading my blog. I think you won’t have a problem adjusting to your in-laws. They are very much like Pinoys. 🙂 Khmer culture is fascinating and very colorful and what I really love about this place is how they embrace modernity but still preserve their traditional culture. A very intoxicating combination.

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