Those who’ve heard of Siem Reap, Cambodia know that the small town is by far most famous as the staging ground of every trip to the stunning Angkor Wat temple complex just to its north. This is Cambodia’s most popular tourist destination, but it’s also a place where expats are beginning to collect in greater numbers.
There are many NGOs and English-teaching gigs in the city, but recently more digital nomads and other entrepreneurs are moving in to join them. Whether you are planning a holiday tour of Southeast Asia, or looking for a place to stay for a few months or a few years, Siem Reap is worth a look.
The vibe in Siem Reap
Most of the larger or more famous towns in mainland SE Asia are frantic and crowded, but in spite of its popularity Siem Reap is still very relaxed and feels like a small town. There’s a river running through the main tourist area, with sidewalks and well-groomed gardens alongside, making it a wonderful place for a stroll at any time of day.
English is also widely spoken, and most important signs are translated into English, so communication is rarely a problem. Most locals actually seek out English speakers to practice with, so there’s no reason to learn Khmer, though of course they appreciate if you have a few words handy.
The center of the city from a social standpoint is Pub Street, plus another small alley running parallel with it. Between these two roads you’ll find many restaurants featuring cuisines from all over the world. The local Khmer food is generally the cheapest option, but everything is reasonable.
The cost of living in Siem Reap
Perhaps the best part of Siem Reap for potential expats or long-term visitors is that it’s very cheap, even by local standards. If you are looking for an apartment you can find something quite nice starting around US$200 per month, and not much more for a house.
At the tourist restaurants you can eat a full meal for under US$2, although there will always be menu items in the $3 and $4 range as well. For those who like a frosty glass of beer to wash down their meal, you’ll be happy to know that Angkor Beer, which is the ubiquitous local lager, is on a happy hour special for exactly 50 cents per glass at almost every restaurant or bar in town. Other options are available and the prices do tend to jump up quite a bit for many of them, so the Angkor Beer seems to be the beverage of choice for nearly everyone in town.
Making things even easier for many of us, the US dollar is the defacto official currency for the whole country. The ATMs spit out USDs, and the only time you’ll see the local banknotes is when you are getting small change back from a merchant, since the US coins aren’t found in the country.