Back in May of 2016 on a whim Navi and I decided to stop traveling for a few months and rent an apartment in Siem Reap, Cambodia. Our plan was to save a bit of money for a while and wait out the high season, December through January.
It’s now the 8th Jan. We will be leaving Cambodia in just over a month. I thought this might be a good opportunity to write another post about our finances. It’s enlightening for us to keep track of our expenses and hopefully interesting to anyone who’s ever thought about leaving the UK and starting a life somewhere else.
We keep track of our money with a couple of handy little travel apps on our phone.
All totals and averages are given in GBP. We have a UK bank account and UK income so that’s the currency that matters to us. Here in Cambodia, the cash machines dispense USD. Therefore, all point of sale expenses are expressed in USD.
Exchange rates for the totals and averages have been calculated as of today, however, the rates when we arrived back in May were much more favourable than they are now. As such, the figures show living here in Siem Reap to be approximately 5-10% more expensive that it actually was for this period. If the Pound bounces back against the Dollar in future (or Cambodia decides to use their own currency) I would expect a drop in the total cost of living as expressed in GBP.
Total Budget for Siem Reap
As I write this we have been in Siem Reap for 223 days. In that time we’ve spent a total of £5,526.56. Giving us a daily average spent of £24.78. Or, to look at it another way, £12.39 per person per day.
Rent and Bills
£2037.84 was spent on rent and bills. Our apartment cost us $300 per month. We over paid a little to be honest. Most of our ex-pat friends seemed to be paying around $150 for similar spec homes. Our bills amounted to between $80-90 per month. We run the air conditioning all day, every day which is the only reason this figure was significant. With no air conditioning, electric and gas combined would only cost around $20 per month.
Shopping (Food and Household Items)
Our second largest expense was shopping. We tried shopping at local markets but foreigner overcharging is so systemic in Cambodia that vendors were rarely willing to offer us the correct price, even when accompanied by a Cambodian.
Navi and I found it cheaper and more convenient to shop at one of the dozen or so western style supermarkets in town.
We purchased mostly vegetables with some nuts and grains. A few jams and pickles. Lots of coconut milk, curry paste and spices. We also bought cleaning and grooming products as well as cutlery, plates and cooking utensils initially. We cooked for ourselves 90% of the time.
Our total spent in 223 days on shopping was £1602.45. Or, to put it another way, £7.18 per day to feed us both and maintain our apartment.
If you are going to keep busy in Siem Reap you need to be prepared to spend a fair bit of money. Excursions to nearby attractions are getting more and more expensive as the number of foreign holiday makers increases. Once more, systemic foreigner over charging is in evidence everywhere. By western standards I’d argue that prices are still relatively low however, when you consider that our entire monthly budget was circa £700, a spa day or quad bike adventure that costs £99 per person suddenly looks like a big chunk of money.
Alcohol is thankfully cheap here. A good night out in a bar for two -drinking local brew can cost as little as $10.
Our total spend on entertainment was £975.60. We blew the majority of that in bars watching the football or drinking a nice cold beer on our balcony. £519.80 on alcohol or drinking related activities.
We also enjoyed two spa days at a cost of around $200. Of the remainder, most was spent on entrance fees to the temples and surrounding natural areas.
There are some amazingly cheap Cambodian dishes available at little roadside restaurants but they all contain animal products which are the Cambodian staple. To find animal free food we had to hit the foreign owned restaurants and prices jump from under $1 to around -7 per dish. A meal for two costs on average $15 with drinks.
We spent a total of £763.44 on eating out but we loved every meal.
Siem Reap is a mecca for all kinds of food. Certainly our favourite place in South East Asia for variety, availability and taste.
As you might expect, we spent very little on transport. Our apartment was central so we walked pretty much everywhere. Occasionally we took a Tuc-Tuc when we didn’t want to arrive somewhere covered in sweat. The standard asking price for all inner city Tuc-Tuc journeys is $2. Return prices and waiting fees can often be negotiated. A whole day Tuc-Tuc hire is $15-25 depending on how far you want to travel.
£132.75 total on Tuc-Tuc rides.
Business Visas and Border Runs
All in all it cost us $600 on visas and taxi’s to the immigration office at the border. Had we been smarter we could have slashed this in half. Unfortunately though by the time we’d agreed on a plan to stay in Siem Reap we already had a Tourist Visa stamped in our passport. To change it meant more border visits and additional fees. What we should’ve done is enter on a Business Visa day one.
I have not included this on the main budget as prices will vary depending on length of stay.
There were a number of “one off” additional expenses. We ordered some goods from the UK and paid for postage and packaging for some items we returned home. We also purchased some luxury items for around the apartment and paid $330 for 6 months of gym membership.
We spent around $20 per month on fast 4G internet access instead of using the apartment’s free Wi-Fi.
I’ve left these expenses out of the final calculations because in truth, they are optional.
What You’ll Get for Your Money
At the very bottom end of the scummy backpacker scale, I reckon a young single person, staying in cheap digs, eating local chow and not partying too much could spend as little as £300 per month here. If that person wanted to eat out at foreign owned restaurants a few times per week and do a bit of sightseeing I think £500-600 per month total expenditure would be a good estimate.
Couples could save a bit naturally with £600-900 being the “do as you please” sweet spot for two people sharing the bills.
At the top end of the budget range, £1500-2000 per month would rent a beautiful well located home with a couple of staff to cook, clean and act as security.
Navi and I averaged £750 per month. We enjoyed a great standard of living. We rarely thought about our budget and only checked ourselves on very large purchases.
We ate very well at home. Dined out in foreign owned restaurants around 3 times per week. Drank in bars when the football was on and took expensive day trips to attractions around once per month.
Living in Cambodia
If you are looking for cheap living and year round sunshine, Siem Reap might just have what you need.
The temple complex, nearby Kulen and Ton Le Sap are everything the guidebooks promise. The town itself is not a tropical paradise but it has a good mix of Asian charm and western amenities. The food here is incredible and the people are very friendly. Prices are low enough that an older person could live well here on a basic pension. If you’re a homeowner in the UK, the rental income from a single property will easily pay your bills in Siem Reap too.
If you don’t have an income source, £5000 will keep you happy in Siem Reap for around a year while you figure things out. There are hundreds of NGO jobs in town. If you wanted more flexibility, private English tutoring is a popular option among ex-pats. Then of course there is freelancing on the web. With prices so low, even a couple of hundred bucks can make a huge difference to your personal situation.
Cambodia is a very easy place to make a new life for yourself, if that’s what you want. Its also a great place for long term travelers to take a break from the road for a while without burning too much money.
We loved Siem Reap and the town will always have a very special place in our hearts.