Siem Reap, Cambodia

Ton le sap - Siem Reap

Following my last post Navi and I were set on the idea for living in Kuala Lumpur for 6 months.  We’d looked at dozens of properties, negotiated fees and even started to price up some furniture. We were sure we could stay in Malaysia for as long as we wanted providing we exited and re-entered every 90 days as per the visa regulations. Things were going great.

Then one day we happened upon a conversation about a Malaysian guy with an American passport who had been refused re-entry to the country after visiting Singapore. We elbowed ourselves in and politely confirmed all the details.

It seems the Malaysian officials are clamping down on foreign passport holders re-entering Malaysia.  That’s not really news of course, every day in the Asian newspapers there are stories of border officials clamping down on something.  Still, we already had 2 Malaysia passport stamps this year and we’d need at least 3 more re-entries if we were to honour our 6 month lease.

A Man Called Uncle

We’d been in KL a while this time around so we had a small network of local contacts.  One guy whom we knew simply as “Uncle” is a bit of a local fixer. He always seemed to know someone with the answers.  Uncle kindly agreed to check the latest visa regulations with his friend who helps Indian nationals arrange work visas.

2 days later the verdict was in.  Uncle put it best

Re-entry to Malaysia….  First time, no problem. Second time, questions. Third time, no way!

For 50 years Malaysians could give two shits about Brits re-entering the country.  Now, as of 2016, they have begun detaining people whom they suspected of living here illegally on some kind of 3 strikes rule.  Just our luck.

Never mind. We love Malaysia and we didn’t want to risk going on a blacklist, so we opted to play by the rules and leave.

What we needed now was a new plan, but we didn’t have one.  What we did have was an email from Air Asia with a special offer of a cheap flight to Siem Reap, Cambodia.

That’s often how things go on the road.  Spontaneity, serendipity, this is what we signed up for.

Siem Reap

We weren’t strangers to Siem Reap.  We’d been here twice before.  We liked the town a lot.  It has all the usual tourist amenities but still retains a little local charm. Cambodia has strong colonial ties to France and a huge French expat community.  Nowhere in South East Asia is high quality European food and ingredients more readily available than in Cambodia.  It’s an easy place to eat well, live well and feel at home.

The modern town is centred on an ancient river, once the seat of the great Khmer empire, the precursor to modern Cambodian culture.

During the height of this ancient civilisation around the twelfth century, King Suryavarman II embarked on a 37 year building project in Siem Reap laying the first stones to what would become the world’s largest and arguably most magnificent religious building.  The colossal UNESCO World Heritage site, Angkor Wat.

I wonder what the ancient priests and builders would make of the $37 per day entrance fee today.

Expensive or not Angkor Wat should be on everyone’s Bucket List.  It’s truly spectacular.  I’m just saddened that despite the fact I live around the corner, I can’t just hop in a Tuc-Tuc and watch the sunset there without paying $37 for the privilege.

Travel Bucket List

Like many travellers and adventurers we have a long list of goals and things to experience. Most of them are pretty standard such as spotting a wild elephant or doing a bungee jump. We also have a few unusual ones though, such as:

To live in a foreign city, and
To become Digital Nomads.

The criteria for the living in a foreign city would be, we’d have to stay for at least 6 months in an apartment (no hotels). And to be bona fide Digital Nomads, we’d have to find a way to generate a regular income from online jobs that we could do anywhere in the world.

Siem Reap presented us with an opportunity to tick both of these off.

The Cost of Life in Siem Reap

There are tons of London style apartments in Siem Reap with rents starting from as low as $150 per month.  Most are a 10 minute motorbike ride out of town.  We looked at a few but ended up taking somewhere right in the town centre for $300.  It’s not the best apartment we viewed, however the convenience more than makes up for it.

Bills are extra. Gas, electric and water amount to $80 per month despite the fact that we run the AC 24/7.

You can have a pretty good life here in Siem Reap. 

Our average spend since arriving 70 days ago has been £25.46 per day.  Pretty low for two people.

It’s possible we could push it lower but we’d have to sacrifice some things.  I’m not willing to give up beer and Navi’s not willing to give up massages and hair treatments.  I guess we’ve found our budget for the moment.

Kitchen - Siem Reap
Our little kitch in Siem Reap

Working Online

Finding paid work online has never been easier than it is right now. 

That said, it’s also never been more competitive.

For the past 8 months Navi has been learning to code in HTML and CSS.  For anyone who doesn’t know what these things are it’s probably easiest to describe them by saying they are the computer languages that run behind the scenes on webpages.

The thinking behind this was that Navi’s skills would dovetail nicely with my own broader computer skills and perhaps we could punch above our weight a little when competing for jobs online as a team.

Freelancer Websites

We tried some of the freelancer sites first but they were pretty disheartening.

Competition is fierce and prices are ridiculously low. 

These sites are never going to provide a viable source of regular income unless you have a very unique skill set or you are willing to work a full 9-5 online each day.

Sure, we made a few bucks here and there but Navi and I wanted to work on our own terms. Plus, the time to profit ratio is poor, freelancer websites have become something we only do when we have a lot of spare time now.

Web Design

Working on this blog has taught us a fair bit about the web.

We landed our first website design client through a family referral and instantly realised we enjoyed this type of work.

Designing and managing websites gave us the chance to use our distinctive skills but also allowed us to work together on a single project.  In addition it afforded us lots of flexibility in terms of when we wanted to work and how often.

Our price for a basic website is £299, or we offer a fully managed solution for £99 per month.

We could never charge those rates back in London. Here in Cambodia however, our expenses are low, plus we have a decent passive income from the UK, so profit isn’t the driving force.

For anyone that’s curious, here are the clients we are working with currently.

esspro.co.uk
theveggtablecafe.com
scorekh.com

Living space - Siem Reap
Our Living space

What Next?

Our plan is to stay in Siem Reap for around 6 months.  Study up on web technologies and maybe land a couple more clients.  We’ll use this unexpected income stream for trips to expensive destinations and flights home.

It will probably be hard juggling client work when we get back on the road again full time but it feels healthy to be doing something other than travel and relaxation.

Maybe our brains need a bit of hard work to be happy. 

I would never have thought that a year ago but I’ve come to believe it’s true.

Anyway, 1 bucket list goal achieved sooner than we thought.  Become Digital Nomads. Tick.