I am guessing a lot of my readers think Cambodia is this amazing country where everything costs $1 and it is impossible to spend your wages right? Well…yes and no. For the benefit of all you westerners living in some Expensive Land, I thought I would run you through some local economics and show you how Cambodia and Phnom Penh in particular can either be as expensive as Sydney and London or extraordinarily cheap depending on your habits and requirements.
Starting with the Expensive way first and then the cheaper option, all prices are in US$ and I will try and rank in order of importance to most people.
Beer; Most riverfront bars have a Happy (4) Hour(s) where you can buy a draft beer for $1. A can usually sells for $1.25 – $2.00 and imported beers like HEINEKEN cost around the $3 mark. OR You can buy a case of Anchor beer (24 cans) for $13 and guzzle them at home. That’s .54c a can. Alternatively, go to a Khmer beer garden and pay $3 for a jug. Now THAT is cheap. I also stumbled across Carlsberg in a mini-market the other day in an icy cold refrigerator. The 330ml bottles were .70c. I bought a 6 pack for just $4.20 – about what I would pay for one bottle in a grog shop back home in Australia.
Cigarettes; There is no real way to go expensive with lung busters here.I don’t smoke but a pack of Marlboro Lights will set you back $1.50. Smoke the local ARA Blues and you are paying .50c a pack. I use cartons of these cheap ciggies to “incent” my local rubbish collectors to do their job thoroughly. Having said I don’t smoke – I am looking forward to Afghan Dan bringing me my new Sheesha pipe and tobacco straight from Kabul. Tasty.
Spirits; Again, not really a spirit drinker but gin and tonic will cost you $3-$4 on the riverfront. Alternatively you can buy a 750ml bottle of Gilbeys Gin for $4.50 and some soda water cans at .50c a pop and drown your sorrows at home. I think for a total of $6.50 you could probably drink about 20 home made G and Ts!! (Jeff?). Ballantines Whisky 750ml; $16. Absolut Vodka 750ml; $9. All this sly grog comes out of Singapore with no tax paid. Of course you could always drink the local whiskey at $2 a bottle or the Muscle Wine but then you might go blind.
Khmer Style ; About $25 for 4 people.
Food; This weekend is a good example of the swings and roundabout of fiscal (and not so fiscal) food funding. On Saturday morning I had to go to work early to let some contractors in. My first thought was to go straight to Fresco for a $3.25 takeaway café latte but then hunger got the better of me and I decided to go to my favourite Vietnamese noodle shop, Pho Olympic. There, for $3, I had a huge bowl of steaming noodles with beef, a strong iced coffee, a freshly squeezed orange juice and a pot of delicious green tea. Struth.Proud of myself for being so financially responsible, I then went and spent $33 on Sunday lunch with Ang and Paul at a new Lebanese restaurant. This included an amazing mezza platter ($12), a couple of beers ($2.50 a pop) and a share in a bottle of Lebanese Rose wine ($27). Not so fiscal but bloody delicious and I was working Sunday as well, I figured I deserved it. Basically, you can spend a lot or a little on a meal here. Up to you.
Clothes; Again, pretty hard to spend up in Phnom Penh (as a guy) because there are no real (i.e; authentic) retail outlets here. I do all my shopping at the big markets. Diesel jeans; $15, Polo Shirts; $5, Huge Boss Boxer shorts; $2, cargo shorts;$5,flip flops;$2. I can have a fantastic French cuff cotton shirt tailored for $15 and a suit made for $190. Shoes custom made for $30. We can buy Grace GENUINE GAP baby clothes for $2 a piece (GAP is made in Cambodia and a lot of it “finds” its way to the markets). I would never pay for real GAP but hey…..at that price who is arguing?
Now here are the costs of some other essential and non-essential items just for your information;
Rent; A huge Villa with pool in best area can be had for $2-$5k per month. Or you can get a perfectly good apartment on a budget of $200 a month. We pay $400pcm and have a lovely place with garden and car park. Power runs to $70 pcm (that’s with AC every night). Water $4 and rubbish collection $1.
Beats catching a motodop !
Transport; You can get anywhere in Phnom Penh for $1-$2 on a motodop. Double for a tuk tuk. Our brand new 110cc Honda Airblade cost $1700 (would have cost triple that in Australia) and my 1994 Jeep Cherokee cost $4k. We have no public transport of any kind here. No buses, no rail, no ferries. A plane to Bangkok is $80 return and takes one hour. A Mekong boat for 30 people costs $10 an hour to hire. BYO food and grog.
Beauty; I can get a 2 hour aromatherapy massage for $24 and my haircut for $3.Add an extra $2 for an open blade shave. Leakhana goes to the market and has ALL her nails stripped and repainted for $5 and a hair wash and blow dry for the same. She can buy a face mask for home application for about $1.A decent Gymnasium ( with pool, sauna, spa etc ) by western standards cost about $400 a year to join or you can sweat it out in a Khmer gym for .50c a visit.
So there you have it. Phnom Penh can devour money on the food and beverage front but other than that, if you are careful, it is pretty cheap. Cost of living is certainly on the way up on the F and B front, but we are all hoping it decreases on the rental front. time will tell.