Lately, there have been a lot of Westerners moving to Cambodia or making plans to move to Cambodia. This is partly due to the difficult job market in many Western countries, and it’s partly due to Cambodia becoming a more “mainstream” destination for tourists and expatriates. Some of the recent interest in Cambodia has come from Westerners living in Thailand. Rising prices in Thailand and stricter Thai visa regulations have already contributed to a noticeable influx of shifty-eyed, tattooed sexpats creeping across the border into Cambodia. Fortunately, a lot of those dudes haven’t made it past Sihanoukville.
There has been such an overwhelming interest in moving to Cambodia that two recent books have been published on the topic. Lina Goldberg published the excellent “Move to Cambodia: A Guide to Living and Working in the Kingdom of Wonder” in late 2012. Earlier this year, Khmer440 contributor Gabi Yetter released her own very well-received manual, “The Definitive Guide to Southeast Asia: Cambodia.”
Both of these books provide helpful information and optimistic encouragement to readers who are considering relocating to Cambodia. It’s the optimistic encouragement that I have a problem with. I personally believe that there are significant drawbacks to moving to Cambodia that could probably fill an entire book. Maybe not a real book, but definitely one of those silly e-books.
Unlike Ms. Goldberg and Ms. Yetter, I don’t have the necessary work ethic or attention span to write a whole book about anything. So I’m just going to offer these 7 Reasons Why You Really Shouldn’t Move to Cambodia.
1. You will die younger in Cambodia.
This is a big one. The average life expectancy for Westerners living in Western countries is about 75 to 80 years old, depending on the country. Unofficially, the average life expectancy for Western expatriates living in Cambodia is 57.4 years old.
There are a number of reasons why moving to Cambodia will shave about twenty years off your life. Cambodia has a lot of common diseases that you would never catch in your home country, like Typhoid, Dengue Fever, Hepatitis, and Malaria. The medical care in Cambodia is atrociously bad. The ambulances are unreliable; the doctors are unqualified; the hospitals are unsanitary. Even easily treatable illnesses can quickly become life-threatening if Cambodian doctors get involved.
Sometimes expats in Cambodia succumb not to illness, but to traffic accidents or other hazards. Expats like to ride motorbikes, often helmetless, presumably because they think it makes them look cool. This can be rather dangerous in a country with reckless local drivers, no enforcement of traffic laws, and poor emergency medical care. Private ambulances in Cambodia will actually refuse to take patients who are seriously injured, because they don’t want to risk transporting a dying patient who won’t be able to pay the hospital bill.
But perhaps the primary reason why expats tend to die young in Cambodia is that many of them “lose the plot” and develop unhealthy habits involving drugs, alcohol, and prostitution. This leads to weekly reports of expats in their forties and fifties being found dead on their bathroom floors from a “heart attack” or “fall.”
Cambodia is full of dangers, and very few of the locals even know basic first aid. If you start choking in a restaurant in a Western country, your waiter or another customer will quickly perform the Heimlich Maneuver on you. If you start choking in a restaurant in Cambodia, the locals will all stand around dumbfounded and stare at you until you turn blue and collapse on the floor. Only then will one of them spring into action and attempt to revive you by vigorously rubbing tiger balm on your forehead.
2. Cambodia is a horrible place to raise a child.
If you have a child or you are planning to have children, you definitely should not move to Cambodia. World Health Organization statistics show that a child born in Cambodia is ten times more likely to die before the age of 5 than a child born in France. All of the diseases that kill adults in Cambodia are even more dangerous to young children. Kids are also more likely to be involved in accidents requiring emergency medical care, because kids are fragile and kind of stupid.
While children may be coddled and overprotected in Western societies, they are simply left to their Darwinian fate in Cambodia. Cambodian children are often seen wandering the streets without adult supervision or perched helmetless on the front of passing motorbikes. Last year a “mystery illness” killed 60 children in Cambodia. Nobody really cared.
Raising any child in Cambodia presents grave risks that you wouldn’t have in a Western country. If your daughter develops acute appendicitis in your home country, you can take her to the emergency room at a modern hospital. A knowledgeable doctor will promptly diagnose her condition, a skilled surgeon will remove her appendix before it bursts, and she’ll be back to normal in no time.
If your daughter develops acute appendicitis in Cambodia . . . well, she’s probably screwed. Just start over with a new kid.
Let’s assume that your children are lucky and that the Cambodian diseases, traffic accidents, and poor medical care don’t kill them. Their future will still be quite bleak. The educational system in Cambodia is absolutely dire, from the primary schools through the universities. The only way to properly educate your child in Cambodia is to pay about $15,000 per year to send her to a top international school. This is going to be hard to afford if you moved to Cambodia to teach English for $9 an hour.
You may fancy the idea of moving to “wild” Cambodia, but the true test of being a good parent is whether you place your child’s safety and security above your own interests. That’s why many devoted parents from third world countries will do anything possible to sneak their families into Western countries where their kids will have a brighter future.
As young Western citizens, your children enjoy the same wonderful opportunity that you had to grow up in a civilized country with good schools, quality health care, free speech, seat belts, career prospects, democracy, Fig Newtons, and long life expectancies. They would kindly appreciate if you don’t fuck all that up for them by raising them in a corrupt, oppressive third world shithole. Your choice.
What amazes me is that the Westerners who decide to raise their children in Cambodia remain in total denial about what terrible, selfish parents they really are. Some have even started a Yahoo group called the “Cambodia Parent Network,” where they exchange tips on how to raise their doomed offspring in a country where no responsible Western parent would ever voluntarily raise a child. Cambodia Parent Network? Good grief. That’s like starting the Chernobyl Gardening Club.
3. The infrastructure sucks.
Even compared to neighboring countries like Vietnam and Thailand, the infrastructure in Cambodia is truly appalling. The schools, hospitals, roads, and utilities are all of very poor quality. Trash piles up in the street. Rats and roaches abound. Main roads in the capital city are now gridlocked during rush hours, and traffic only gets worse each year. There is no mass transit system and nowhere to park your car. Sidewalks are impassable. Internet connections are relatively slow. The tap water is dodgy. There are no zoning laws and no effective law enforcement. The noise pollution from karaoke parlors at 2 a.m., barking dogs at 4 a.m., and construction workers at 6 a.m. can be unbearable.
Many expats report regular power outages in their neighborhoods, sometimes lasting 3-5 hours a day. That will put a major damper on your online porn habit.
Cambodia does have excellent nightlife, but there’s absolutely nothing to do during the day – no decent parks, cinemas, museums, malls, libraries, etc. Just walking outside between the hours of 8 a.m. and 6 p.m. can be quite unpleasant due to the heat and humidity. Oh, and Cambodia smells really bad. If you’re thinking of moving to Phnom Penh, you need to know that the entire city stinks of garbage, smoke, urine, and rotten fish. Not just the Walkabout.
4. Living in Cambodia will destroy your financial future.
Let us agree that the hallmark of a successful life is living as long as possible while simultaneously acquiring as many material possessions as you can. Like Mr. Burns from The Simpsons, but with a hot young wife too.
You may be able to find a hot young wife in Cambodia, but unless you are transferred there by a multinational company, you’re not going to make any decent money working in Cambodia. If you’re one of these guys who just decides to move to Cambodia to “teach English” or “open a bar,” you will guarantee yourself a life of relative poverty. You’ll likely start out making about $8 – $10 per hour, which would be the bare minimum wage in many Western countries.
You may be thinking, “But I heard I can teach English and live like a king making $1,200 per month in Cambodia.” You can’t. You’ll be able to afford a relatively crappy Khmer-style apartment with tiled walls, bars on the windows, unreliable electricity, and loud, annoying neighbors. Near Russian Market, of course.
Unlike the minimum wage earners in Western countries, you won’t even be paying into social security, or a pension plan, or any kind of retirement benefits. So just plan on working in a low paid teaching job in Cambodia until the day you die. Of course, your lack of retirement planning will be the least of your concerns when you’re lying on your deathbed in a dirty Cambodian hospital at age 57.
Because you’ll have no savings, you won’t even be able to leave money to take care of your wife and kids when you die. Keep in mind that your kids will already be well behind the financial eight ball because you raised them in an impoverished country with an inadequate school system and few legitimate career opportunities.
I know what you’re thinking now. “I’ll just move to Cambodia for a few years, then I’ll move back home and get a good job that pays well.” Not a chance. The job market is extremely competitive these days in most Western countries. Cambodia still has a notorious reputation, and it’s hard to get a good job when the hiring manager who reviews your application says, “This candidate has a fascinating resumé. I wonder if he’s a pedophile.”
5. Your mother will be so disappointed.
If you move to Cambodia, you’re probably going to have to tell your mother at some point. Of course she’ll tell you that she supports your decision, because that’s what good mothers do. But deep down, she will be crushed that you are moving so far away from her.
You have a moral obligation to help take care of your mother in her later years. Don’t be a selfish ass who passes that responsibility off on your siblings so that you can live 8,000 miles away in Cambodia getting drunk by 3 p.m. every day.
Yes, your mother will know what you’re really doing in Cambodia. You might as well just send her a Mother’s Day card that says “Thanks for raising me and all that, sorry I haven’t seen you in a few years, it just turns out that I enjoy drugs, alcohol and hookers much more than spending time with you.”
And what if you eventually have kids in Cambodia? Are you going to deprive your mother of the pleasure of seeing her sickly, under-educated, half-brown grandchildren because you’re raising them 8,000 miles away from her? That’s a cruel, selfish thing to do to your mom. She may justifiably respond to this affront by cutting you out of her will. And since you’ll be working for peanuts in Cambodia, that inheritance would have been your only chance of acquiring any real money during your lifetime.
6. You’ll become an alcoholic and have to make friends with gossipy, alcoholic expats.
There are a lot of Western bar owners in Cambodia, because there are a lot of Western bars in Cambodia. Excessive drinking is by far the most popular pastime among Western expatriates. You will probably end up spending a lot of time drinking in these dingy bars, since there’s really nothing else to do for fun in Cambodia.
Because Cambodia only attracts certain types of expats, you will end up making friends in bars with the kind of undesirable people that you would never associate with back home. Junkies. Whoremongers. Journalists.
Even though you have little in common with these people, you will become friends out of necessity, because you need someone to drink with and they need someone to drink with. You will end up spending a lot of time with them, but you will never be able to trust them like your real friends back home. In fact, your new drinking buddies in Cambodia will never even bother to learn your last name. You’ll just forever be known in expat circles by your first name, which is always preceded by an additional descriptive term. Back home your name may be Robert Jenkins; in Cambodia you’ll be “NoseHair Bob.”
Most importantly, your expat friends in Cambodia will not help you at all if you begin to spiral out of control. If you start routinely binge drinking in your home country, your true friends back home will express concern for your well-being and try to stop you from destroying your life. Your expat friends in Cambodia will hand you another beer and try to introduce you to their meth dealer.
7. Your Thai girlfriend will absolutely hate it.
It’s not just Westerners who are getting caught up in the craze of moving to Cambodia. During the last few months, several new posters have actually joined the Khmer440 discussion forums to ask about getting visas for their Thai wives and girlfriends to move to Cambodia also.
We all know that opportunistic young Thai women have been marrying or shacking up with older Western men for decades. But the unstated agreement in these relationships is that the Western man is supposed to improve the poor girl’s standard of living. The impoverished Thai woman reluctantly allows the older Western man’s unsightly, wrinkled penis to enter her vagina from time to time. In exchange, the Western man moves the Thai woman to a proper Western country, or he builds her an oversized house in her home province that is the envy of all her slutty, gold-digging friends. Then she waits comfortably for him to die. That’s the deal that your Thai wife or girlfriend signed up for.
Moving a Thai woman to Cambodia does not improve her standard of living. It’s a shocking downgrade. It will seem to her like a cruel joke, not unlike bailing a black friend out of jail and then driving him straight to a Ku Klux Klan rally. The words a Thai woman longs to hear from her farang boyfriend are “Pack your bags dear, we’re flying to Paris.” Not, “Go buy some Purell, we’re moving to Cambodia.”
Just the idea of setting foot in Cambodia is truly horrifying to many Thai women. You need to understand that all Thais look down on Cambodians, in the strange way that the poor bastards who live in Cleveland still look down on those losers from Detroit. Even the most open-minded Thai girlfriend is probably going to ask some skeptical questions about moving to Cambodia. “What’s Cambodia like?” she will ask. The correct answer is, “It’s a lot like your village in Isaan, except the people are poorer, everyone’s skin is darker, no one speaks Thai, and the food sucks.”
So if you’re a struggling expat in Thailand whose meager foreign pension can no longer keep up with the rising Thai baht, please don’t punish your innocent Thai girlfriend by moving with her to Cambodia. There is a better solution. Do the noble thing that troubled expats in Thailand have been doing for years – break up with your girlfriend and then leap to your death from the balcony of your Pattaya condo.
Gavinmac is a regular contributor to Khmer440 who is considering moving to Cambodia in early 2014. His other “7 Reasons” articles can be found here.