OFW Life in Cambodia

Probably one of the most colorful perks of being an Overseas Filipino Worker is the chance to earn and travel at the same time. Back home, we could hardly afford flights to domestic tourist destinations. If we try, it means saving money for the trip for quite a while – sometimes, it takes years to save the money needed to bring the entire family to an outbound trip.

After many years of working in another country, the opportunity to come teach in Cambodia came about.

I couldn’t resist the chance to move and experience a different culture. While Cambodia may not be the best country in the world, it has it many ups.

Cambodia’s Angkor Wat is one of the few UNESCO’s Heritage Sites, a true pride of the Cambodian people and a powerful symbol of the country. It is probably the top tourism income source of this landlocked country. The country earned $3.6 billion from tourism in 2017, 13.3 % higher than the previous year, the Khmer Times reported. This can be attributed to the boost of cultural tourism including Angkor Wat in Siem Reap as well a the Royal Palace and Silver Pagodas in Phnom Penh.

OFW in Cambodia
Typical Cambodian houses have multiple locks and metal barriers because of safety and security issues.

Yes, that’s just one of the perks – traveling. But living in Cambodia is a love and hate relationship. Love for the country’s rich cultural diversity, unique food and cheap shopping and hate for the bad infrastructure, and sometimes safety and security issues. Still, it is a country worth the excursion for the next few years.

Arrival in Cambodia

Arrival at the capital, Phnom Penh may not give you the ‘wow’ feeling you’ll get when you visit many Western countries. But it gives you a more ‘homey’ feeling. The scenery may probably mirror what you see at the old Manila International Airport (now NAIA T3).

So, one phrase – it’s like home.

What to do in Cambodia?

There’s so much more than working the 9-5 jobs in Cambodia. Well, a school finishes earlier (at 3 pm) so that means plenty of time to rest and perhaps spend on other things –discovering Cambodia. Newbies in the country will likely benefit knowing what else expats do here in the country.

Coffee Culture

The coffee culture is very much alive here in Cambodia. Contrary to popular belief that they may be “tea drinkers” because most population are Buddhist, the city is teeming with coffee shops, both local and international brands. Brown Coffee tops the list followed by Café Amazon – both local brands –beating international names Starbucks by a mile. Their version of caramel macchiato and green tea are to die for.

Despite the relatively humid weather, coffee business thrives without much hassle. In fact, there’s probably a Brown Coffee less than a kilometer away from every borey (their housing complexes) in the Cambodian capital. Coffee prices ranges from $1 to $4 depending on location.

Expats usually hang out in their cozy café just to catch up of the week’s action.

Filipino bread for a OFW
Me enjoying my spanish bread (costly at 1.60 $ as compared to Php20 at home) but it connects me to the Pinoy taste I longed for.

Shopping Haven

As a Filipino expat, bargains are always exciting. That’s what you get here exactly – branded clothes at factory prices. Literally, the apparels are just off the factories of Western brands. Clothes, bags and shoes are sold at a very cheap price almost everywhere (even by some tuktuks). Some enterprising Filipinos even buy in bulk, send them home through balikbayan boxes and sold in the Philippines at a hefty price. Who can resist branded bargains, not us!

Of course, it is a rule for an OFW to know how to budget your pay. Work overseas will never be a permanent job. When the wind blows, you might be sent home without notice.

Cultural Walk

There are always good things about Cambodia. One of them is their very rich history. A walk at TK, a local mall provides a glimpse of their way of life and how they actually work with the rest. The Cambodians are great at hanging out and leaving the day’s worries behind. 

Once called the Pearl of Asia, Phnom Penh suffered the aftermath of the war and public protests and revolution. Today, the Tul Sleng museum serves as a reminder of the crimes of the Khmer Rouge. When visiting museums, it is suggested that you hire a guide as they can explain and describe the horrors of the past from the ‘locals’ point of view.

A predominantly Buddhist country, there are numerous landmarks showing Buddha in many forms. The Buddhist sculpture making business is very much alive trying to replace the many old Buddhist relics destroyed during the revolution in the early 90’s.

While you may never get to see the King waving his hands to his subjects on a regular basis, you will get a chance to see the grand palace in all its glory along Samdach Sothearos Blvd. On a good day, you can actually tour the whole ground and get a chance to click a picture or two as a memento.

Pinoy Gatherings

When Pinoys are abroad, a Pinoy gathering will never be far away. Birthdays and holidays are always celebrated with potlucks and karaoke. Spending time with kababayans is always a good way to feel at home. 

In Cambodia, gatherings are in the form of bible studies and family outings. There are approximately 5000 Filipinos working here, there is one near every neighborhood. As a rule of the thumb anywhere in the world, new ones just need to attend a church on a Sunday and meet as many or as few Filipinos. Everything else follows.

In Phnom Penh, spanish bread, ensaymada, puto and other Filipino products are available in almost every store – baked by Pinoy entrepreneurs, so you will never feel the craving for ‘home’ food. 

Cost of Living

Cambodia uses both their own currency and the US dollars for regular transactions. As compared to neighboring countries in the Asean region, cost of living here is relatively low. Even with a bit of shopping, a hangout at Brown coffee and your weekly meal, $30-$50 (Php1,560 to Php 2,600*) will last a single person a week. Of course, you need to factor in lifestyle in the spending. By tradition, Filipinos like home cooked meals more than restaurant ones so this is a good estimate.

* Php52: $1


Author: Jovelyn S.

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