The Meanderthals

Where gin costs less than a milkshake


In the cafe where I’m presently sitting, the menu offers a glass of gin for $2.50. A chocolate milkshake costs $3.00.
When we were planning our trip to Cambodia, I infinitely researched and browsed websites and asked questions of people who were already living here. How much did it really cost to live in Phnom Penh?
Since others have been asking me the same thing, I thought it may interesting to let you know the price of things and how affordable it is to live, even in this capital city which is considered expensive to locals in other parts of Cambodia.
We are still in awe when we walk out of a restaurant with a total tab of around $10 (for two). Or, at times, when we spend a total of $4 for two lunch dishes in a local hole-in-the-wall spot where everything on the menu is $1.50 (bowls of steaming rice and chicken, stir-fried noodles with seafood and Tom Yum soup with shrimp are among the offerings).
There are lots of “western” restaurants which we tended to frequent during our language classes since there were many of them in the neighborhood. While main dishes there cost in the region of $4 – $6 each, the variety and selection far outweighs anything I’ve seen in restaurants in the U.S. — Mint and Aubergine (eggplant) Burrito, Papaya Salad, Carrot and Pumpkin soup, Goat’s Cheese Sandwich with Pesto and Grilled Eggplant on Anadama Bread, Banana Blossom Salad, Avocado Pineapple and Pine Nut Salad…the choices are delectable and tempting. 

There’s also more of a selection of luscious fruit drinks than anything I’ve ever seen (priced between $1.50 $2.50) including mango lassi, ginger presse, coconut, pineapple and banana smoothies, papaya, watermelon and carrot fresh juices — and many more. There’s even hot chocolate on most menus (something I can never see myself wanting).

Our two most expensive meals have been in a wonderful Italian place by the river serving homemade pasta, and a delightful French bistro where we were served freshly barbecued duck and tuna with a delicious three-cheese tossed salad, Our total bill (including a glass of wine) was around $30. No, not per person — the entire bill.
Oh, and I’ve also found the most amazing white chocolate almond cookies for 65 cents.
I could go on and on about the food since, as my brother said, he could tell I wasn’t happy as I wasn’t talking about food in Cambodia when I arrived – but here’s the lowdown on other costs for living here.
Communication — Skip and I spent $35 on our new mobile phones then purchased SIM cards which you top up as you go along. I put $20 on mine four weeks ago and still have $8 left (remember I don’t know anyone here other than our fellow volunteers, and have only called England once on this phone)
Internet – There are internet cafes everywhere which generally cost around 50 cents for an hour. To install wireless at home, it costs $55 to set up and an additional $30/month for unlimited access.
Transportation – Taking a tuktuk anywhere (whether 2 blocks or 20 blocks) costs $2 for the ride. I’ve worked out a monthly deal with our regular guy to pay him $65 for the month to pick me up at home in the morning then collect me at the end of the day.
Longer trips are also dirt cheap. A bus to Ho Chi Min City in Vietnam costs $13, our bus to Kampot (3 hours drive) cost $4 and the bus we’re taking this weekend to Kho Kong (near the Thai border) is costing $10 (for a 5 hour ride). The buses are airconditioned with bathrooms (if they work) and TV screens showing movies (we were treated to “Rambo” on our trip to Kampot!)

You can also take a boat along the Mekong River. The one which travels to Siem Riep is described as a “luxury boat” and costs around $25 for a four hour trip. We were recently told of someone who took it a few weeks ago before the river was high enough and they were grounded, had to take a bus and ended up taking 10 hours for the journey.

Groceries – Most things cost about the same as at home since we shop in the supermarkets where you can get anything you want…Marmite, Nutella, Pringes chips, yogurt, cereal, packaged pancake mixes, biscuits, cheese and so on. Alternatively, a large bottle of water costs 50c/bottle and you can buy a cup of iced coffee from a local spot for 50 cents.

One thing we have found to be costly is the price of mail overseas. Firstly, you have to take your letters and packages to the main post office at the other end of town. Secondly, there are select days when the mail goes to various parts of the world (mail goes to the U.S. daily but only twice a week to England) and postage costs are pretty steep (around $5 – $10 to mail a small package).
Clothes – You can get cheap stuff in the markets (I bought two tops for $5 in the Russian Market) or higher end stuff in the fancier shops. Or you can get clothing made at one of the hundreds of tailors around town. I was quoted $19 today to have one of my dresses copied (fabric would be an additional $5 – $9 depending on what I select)

Healthcare – VIA provides health insurance so almost everything is reimbursed after we pay out-of-pocket for an appointment. Doctor consultations/treatments cost around $80 and Skip’s bout at the hospital which included immediate treatment by a doctor, two hours on a saline drip, space in the hospital for three hours and follow-up medication cost approximately $250.
In addition, we’ve always experienced incredibly caring and helpful service, from the receptionist who offered us coffee and tea to the nurse who beamed when we spoke a few words of Khmer.

Oh, and while we’re on the subject of “health“, let’s not forget about the best part of living in this part of the world — massages. They usually cost about $7 for a one-hour foot massage or full-body massage.

We’ve seen them advertised for as low as $2 and there are “luxury” places where you can spend $30 or more for a more upscale experience. However, the place we like best (and have a “frequent massage” membership card!) is “U and Me Spa” which could not be more elegant and upscale (fruit and tea presented while you wait for your bill and a floating bowl of lillies under the massage table) and costs $ 8 – $12 for an hour (before our 10 percent discount when we visit during the week).

And if you want a haircut, you can find places on the street which charge $1.00 (no, don’t think I’ll be trying that one) or you can pay the “upscale” prices, which range from $4 to $35 depending  where you go. Skip had a really nice cut yesterday for $4 in a haircut store two doors down from Louisiana Fried Chicken which he likes better than some of his $25 haircuts back home

Exercise – There are a few health clubs around and the one we’ve been going to is called Muscle and Fitness which charges $25 for a book of 10 passes. There are also a couple of yoga studios which charge $9 for drop-in classes (or, if you are a volunteer and have a letter to prove it you pay the discounted price of $6).
Accommodation. Speaking from experience, there are some very cheap and somewhat cheerful places around town. The Spring guesthouse where we stayed for almost four weeks charges $10 per night for a room with airconditioning and a bathroom with a shower (and it was really quite a pleasant little place to stay).
In Kampot, I splurged on a lovely room in a beautiful guesthouse on the river which cost $35 for the room (including a sumptuous breakfast). And in Kho Kong, where we’re going this weekend, a double room in the deluxe Rainbow Lodge  is $60 for the night, including three meals prepared by the chef at the lodge.
Entertainment. The best we’ve found is Meta House, the arthouse run by the Goethe Institute where they show movies 5 nights per week on their rooftop theater. The cost? Nothing. They like you to buy a drink while you watch the show but, at $2 – $3 per drink, it’s the best deal around.
We’ve also heard there’s live traditional dance for $5 or you can combine entertainment and exercise and pay a nightly visit to the Olympic Stadium and take part in one of the “aerobic” classes which are held in an impromptu basis by instructors who set up speakers and don leotards for an hour or two.
And, while we’re on the subject of good deals, the cost for taking a language class and learning how to say “pochaneetan noe eyenaar?” (where is the restaurant?) is a mere $4 per hour.
Can’t beat that for learning how to find our way around town.

And, after living here for a mere four weeks, I simply can’t imagine living in a place where a huge bowl of pad thai costs more than $4.


  • Suzie

    Gee, I would be in trouble…….I’d be inclined to prefer the milkshake!!! So interesting, the differences in cultures. I know one thing, I’d get a massage every day, maybe twice a day! THAT would be worth living there for me. It sounds like you are thriving, which is wonderful. I’m loving reading all about it, as you discover this new life. You guys are troopers, that’s for sure. Keep these blogs coming……PLEASE. They may be the only vacation I get this year!

  • Deborah

    WOW! Gabi, it sounds as if you are having an amazing time and those prices are certainly unfathomable to us here in the West. Enjoy every moment my friend!Best, Deborah

  • Marie Buckley

    Hi, Gabi – what an interesting post! A really insightful way to get a handle on what life is like in your neck of the woods. I’m enjoying following your blog. Keep these posts coming! Marie

  • Francie

    This was amazing, Gab …. and now we have the evidence that this place is truly a bargain. I am determined to visit while you’re there …! The intro you’ve already provided is MOST attractive to this hungry-for-travel soul …

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