At home in Siem Reap

Chiang Mai Thailand, Siem Reap Cambodia roads. Guess which one is more difficult to drive down?
Chiang Mai Thailand on the left and Siem Reap Cambodia on the right. Guess which one is more exciting during the rainy season?

Thailand is sooo easy compared to living in Cambodia. Something that takes three steps here, took one step back in T-land. Even with many Cambodians’ better command of English, the conveniences of Thailand can’t be beat. After all, there are greater numbers of tourists visiting Thailand and I’m willing to wager, more expats, too.

Thailand is also more developed. I’m sure my Thai friends (and family) were wondering why in the “wide wide world of blazin’ moto seats” would I want to move here. And it was also a tad embarrassing to answer, “Siem Reap” when they asked where in Cambodia I was moving to because Siem Reap means “Thailand defeated”. But for the sake of politeness, they just blanked out for a few slow seconds and returned to normal conversation.

Our flight was relatively uneventful, as you want your flying experience to go, with the added baggage of us stressing over our luggage allowance both in Chiang Rai and Don Muang (Bangkok) Airport. Between us, we had purchased additional weight, but we were having mini freak outs over guessing whether or not we were under-over. As a result, we asked a nearby yoga studio if they had a scale we could borrow so we could weigh our stuff before hitting the airport. They did and we were surprisingly okay.

Flying high.
Flying high.

We arrived in SR on a Wednesday, late afternoon. I was supposed to go to work for an introduction on Friday and then that turned into another meeting on Saturday, and then I was to start work on Monday. That left all those other empty time-spaces dedicated to searching for a home. I thought we could find a place before I started work, while my b/f said we’d probably live in a guest house for a month before we found our next home.

Despite my unrealistic expectations, we moved into our new apartment on Sunday, the day before I started work. We endured help and hurdles and moving guest houses before this, making our first few days packed with action and more action, and followed by exhaustion.

Our first guest house concierge was excited about me working at a “reputable language school” so he arranged for us to be taken around by a real estate agent one afternoon. The places we saw were too small and too hot. We needed just right. But I was curious what we were going to see and grateful that the concierge tried to help us.

Another agent, a slick European, showed us humiliating specimens ranging from a shared home with an incessantly yapping dog and a house that looked haunted and smelled worse. Facebook groups allowed us to hook up with more agents and one of them showed us an eerie commune that felt like The Lost Tribe of Israel meets Backwater Billy from Arkansas. We politely declined.

What do you mean it's move-in ready?
What do you mean it’s move-in ready?

As you can imagine, we were discouraged, but as it turned out, the first place I saw was the best. So, we asked for a second showing, this time renting a tuk tuk so b/f could join (she only had room on her motorbike for me the first time), and after some fancy talk negotiating the price, we were ready and nabbed it before we had to spend another night in the second guest house, which oddly enough had graffiti in the room. Hmmm…

It’s too soon to tell, but I think we did alright. I certainly hope so. We stayed within our budget ($300 USD, yes, they use American dollars. The Cambodian Riel is used as change, mostly, but damn handy at the local markets and for tuk tuk rides). We’re also close to work and far enough away from touristic centers so it feels like we are living in Cambodia, not “Do you need a tuk tuk ride or a massage?” Angkor City.

100 Riel is like 2.5 cents, pretty much useless except at the markets. Collect 10 and you get 25 cents!
100 Riel is like 2.5 cents, pretty much useless, but maybe I’ll good at using them. Collect 10 and you get 25 cents!

Now, I’m not sure if our apartment is the norm or a rarity, but based on a friend’s place, and ours, it appears apartments have hot water “on tap” and that’s probably one of the bigger changes for someone who used to boil water in the kitchen to clean her greasy dishes.

We also have a gas stove and oven (!) and a bathtub, too. In Thailand, ovens (that don’t look like a glorified toaster oven) and bathtubs (that aren’t in a 5-star hotel) are as rare as a dog on a leash in SE Asia. Interestingly, apartments (even the one that was too small) are not as tiny as places in Thailand as well. It’s strange because new apartment buildings in the Land of Smiles have a tendency to be cozy shoebox-size studios, whereas here, based on what I’ve seen, you’re more likely to have space and sectioned off areas for kitchens.

A sneak peak at our kitchen and living room. Don’t ask me about decorating yet! I’ll get there, one day. But I knew you’d be curious what our place looks like. It’s spacious with high ceilings, too.

Another change I’ve noticed is, without the convenience of a major department store or mega mall, shopping for household goods is a bit like searching for Noah’s Ark – if this exists, why is it so hard to find? Pillows were a fluffy challenge as most locals looked perplexed when we asked, their faces reading, “Where do you buy pillows?” Although, now that I think about it, getting another apartment key was more of a hassle than we anticipated.

My b/f’s first attempt to get a key copy was at the Psha Leu (or crazy local outdoor market on steroids), but the key he paid for didn’t work. Of course, we asked the landlady, but she had to ask her father and we never got anywhere with that. Then, we asked around at another market (for tourists) and found that a row of “key makers” were situated under a row of scrawny trees across from a mega bank.

We found the first guy to be too expensive, but the next one would make a copy for $1.50. Then the guy took our key and got on his motorbike and sped away.

“Where is he going?”

“Is he going to get the key made? But I thought he was going to do it here.”

These men sat behind crude-looking wooden H’s with rings of keys on them and plastic boxes with tools in them.

“He just took off with our only house key.”

“Yup.”

Then another man showed up on his motorbike, parked under the tree and started to play with his phone while smoking a cigarette. I started to feel even more vulnerable. Five minutes later, our guy returned and filed down the end of our new key on his motorbike’s foot rest. He held up the two keys and handed them to us. After much fidgeting, willing and finessing, we got the key to work – I think.

We’ve had more success shopping for small appliances at Lucky Mall (it’s not really a mall, okay, it’s a tiny mall). Although, I’ve been finding it rather amusing when salespeople and vendors tell us that such and such product was Made in Thailand. I usually, rather facetiously, repeat that information to my partner, “Oh, it’s made in Thailand.” That would be like someone at Sears trying to tell us that this Made-in-China fan is top quality. (To be fair, I think things made in Thailand compared to Cambodia are better, but that’s like saying Japanese cars are superior to American vehicles when America doesn’t even produce or hardly produces their own cars.)

I won’t lie. There are times when I miss my old life in Thailand because it’s familar and easy. I didn’t fully comprehend how good I had it, but that is not enough to make me return, at least yet. Because I remember Thailand, in 2009, for me, was challenging at the beginning. Ecuador, in 2010 was difficult as well, at the beginning. I adjusted and things got easier. And even though I was only in Cuenca for 6 months, I’m so glad I did it. Being shaken out of our comfort zones can be a grinding experience that I get why less than half of Americans have a valid passport.

View of Siem Reap looking at the newer side of town.
View of Siem Reap looking at the newer side of town. Lots more palm trees than I expected.

But I know that the resistance to change and what is different is followed by adjusting and squirming, and acceptance will silently lag behind that. I also remind myself that I was itching to leave Thailand. Being comfortable is not necessarily a sign of happiness or contentedness, and of course, constant change isn’t either.

And it’s not really, for me, about finding a home. I already tried to do that in the US when I moved from State to State – and when I first moved abroad. I have a home in Thailand. I have a home in Hawaii. And I know in my heart that my brother’s family would love it if I moved back to the American South.

Trying Cambodia is about living life, breathing through my tippy toes and finger tips, challenging myself and simply, taking chances. It’s about having experiences, I think, and currently finding a decent shelf or two, and a set of pillows for the couch.

40 thoughts on “At home in Siem Reap

  1. You’re a real adventurer. I love that photo from the air–everything all green and blue under the clouds. Congratulations on finding a good apartment so quickly. It looks clean, comfortable, and spacious.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Hahahaha! I love it when people think I’m an adventurest. I don’t seem myself that way at all. Yeah, airplane shots can be fun, and thanks for your kind words.

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    1. I’m glad you liked the key story which wasn’t funny at the time, but bewildering. But for some reason, I did trust him. It’s funny how you are put into these crazy situations and your instincts kick in.

      Sometimes though I feel like I can’t put my guard down. When we are someplace new we have our shields up and when we are someplace we know, we have them down. Maybe we should try to do it the other way around?

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  2. Good luck with your move and new job. I remember how stressful it was to get settled in Taiwan. My school just had a bunch of new hires arrive and we are helping them get settled. They have the wild eyed look of “where am I and what have I gotten myself into?” I secretly love the bewilderment of moving somewhere new, especially knowing that everything gets figured out eventually.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. That is very true, eventually everything does get figured out. I remember when I lived in Thailand and watching tourists look around with that wild-eyed look, part of me was envious, too. It’s great when everything’s new, but it’s also a lot of work. Thanks for stopping by!

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  3. Uh, not to scare you, although that should probably work well, but you don’t know how many key duplicates exactly the guy made. They know you are foreigners and even though you didn’t give your address, you never know who followed you home.

    Not saying this is really the case and I don’t really know squat about Cambodian life. I am just thinking of the scary possibility, which could happen in any other place or country…

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    1. It is a possibility, but we live in a safe place right next to our landlord and his family. We are in a small building with other foreigners and also there is someone who is on the property at all times. He’s the handyman and there is a security guard, too.

      I understand what you are saying though and we try exercise precautions as much as possible, but we can only do so much and we needed another key.

      Liked by 1 person

  4. Well done in getting a comfortable and clean place to live.

    I can relate to your experiences of trust and instinct. I can also understand the need to challenge oneself (I do an evaluation, not mentally every so often). If you do what you always do, you will get what you always got; granted it is not for every body. We all are different.

    Had I not had the challenges, I wouldn’t have met some amazing people. I remind myself of the blessings. I’m not religious. Having reasonable good health and peace in the heart are important for me too.

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    1. I agree whole-heartedly! Throwing yourself into challenges and what scares us helps us remember what is important and helps us to connect the dots. I am very grateful that I have my health and have met amazing folks along the way. Thanks!

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  5. Sounds like it was an interesting apartment hunt. Somehow I never trust those guys who make key duplicates, not even in Finland where it was heavily restricted (even asking in a store for a duplicate for your homekey could result that police shows up!)

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  6. That was so scary of the guy to take your only house key away on a motorbike – like one big show but luckily it was with good intentions. As Crazy said, I would never trust those guys who make duplicate keys; you never really know if they make a duplicate key for themselves. But, it does sound like the locals there are nice, though a bit apprehensive of foreigners.

    Your apartment looks nice and anything with a high ceiling tends to be better. That’s my personal opinion, though. The higher the ceiling, the more bright the apartment seems. The only downside would be changing the lightbulbs on the ceiling if they decided to blow, like mine did the other day and I had to stand on a table to reach it 😛

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    1. I was worried about the key incident when it happened, but he did leave to have the key made and if this was a known problem I don’t think a row of these guys would have been set up. Plus, I would have heard about it being a scam as all other scams are quickly posted by expats.

      Then I forgot about it, really, until JGi brought up the scary possibility and I had to think about all the ways we are secure – I forgot to include that we have a camera on our stairwell so the guards and see who comes and goes. When we had a friend visiting, we were asked about him, too.

      In any case, the apt does have a nice light and airy feeling about it. And if we need to change the lights, hopefully someone has a ladder! 😀

      Liked by 1 person

  7. Yeah that apartment looks WAY NICE! And an oven!? Daaaang, I didn’t even have that in Japan! And 300 bucks!?!?! That’s just crazy. Here in America you couldn’t event rent a shed for that amount of money.

    I don’t know why, but when I looked at your final photo I imagined you going through unbearable humidity. Is it pretty moist over there?

    Looks like your life is somewhat difficult at the moment–but interesting! That’s what I miss about living abroad. The small adventures you have everyday.

    Keep up the Siem Reap stories! I love it!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks Ruby. We were able to score 300, but there are plenty in the range of American rental prices. Ouch. No, thanks.

      It is humid, but not any more humid than Thailand, I don’t think. It’s hotter because we are further south. When we lived in Thailand we were in the north. But right now we are enjoying breezes, rain and cooler weather.

      Yes, life is challenging, but it’s getting better. Thanks for your positive words! 🙂

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    1. Oh, I’m sure that’s about all I have on you as Taiwan is definitely a first-world country and Cambo is not. 😛 But that’s okay, it is what it is. These trying experiences help me understand and relate to many people. Thanks!

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  8. when you first mentioned the guy taking your key, it’s interesting, because if you were in phnom penh, i may have guessed he might have ripped you off and disappeared with your key. but when i remembered you were in siem reap, i thought, ‘nah, they’re fine.’ remember how i mentioned a guy in siem reap lent my family motorbike to go get a car battery because ours had died? most people i had encountered in siem reap were friendly. it was years ago but i hope it has stayed the same.

    i like how you included all the details like the need for fluffy pillows and having hot water. (that’s one thing i couldn’t stand when i visited cambodia.. cold showers all the time! so i’d say your place is pretty nice if you have hot water. ^_^) can’t wait to read more of your adventures. =)

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you. Yes, most folks here are very helpful and kind. It’s a small town and I think there is something to be said about running into the same folks and living within a community.

      We have a tendency to think the worst and be fearful and I have to remind myself that a lot of the b.s. comes from negative forums and the news. I believe folks generally don’t want to make trouble or go looking for it.

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    1. Hahhaaha. I actually hate to have a messy home. I spend a lot of time sweeping these days and straightening piles of stuff that don’t yet have a home. Thanks.

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  9. Exciting and new. Will be worth the memories!
    PS my daughter recently told me, after spending 4 days with her beloved grandparents, that “it is like I am home when you are here with me”. Maybe home is not a place but a connection? 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I love it. I’ll have to quote you 🙂 And sometimes being thrown or throwing yourself into new situations is about establishing those connections so that you feel grounded.

      It will be worth the memories….already is. Thanks!

      Liked by 1 person

    1. We found pillows at the local market. So, yes, they use them. Hahahaha. I don’t know why everyone didn’t think of that immediately.

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  10. Your honesty about your vulnerability is endearing. As a seasoned ‘mover’ you know things will eventually fall in place… I like that quiet confidence that permeates this article.
    Now, that guy running off with your key was very worrisome. I guess you’ll relax more and more as you understand how business works in SR.

    You gave me plenty laughs, like this caption under a photo: What do you mean it’s move-in ready? 🙂

    Lani, all the very best as you and your partner adjust.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you, Timi. I appreciate your kind words and confidence in me 🙂 I think you pretty much nailed it, as we understand how things work in SR, we’ll be less worried.

      Hugs and bugs from Cambodia!

      Liked by 1 person

  11. I am so amazed at your sense of adventure and willingness to go way beyond your comfort zone. I don’t think I would have even considered attempting this in my younger days-or even now! I do so enjoy your humor and reading about your experiences. Apartment looks good!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks so much. *blushes*

      Risk-taking has always been a strong suit. I’m not entirely sure why. Maybe those parents were good role models 😛

      Liked by 1 person

  12. Congrats on finding an apartment and by the looks of it, it is a good one. Glad to hear that you are settling into life in Cambodia. BTW, I think I would have been very nervous if someone drove away with the only key to my place.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks. Yeah, it was a weird moment. Sometimes we have to trust in unknown situations and those are the scariest.

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  13. Good luck to you Lani in your new place. You sound like you are going through what I did 46 years ago here in Chiang Mai. It will make for great stories to tell your grandchildren. Be well, safe, and happy.

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