Cambodia · Expat

Tips for finding an apartment in Siem Reap

pillows-at-home
Home sweet home, where are you?

We’ve been here for about a year which makes us expert expats in Siem Reap. Now, in Thailand, like Chiang Mai, if you are an expat for less than 3 years you are a fledgling, considered a mere babe in the eyes of wizened and longer-lasting expats who probably will be all too eager to tell you how little you know, and they, so much more.

But in SR, lasting a year is an accomplishment, as most expats are long term travellers passing through for 3 months, maybe 6 at best. It’s so different than what my experience was in Thailand, such a revolving door that I wonder what the heck I’m doing here. What are you doing here? I don’t know. Cambodia was supposed to be temporary and I’m not saying it isn’t, I’m just saying, we’re here…

Even though the expat community is a transient one, trying to find a decent place to live can be a little tricky because viable options are limited. Of course, this is changing, SR is growing by bulges and bounds, but SR is still a relatively small town catering to folks visiting Angkor Wat. This isn’t to say you can’t find anything, oh, you can, but finding something suitable and fits your needs? Well, that’s where the tricky bit comes in.

boat-on-siem-reap-river
Welcome to Cambodia. Now, will you sink or swim?

First of all, you have to join Siem Reap Real Estate and Expats and locals living in Siem Reap Facebook groups. This is where you’ll find out what’s available, get a look at price ranges and neighborhoods. This is also where the real estate agents hang out and you will quickly learn their names as there are only a handful.

I recommend watching the feed before jumping in and participating. Take your time. And if it sounds too good to be true, it probably is.

Generally speaking, places tend to be more expensive the closer they are to the Old Market and Pub Street. If you have the freedom of a car or motorbike and are comfortable moving away from the city center, you’ll probably be able to get a much better deal.

Google Maps for SR is dated (2013), but is still a valuable tool in gaining a sense of what is where. I use the river and Hwy 6 as ways to orient myself. And you’ll be surprised, if you type in a neighborhood, Google Maps will usually point you in the right direction. The street view, however, is a little more challenging as too much has changed since 2013.

Siem Reap boys-on-a-bike
Hey, do you know where we are?

If you don’t want others to know you are looking at a particular place, PM (private message) the person who posted. This actually comes in handy when you don’t want your current landlord (or anyone else in SR) to know you are looking. Remember, it’s a small expat community, and lots of them check these pages out even if they are not looking.

Some real estate agents have cars and can show you around in comfort. Others, a motorbike. If you are a couple or family, you’ll have to get a tuk tuk and follow the agent. Usually, their English is decent and sometimes they show you things that are not listed so it can be worth seeing what they have.

In the back of a tuk tuk Siem Reap
In the back of a tuktuk on an unpaved road where our guesthouse was. To the right is Siem Reap’s first cinema. It opened 2 days after we arrived.

I’ve had mixed luck with agents. Some are great about getting back to you and answering your questions. Others are dodgier. I’ve always keep it friendly though (did I mention it’s a small town???). Even though it can be stressful looking for a home, I try to tell myself they, too, have good and bad days just like me and even when an agent has great English there still could be misunderstandings.

Also, DON’T TRUST PHOTOS. OMG. Please. Please don’t rent a place without checking it out first. I know that you know that photos are deceptive, but that’s not what I’m talking about. Places that look great in photos can be solid places indeed, but what about the surroundings?

One place we looked at was right across the street from a major construction project. Another one looked fantastic until I looked out the balcony and saw a new building going up, the workers on scaffolding staring back at me. The landlord told us they were almost done, but after living in SE Asia for over 5 years, I knew better. Interior work, like tile cutting can be some of the most invasive noises you’ve ever heard.

Ahhh, construction...it's everywhere!
Hello construction, my old friend. I see you’re here to visit once again.

Now, one could argue that construction is ubiquitous and unavoidable, but I say, hold out for something better. Construction is really the worst. They like to start early in the morning and if they have any work going on in the building, you’re in for a horrible surprise – concrete is an excellent conductor of sound.

Several places also had unsightly views like trashy yards or being very close to poorer homes. When we first arrived we were shown a place above the landlord whose dog barked incessantly every time we went up or down the stairs. I mean, really, it pays to take a critical look at your neighbors and your view.

Of course, you can be extra careful and still end up with an unpleasant surprise (welcome to Asia). But why not try to at least look for some obvious warning signs?

Speaking of, Cambodia is one fucking hot country, but there are things you can look out for when you are home hunting. For example, when the sun is setting, is your apt in full sun? Even if you plan on being gone all day, some apts retain heat because it’s next to a metal roof or it’s concrete, which holds heat.

Something else you might do is visit places in the afternoon to gauge how hot the place will be. Are there windows? Touch the walls. Are they hot? I was angry to discover that the wall of my bedroom that wasn’t facing the sun still collected heat and was essentially a hot rock. No wonder I wanted the A/C on all the time.

Matching nail polish is optional
You need to buy a fan. Matching nail polish is optional…

Right now, electricity is 25 cents per kilowatt and water is 64 cents per unit. Sometimes landlords will charge more for these, so beware. For example, 30 cents (a 5 cent increase) doesn’t sound like that big of a difference, but during the hot season when you’re living on A/C, you can end up paying $20 more because the more you use, the more costly that 5 cents will get.

When we first got here we were in a one bedroom for $320, then we upgraded to a two bedroom for $380 and now we are in a one bedroom for $320 again. I’ve heard of studios for as low as $80-100. What’s interesting is you can rent a house for the same price of a one bedroom apt. But apts have some added security and conveniences that houses don’t have like being Internet ready, having a security guard, maybe a swimming pool and access to tuk tuks that a house wouldn’t necessarily have.

Whatever you decide, don’t forget to ask for a discount. We’ve asked and we’ve always been able to get at least some sort of $$$ removed from our rent. When in Asia…

There was a running joke in Thailand that whenever you find a place that you like, you should visit it at night. The gag being that the ‘quiet looks like nothing’ next door would end up being a bustling bar come nightfall. I can’t say this applies with certainty here in Cambo, but it’s worth mentioning. At our old apt we enjoyed the sounds of karaoke blasting from a mysterious location at seemingly random times during the night.

Also consider, do you want to live near a temple? Not everyone likes hearing the bells toll, monks chanting, festival festivities, etc. Dogs and chickens can be noisy, too. And of course, children. I remember when we first arrived, reading on FB, “Thank god. We’ve moved away from those screaming kids.” Then, after we discovered the landlady’s screaming nephews and niece, I wondered if we had moved in to where the person was referencing to. Seriously.

What you wish kids wouldn't do, but what you want them to do instead of screaming...
What you wish kids wouldn’t do, but what you pretty much want them to do instead of screaming and playing loudly…

One of my friends told me about his landlord and the rule of his building is NO CHILDREN ALLOWED. This guy sounded like my dream landlord. Another place had vacancies for months and I couldn’t help, but wonder if it was due to the little tike living there. Sure, I love kids, they’re great, but here they are allowed more freedom and they love to screech shattering windows with their piercing cries. Oh, and they’re unsupervised which is considered normal (old school!).

As I’ve mentioned on the blog, SR is famous for its power cuts. But take heart, there are apts that have backup generators so that you may never experience the horror of food spoiling in your fridge or the heat exploding in your room from a lack of a simple fan. So, why not, ask? Do you have a generator?

Last but not least, rentals are also more expensive during the high season (September – January).

What did I miss? What has been your experience looking for a new place in Asia? Or anywhere home or abroad?

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25 thoughts on “Tips for finding an apartment in Siem Reap

  1. This is great advice when hunting for a place to live ANYWHERE. Especially the screaming kids and visiting at all hours so you can see when the neighborhood is busy.

    We moved when we discovered there was going to be construction next door, destroying views and quiet. And patted ourselves on the back as we headed for a quiet neighborhood with aging owners and big yards.

    Just one problem. As the aging owners died off or went into assisted living, families moved in. With drum sets. Skateboards. And even partying young parents who did karaoke at 2 AM after events that sounded like they belonged on college campus (complete with drinking contests and chanting of names).

    A few years later, our quiet neighborhood is radically different!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks. I never thought about that. I guess it is all-around good adivce. I’m so awesome.;)

      But seriously, I feel like it’s a constant battle trying to find quiet neighborhood. And yes, as soon as we moved in to our latest place, new projects started. WTF!?

      Your situation sounds like a movie! Yes, at any moment things could change. I eye the old couple next door constantly, looking for any signs of change or move. I fear their demise. Hahahhahaa.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Love this post, Lani! You had me laughing, because we’ve found some of these things out the hard way as well. We rented an apartment for our first 3 months that caught the full sun all day long. It was horribly hot. Even with the aircon running full blast day and night (which gave me sinus infections), it was hot as an oven. The place we’re in now is great except for a large window in the dining room that has no screen, and bugs love to drop through the gaps in the window constantly. We had termites literally dropping in by the thousands when they all hatched in early spring.

    We have to move at the end of the month, so we just got through a major hunt for another apartment. Luckily we found one in the same building, but on the other side. The new view is interesting – partial view of the mountains, partial view of a shopping center, and a view of the west side of Chiang Mai, and by happenstance, a gay sauna. LOL

    Two things to be careful of in Chiang Mai – airplane noise in some of the trendy areas of Nimmanhaemin. We looked at one beautiful apartment in Hillside 3, but the planes flying directly overhead as they took off from the airport nearby was enough to put us off that one. The other is condo building management. In the building we are in, they just got a whole new management team in. There were a lot of games going on and drama with the old management. I won’t go into it, but imagine a Thai soap opera, and you’re on the right track.

    I also recommend looking at some of the older complexes in places like Chiang Mai. All the new ones going up have about as much space in the units as a cracker box. But in a lot of the old complexes, developers have bought up blocks of apartments, torn down walls in between and remodeled them into spacious, modern places with western-style kitchens and refrigerators. Because they’re in older buildings, you can sometimes find these places for a lot less than the new condos in brand new buildings.

    Good topic! I should blog about this too – and direct people back here for your great insights and sense of humor. 🙂

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Thanks, Jenni. Yes. Niminhaemin is what the pilots use as a visual aid so you are correct, it’s a horrible place to live because of all the air traffic. No, thank you!

      And management drama, double no thank you.

      My best place was an old apartment (but there was managment drama, thankfully, as a renter I escaped it) just outside of Thae Pha Gate. The landlord was fair and if there were any problems, he would straighten it out quickly. And the space! The previous owner took 2 apts and made it into one. I loved it.

      So you should write about it 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

  3. You always come up with such great posts, Lani. Informative with a dose of humour. You know how to write 😉

    Growing up and up until moving to Melbourne, my family and I always rented. The two storey house we rented a few suburbs away from Malaysia’s city centre proved to peaceful but it didn’t come with air-conditioning. On hot days, we sat in front of the fan. Lol, seriously the walls get hot in some of your apartments even when it’s not facing the sun? It must feel like you’re in an oven sometimes :/

    Speaking of living beside a temple, my parents have an apartment beside a few Indian temples in Malaysia. At 4, 5am each morning, the bells there will chime – our daily alarm clock. In SR, I won’t be surprised if there are temples almost everywhere and the closer you live to it, maybe cheaper. Then again, it might probably depend on how well you ask for a discount as you mentioned.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks, Mabel. Yeah, that particular apt got a lot of full afternoon sun, so the other wall probably couldn’t help but retain and get some residual heat. Not fun!

      There are actually not that many temples here (besides inside Angkor Wat park). Having lived in Chiang Mai (which is like temple central), every other place seems devoid of them. Seriously, CM has an incredible amount of temples.

      4am wake up call! No thank you. 4.30 is bad enough 😛

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Yeah, a renter vs a buyer – classic, timeless debate. But in this day and age and for my currrent lifestyle – renting works best fo me.

        Liked by 1 person

  4. These are great house hunting tips for anywhere… but especially for Southeast and East Asia. I can’t stress the “don’t bet on photos alone” advice enough. In China I would find stunning apartments online, and the exterior of the building would be absolutely gorgeous… but when inside, it was akin to a prison cell! Dorm style rooms with shared bathroom (squat toilet) and no paint, etc.. it was a nightmare. I can’t imagine why Chinese would build a beautiful building and make the inside so hideous.

    It’s always hard to find that right price between nice and affordable. Still, I say never cheap out on where you live… it’s definitely more than just a place to sleep!

    I love that nail polish btw 😉

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Your comment about the exterior vs interior reminds me of hotels here. I’m still amazed over how nice hotel lobbies are and then you go to the room and it’s like meh. Talk about putting on a good face!

      These days so many photos can be manipulated and that damn wide angle lens – a renter’s nightmare. Landlords have also figured out that foreigners want quiet, so they always say that a place is quiet!

      And now that it is raining like the heaven’s are angry, that reminds me, check to see if your street floods!

      Thanks, Mary! xxoo

      Like

  5. Hi Lani, I love your blog. If iI am ever home hunting in SEA i will want to reread this post.
    The talk of tearing down interior walls sends up a red flag though. Some of those walls might be load-bearing walls supporting the whole building. In the US one would have to get a building permit and prove that the building will still be safe. Do you think anyone is watching that there?

    Liked by 1 person

    1. OMG. Absolutely. That reminds me. In Chiang Rai, they had a decent earthquake a couple years back and one of the only apt buildings for foreigners sustained some cracks in the wall. So what did the condo/hotel do? They painted over them and assured everyone that everything was fine.

      Hmmmmm.

      Condotel was actually very big on construction and reconstruction. That’s all they ever seem to do when we were there. Hope the integrity of the building is in tact for the sake of the people who live there.

      Like

  6. Although I am fairly certain I will never be seeking am apartment in Cambodia, I found your tips fascinating, informative and even amusing! Such different things to consider but in many ways the same things no matter where you are. Transportation options, neighborhoods, views, noise, and amenities- things you would consider in most cities or towns. It just sounds so much more complicated in a foreign country…. and probably is!! (Love the matching nail polish)

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I think you can learn a lot about a place based on these kinds of things (living arrangements!). It’s something we take for granted until we travel somewhere else, even in our own country. I remember my first visits to the midwest and being surprised to see basements and shower-less bathtubs.

      Liked by 1 person

  7. The “don’t trust photos” advice is SO important wherever in the world you are – awesome advice. And hey, if I ever wanna move to SR, I know who to look up 😉

    Liked by 1 person

  8. “The landlord told us they were almost done, but after living in SE Asia for over 5 years, I knew better.”

    Oh, I’ll back that up, after living here for 30+ years 😉

    “For example, when the sun is setting, is your apt in full sun? Even if you plan on being gone all day, some apts retain heat because it’s next to a metal roof or it’s concrete, which holds heat.”

    This is actually a great tip!

    “You need to buy a fan. Matching nail polish is optional…”

    LOL!!! You didn’t tell me that. I’m months behind the nail polish thing.

    “What you wish kids wouldn’t do, but what you pretty much want them to do instead of screaming and playing loudly…”

    SO TRUUUEEEEEEEEEEEEE!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! I don’t want our to play with the tablet, but then they are quieter with it.

    Liked by 1 person

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