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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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?