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Phnom Penh: Where I found that elusive work-life balance

After a restless nomadic life, Ben Johnson says he’s finally found a place he’s happy to call home in the Cambodian capital. Here he sings the praises of the rapidly developing city:

Phnom Penh, like any city in a developing country, presents unique opportunities for work and leisure, acting as a magnet for both foreigners and Cambodians.

The city has come a long way since its war torn past and is beginning to blossom into a vibrant and modern city with all the creature comforts you could ask for.

Expats in Phnom Penh can enjoy a holiday lifestyle that most can only dream of. The paradise island of Koh Rong is easily accessible by bus, and Bangkok and Ho Chi Minh City are only 45 minutes away by plane.

Expat communities here have grown around the sort of activities you can find in the capitals of Western countries. Crossfit, rock climbing, pantomime, board games, quiz nights and national holiday celebrations bring together like-minded people all over Phnom Penh. These groups made up of mostly expats with a smattering of locals provide welcoming environments and are a great way to meet people.

Though the streets may be a little dirty or in need of a serious infrastructure upgrade, housing in Phnom Penh is extremely cheap and the quality just like any other major city. Many expats live among locals in Cambodian shop houses, which generally consist of a building with a shop on the ground floor and the upper floors used for accommodation. These spaces are normally quite large and can be very modern.

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Upper scale apartment buildings are also in abundance with extremely modern settings and usually also with a pool and gym in the complex although these do (of course) come with a higher price tag.

Local Cambodian cuisine is amazing in the capital, however we all get sick of rice at some point and need a filthy burger to make us think of home, and Phnom Penh has this covered. Finding those ingredients you are used to having at home, is also not an issue. Rarely is there a time when you won’t be able to satisfy those homeland hungers whether you’re American, French, Chinese or Australian.

In addition to food, local bars favoured by expats are scattered throughout the city. The most infamous of these local dives being Showbox, which has been operating for many years and is now Australian-owned and run. This is a place of tranquillity that gets louder as the night goes on, offering live music and, most importantly, free beer between 6:30pm and 7pm every night.

Events like live music at Showbox are often performed by local Cambodians and expats, which is not uncommon throughout other bars in the city.

Because Phnom Penh is just beginning to grab people’s attention, it has become a great place for young artists, foreign and local, to conduct live performances and get their name out in the public. This has resulted in Phnom Penh surprisingly having a thriving arts scene with bars and galleries devoted to different types of music and styles appearing all over the city in recent years.

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With a vibrant arts, food and social scene combined with cheap rents and cheaper flights to some of Asia’s premier holiday destinations, Phnom Penh is easily one of the best places in the world to set up shop and enjoy the elusive work life balance.

If you are interested in traveling to Phnom Penh or other parts of Cambodia check out GNT’s range of tours operating in Phnom Penh and Sihanoukville here.