Expat Q&A: Bring gum, stay fit, and know Cambodia’s history

In this series we talk to Cambodia expats about what they know now that they wish they had known when they first moved to Cambodia. This week we talk with Ashley Patton, who moved to Phnom Penh for an internship with the United Nations Assistance to the Khmer Rouge Trials (UNAKRT) program.

tuk tuk temples

Rolling by the temples, tuk tuk style.

MTC: Ashley, how did you end up an expat and what do you wish you had known before you moved to Cambodia?

“First of all, I wish that I had brought flip-flops, or thongs for you Aussies. I never, ever wear them back in the States but this became my cheapest purchase (Central Market flips on Day 5 for a couple bucks) that I used just about everyday. I wish I had brought cuter, better quality ones from home.

Next, Netflix does not work  cancel your subscription before you leave home. Yes, you can probably find a way to circumvent the restriction but it was not worth it for me, so I ended up paying $10 a month (the equivalent of two meals with drinks in Cambo!) for the five months I was there.

Bring those little pleasures from your home that you might not be able to get, or if you can find you will certainly pay the price for – gum, almonds, dark chocolate, Vegemite, any sort of hair or skin product that doesn’t include bleach for whitening purposes, etc. Obviously not a necessity (and a rather First World Problems suggestion) but for me, having my favorite 5® Wrigley’s gum was crucial.

Next, as a runner, this was important for me. You can keep up an exercise routine while in Cambodia without paying more than you would in your own country…cough, The Place. Yes, it’s easy to move there and gain 10 pounds (or kilos, whatever metric floats or sinks your boat) on the yummy, cheap food and drank. However, you don’t have to. My favorite outdoor running route was around the Independence Monument early in the morning. Saw some of my best sunrises there. I’ve also heard great things about the Olympic Stadium in the evenings. Beyond running, I enjoyed yoga at Nataraj Yoga Studio and boot camp at Crossfit Amatak. A lot of my friends also got into Muay Thai boxing.

Related note: if your favorite running shoes are almost on the outs, buy new ones before leaving home. The training shoes you’ll find in Cambo are either crazy expensive or fake.

Use the networks on Facebook that have already been set up. They’re well used for a reason. Phnom Penh Housing, Taxi share, etc. There’s a great internet community where you can find almost anything.

On an important and more serious note, do research on the history of Cambodia. It’s a very recent and quite sad history, one that has greatly influenced the way the nation has developed today. Cambodians are very happy and proud people, but the majority of those over the age of 40 have had a dark chapter in their life. Be an informed expat and educate yourself before moving. You’ll be a better temporary citizen for it.

Last enjoy Cambo! Take weekend trips throughout the country when you can. It’s easy and cheap, and absolutely beautiful. While international travel is also easy, there are some gems in Cambodia that will make you fall in love even more with the country. Beyond the obvious Siem Reap, check out Kampot, Preah Vihear, Koh Rong Sanloem, Mondulkiri, and Kep, just to name a few.

P.S. ‘Cheers’ is chul moi, not choy moi. Remember that.”

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