Toto, We’re Not In Kansas Anymore (Phnom Penh Is Where Sh*t Gets Real)

Pairs Well With…Poverty + Change + Rebuilding 

Let’s talk month three: Phnom Penh, Cambodia.  The first 24 hours were a shit show, and I had my first mini meltdown.  Lack of sleep coming back from Australia certainly played a part, but there’s something about reacclimating to a new country month after month that is both invigorating and exhausting.  As much as it can lift you up, it can also break you down.

People underestimate the emotional collide of energizing meets exhausting with these country to country moves.  And we do it every month, twelve times in total.  Of course, with each move comes the excitement of new surroundings, culture and food.  But there’s also the starting over of navigating new roommates, establishing new living patterns and understanding our proximity to everything we want and need.  There are also those weird, unexpected city quirks, such things as 6:30 am music shows outside my window (which I am convinced are daily flash mobs.)  Here’s the deal with Remote Year that is becoming more and more apparent by the day: if you can’t handle change, navigate shit by yourself and communicate effectively, you’re never going to cut it here, my friend.

Now, I’ll say that I’ve come a long way from (a few days ago?!) wanting to hide out in my room and not leave for fear of having my phone stolen out of my hand or being pickpocketed.  In the first 24 hours since our arrival in Phnom Penh (PP), we had three attempted and one successful motorbike drive-by robbery.  It was an early on, eye-opening wake-up call for many of us.  Most of us aren’t used to being in a heavily guarded (we’re talking block and tackle while using Google Maps) situation.  On top of it, I’m rolling with some 2G action, so you might as well blindfold me and ask me for directions.

As odd as it may sound, the deeper I go into the nooks and crannies of Cambodia, the more I love it.  What I’ve become most intrigued with is the people and their unbroken spirit, despite tragic and economic hardships.  Although having nothing, and from an American perspective, I mean nothing (we’re talking about 20x below our poverty line), this culture actually has all they need to live a happy life.  Cambodians are one of the most friendly cultures I’ve ever met. The people walk about with smiles on their faces for no reason and are at the ready to say hello and greet you.  The Cambodian culture doesn’t rely heavily on material possessions.

It’s funny.  If you take a minute to think about what the core things are that you want out of life, you would probably come up with a shortlist consisting of happiness, love and enough to get you by comfortably.  I believe these three core things are what makes the Cambodian culture so happy.  Too often, we believe we need more than we do.  Try living out of a suitcase for a year with a few fistfuls of clothes and a handful of other materials possessions and you’ll adapt more quickly than you realize.  You need less than you think you do – and you can be truly happy.  It’s your surrounding and the people in your life that really make it whole and complete. Not things.

Anyway, I anticipate the rest of my Cambodia content will be pretty rich this month, especially as I make my way into personal passion projects.  But, until then, here’s the work, live and play snapshot:

Once again, I find myself living in a mansion.  I’ll take it!  The walls are thin and (per earlier), there are morning flash mobs, but it’s nice enough.  In comparison to some of the “housing” I’ve seen, this ends up being very 5-star in comparison.

Phnom Penh Apartment Living

Living Room

Phnom Penh Cambodia Apartment Living

Bedroom Sitch

Phnom Penh Cambodia Apartment Bathroom

Yes, this IS, in fact, a 3 in 1 room with your toilet, shower and laundry conveniently located…one foot away from one another.

Phnom Penh Cambodia Apartment Pool

With 98% humidity DAILY, the pool is pretty much necessity.


Our office accommodations are great!  Very bright, very clean and very connected for our collaborations.  Plus, the office space is close to a lot of good dining and street shops.  I dig it.

Phnom Penh Cambodia Office Space

Makin’ magic happen

Phnom Penh Cambodia Office Space

Office space three rooms deep


Population: Total Cambodia = 15.9M; Phnom Penh = 1.5M (In comparison, the population of Ho Chi Minh City was 8.4M.) More than 50% of the Cambodian population is under 25 years old.
Currency: Riel ($1 US Dollar = 4,000 Riel.  The dollar is also widely accepted here.)
Language: Khmer
Religion: The country is 95% Buddist.


  • Brace yourself: you can’t live alone before you are married.  Cambodian culture dictates you live with some sort of family member, etc. until you are married off.  I’m not sure if this is motivation to get married at an earlier age or a ploy to be able to live in your parent’s basement for life.  You decide.
  • You cannot free boob it.  (What!?!?) You must wear a bra at all times. (There goes my day job.)
  • Uber isn’t even on the radar.  Your main forms of transportation?  Your feet or Tuk Tuk, a three-wheeled motor vehicle used as a taxi.  (They’re pretty sweet.)
  • [wpdevart_youtube]6um2YaMV4Js[/wpdevart_youtube]
  • It’s much quieter here than I would have expected.  Not that I expected a booming mecca, but…I expected more than ten people roaming around on a Saturday night.  When we arrived last week, I would have assumed a city shut down or some sort of public holiday.  I quickly learned that the population is much smaller than our past two cities, and many of the people live outside of Phnom Penh and head home to their villages after business close.
  • It’s (surprisingly) more expensive here than both Kuala Lumpur and Ho Chi Minh City. What I haven’t quite figured out yet is if all goods and services are more expensive, why approximately 2.66 million Cambodians are still living on less than $1.20 USD – PER DAY.  (I just spent more at the grocery store ($40) than one person makes in a month.)
  • They eat fried crickets here, and they are sold at street carts and on the side of the road.  In fact, they eat lots of bugs here.  I tried.  I know.  (Fact: America is in the 20% of the global population that does not eat bugs.) . For whatever reason, I keep trying weird stuff every month.
  • Phnom Penh Cambodia Eating Bugs

    Grasshoppers were fine. These beetles though, no sir.

  • Surprise!!! Not everyone knows where Phnom Penh is.  A potential Tinder date from Austrailia asked if PP was in the United States.  We did not go out and, in fact, this deserved and “unmatch.”
  • Cambodia thrives on efficiency, which doesn’t always equate to hygiene friendly.  This can mean re-using old oil to cook things, old water to wash dishes in the back room and sharing your seat at the table with a few cockroaches.  I’ve seen it all, and you get used to it. (And sometimes, you really wish you can unsee what you just saw.) It’s a way of living, and you really come to appreciate your privilege.
  • People greet you with different gestures depending on your age and status, and sometimes status means skin color as well.  Not sure that I love this.
  • The head is considered a sacred part of the body, as it is the point closest to the heavens. You do not touch someone’s head, nor pass anything over it. It’s a no, no.  On the flip side, you do not point your feet, especially the soles of your shoes if you are sitting, at someone. The feet are considered the most unclean (and lowest) part of the body.
  • I love this one.  When you want to get someone’s attention to beckon them, you should extend your arm with the palm of your hand down and flutter your fingers up and down.  I’m pretty sure they stole my move.  I’ve got this one down pat. #twinklefingers


More to come from Cambodia soon!  Stay tuned and be sure to subscribe via email for some email content exclusives!

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