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Top 3 Cities To Retire To In Cambodia

Author: Andrew Williams

Living well at low cost attracts retirees to Cambodia, so let's get specific about the best places to live, especially if you want to get away from the congestion of Phnom Penh, the capital city. There's a lot of beautiful scenery packed in that little country, so we had to settle on three: Battambang, Sihanoukville, and Siem Reap,

• Sihanoukville, For Its Beaches

Sihanoukville is all Frankie and Annette and "How to Stuff a Wild Bikini" set in Cambodia's southwest shore – in other words, this provincial capital is also the nation's top beach destination. Some say it doesn't deserve its reputation as a party town, others love it for just that reason. The city of 90,000 was founded in the 1950s so it's new and a place where many expatriates want to be; the largest group are middle-age men. Russian business expats like it there too, and yet no cold war has erupted. Studios rent for less than $100 a month, while a larger house goes for $250. Just don't get hurt or sick, because the nearest good doctors are in the capital city of Phnom Penh. And there's always a hospital flight to Thailand. Otherwise the lifestyle is chill, and everything is cheap, especially eating out. Thai cuisine, particularly.

• Battambang, For Its Cultural Heritage

Battambang is filled with French colonial architecture and is ringed by Angkor temples. Funny thing: With a population of 250,000, it's off the tourist-beaten path, and feels more like a small town. There's also no nightlife and no good store with international food, for the expat community is rather small and primarily French. For some reason, the Khmer Rouge left the architecture intact even after finally abandoning the city. The city lies in west by northwest Cambodia and next to Kamping Puoy Lake, just over a mile wide and 12 miles long, where Cambodian women spin and weave the fiber of its giant lotus flowers into cloth. For centuries the town passed among Cambodia, France and Thailand, and the influences show. It's a close enough flight to Thailand for medical aid.

• Siem Reap, For Its Ancient Temples

On the other side of Kamping Puoy Lake lies Siem Reap, which was the epitome of sleepy village until 19th century French explorers rediscovered Angkor Wat, a former capital of the Angkor civilization that had been overgrown by the jungle. After a good de-weeding, Angor Wat turned into a leading tourist destination in Southeast Asia. The Vietnam War pretty much shut it down, then Pol Pot's Khmer Rouge drove the city's population back into the jungles after a good dose of brutality and genocide. After the Khmer Rouge;s despotic leader, Pol Pot, was overthrown, Cambodia and the picturesque Siem Reap stabilized and tourism returned. Today the population is 174,000, yet despite Angor Wat's popularity, condos and apartments in the city rent for $250 to $550 a month, while $600 gets you a villa with a pool, utilities included. Basic health care is available, along with prescription meds and over-the-counter meds, but for serious illness guess where everyone flies: Yep, Thailand.

The Bottom Line

Each of this trio of small, picturesque cities also has international bank branches, like Bank of America and CitiCorp, that can move retirement funds from the U.S. Like the rest of the nation, their crime rates are still high. Hold on to your purse or your wallet. Like you should everywhere.

Note for potential retirees: The visa system in Cambodia is still evolving. While a long-term retirement visa has not been available, a business visa is not hard to get if you have a local business connection or pay a "fixer" (expediter) to obtain it, and it will be good for a year. Though easy to get, a tourist visa must be renewed every 90 days. The governments of Cambodia and Thailand have made agreements allowing easy travel between the two, and in recent years (2013-2015) you could live in Cambodia on your Thai visa. However, because of the changeable nature of visa regulations, it's important to check for the latest. Although Cambodia uses US dollar paper currency alongside its own riel (especially for small sums, since US coinage is not in regular use), the exchange rate varies. Also, investigate current banking choices and verify how to receive transfers of money or Social Security payments to you once you're in residence. Many expats bank from their home countries, and ATMs are plentiful, but fees to draw on international cards are hefty. A local bank account may be cheaper, and if you work – say, teaching English – and are paid in riel, it's practical to have a local account.

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