Is Cambodia Cheap?

One of the reasons why Cambodia has grown to become a popular tourist trap is because it’s cheap. At least that’s what most people who visited the country claim. But let’s take a closer look at some undisputed facts before we jump into conclusion and find a more reliable answer to how cheap Cambodia really is (or whether it is cheap at all).

Photo: Instant Noodles - Living on the Cheap in Cambodia
Photo: Instant Noodles - Living on the Cheap in Cambodia

Is Cambodia Cheap?

Let me get ahead of myself and say it right up without beating around the bush – Cambodia is NOT cheap. Just because most visitors are able to spend less money in Cambodia than they would have in, say Canada, the United States or Germany, it doesn’t mean that Cambodia is cheap. As a matter of fact, vast majority of articles for sale in Cambodia are more expensive than in any of the three mentioned countries (or elsewhere in the world). Since no serious manufacturer would open a plant in a country like Cambodia, where quality of workmanship is so low and work ethic nonexistent, very little is manufactured there. As a result, most items of everyday use must be imported from abroad. Personal hygiene products are a good example. Thinking you could buy a tub of Colgate tooth paste for cheap in Cambodia would set you up for a big surprise.

Similarly, good luck trying to buy a Snickers bar for a price similar to that in western countries. Yet don’t even get me started on electronics or motor vehicles. Check out the classified ads for prices of overused, 30 year old beaters. They sell for the price of brand new sedans in Canada. Electronics? Thinking of replacing that broken camera that was stolen while you were visiting Cambodia? Prepare to shell out on average 40% more than you would in your home country.

Genuine Products in Cambodia

But that’s only the beginning. If you buy a camera from a retailer in a western country, you can be pretty sure you are buying a genuine product and you will get a reasonable customer service (sometimes even a time-limited no questions asked money back guarantee) should the product not perform to your expectations. Not only are these unheard of in Cambodia where similar product would cost much more, you would have to consider yourself blessed if you lucked out enough to obtain a genuine product for your money. And if the casing is genuine, than at least some parts of what you buy will be stripped off and replaced with cheap, generic substitutes. That’s real Cambodia so really – it’s not cheap there. The perceived cheapness most people experience is just a skewed reality that camouflages itself as cheapness, but in reality it’s not.

$2 Burger in Cambodia vs $6 Burger in Canada

Since I’m from Canada, the best way for me to compare products available in Cambodia is with those available in Canada. The example below can be used for any other western country, just replace “Canada” with the name of your home country and you’ll get the desired result.

Let’s say (for illustration purposes) a burger in Canada costs $6. Then you come to Cambodia and find them selling burgers for $2. An average person who buys that $2 burger in Cambodia would end up writing a blog post, or telling their friends that Cambodia is cheap. But I’m not your average person. I like to disclose the whole truth to my friends and readers of my blog, not just the convenient part, so let me break the cost of each burger down a little:

Cost of Hygiene

In Canada, even though the burger is perceived as more expensive, you get certain guarantee of hygiene and freshness. If nothing else, at least before a license to handle food is granted, some form of inspection of premises is made (and can be done later on as well). You don’t have anything like that in Cambodia. Burgers can be sold out of a self made push-cart that’s parked with the swine overnight before it’s taken out to carry food. In conclusion:

  • guarantee of hygiene in Canada – some
  • guarantee of hygiene in Cambodia – none

Cost of Safe Ingredients

In countries like Canada, internationally recognized standards and principles are followed to ensure that the food safety requirements are met. The body that’s responsible for the enforcement of these rules is called the Canadian Food Inspection Agency. Before any edibles can be offers for sale, they must first be approved for sale by the CFIA.

It’s important to acknowledge that it is a dog eat dog world out there and everything seems to be about profits nowadays, yet still at least there are some institutions that would remove suspicious lines from shelves of grocery stores if there was a reason to believe they posed a health hazard to the public. This has happened many times and will continue to happen even if it means that the removal of products will push the company that provided them to the retailers to the brink of bankruptcy. Producers know it very well so food safety controls are rather rigorous. In conclusion:

  • guarantee of freshness and safety of food in Canada – some
  • guarantee of freshness and safety of food in Cambodia – none

Cost of Decent Service

The burger itself is merely a part of your experience buying it. In order to have it freshly made so you can munch on it, you must first order it with the server. And here’s where the real difference of a burger in Canada vs a burger in Cambodia comes to place.

Ordering a burger in Cambodia (or anything else for that matter), will undoubtedly require you to have to deal with a Cambodian national and that won’t go without a need to put up with their laziness, attitude and rudeness.

Ordering a burger in Canada requires an interaction with a server who – whether genuinely or by pretense – will usually be nice and respectful to you. This is a western way of life where customer is seen as a person important to success of a business so staff know they need to treat them with respect and dignity or the business fails. There are mood swings and other variables that can make the experience questionable, but for the most part, dealing with business attendants usually results in fair and dignified treatment. You pay $$$ for it, but you get it.

In Cambodia, on the other hand, you can get your burger for $2, but you will be served by a rude local who takes you for a pest. You will have to deal with their slowness as they scrape their feet against the floor pissed off that they have to serve you, you will have to deal with them barking at you if anything is unclear and you request clarification, you will have to put up with them laughing at you and not hiding that they are talking about you while they’re having themselves a good time at your expense and you will have nothing on your side to prevent that from happening.

Cambodians are very rude in general and nothing makes them happier than misfortune of another. This is true of all of them, including the monks. Even a monk will laugh his ass off at you if you bought a bus ticket with a dedicated seat and the seat is taken by somebody else even though it should belong to you. But then again, just because someone shaves their head and puts on a saffron robe, it doesn’t mean they become any less of a Cambodian. Afterall, Cambodians don’t get ordained for monks out of sheer interest to become a better person and do good. That’s not why they do it. They become monks when there are benefits for them in doing so – for example if becoming a monk will save them from going to jail or if it provides them with free education. But as soon as it becomes clear than the benefits of being a monk are over and leaving monkhood would be of more benefit, you’ll see them gone and back being their usual selves.

Cost of Customer Service

Shopping in Canada comes with some customer service. If you have any form of post purchase issue or complaint, there usually is a dedicated customer service representative, a manager on site, or if all else fails, at least bodies like the Better Business Bureau. Once money is spent, you still can often get either a replacement or a refund should something be wrong with the product purchased.

In Cambodia, once money is spent, consider it final. There is no accountability whatsoever. You pay for a silver pendant and find out it’s just some cheap metal – tough luck. Not only will there be no one to take care of the issue for you, you will be laughed at, mocked, pointed fingers at and threatened if you try to stand up for yourself.

I learned all about Cambodian customer service after my cell phone was stolen. I called Metfone’s customer service in a bid to cancel the number that went with the stolen cell phone. Since thieves got my phone, I at least wanted to make sure they couldn’t take advantage of the credit I had on the SIM card. But dealing with Metfone’s customer support revealed the true face of Cambodia.

Not only is calling Metfone customer service from Metfone phone numbers a paid call, their representatives are typical Cambodians – rude, self righteous bastards with holier than thou attitudes. Basically, after hours of wasting money being put on hold and passed from one person to another, I was told that everything was my fault for not paying attention, that they’re not there to take care of such requests and was called names for bothering them with this bullsh1t.

Cost of Enjoyable Experience

Let me get back to those burgers. One of the most important differences is that even though you would have spent $6 for your burger in Canada, you could sit in a facility where you could enjoy your bite without someone blowing smoke in your face, chewing with their mouth open so the leaves fall off the trees it’s so loud and disgusting, or being bothered to no end by beggars ready and willing to tell you to “f%$k off” or call you “stingy” if you refuse to give them money while they’re turning your dining experience into a nightmare.

Which Burger Was Cheaper?

Yes, you did need less money to buy a burger in Cambodia than you would in Canada, but it was not cheap. If you look closely at what you’re getting and how much you sacrificed and put at risk (including your health which will catch up with you one day, whether you like it or not), you did in fact overpay by shelling out those two bucks.

Cambodia is NOT Cheap

Cambodia is by no stretch of imagination a cheap country. Considering what you receive for your money, it is in fact ridiculously expensive. If you were to sacrifice all the good things Canada protects you as a consumer with, you could live in Canada for less than in Cambodia. Go sleep in a ditch with rats in a really dangerous part of a ghetto, eat filthy leftovers dumped in the bins by spoiled kids and you’ll see that Canada is really cheaper than Cambodia.

Why Is Cambodia Perceived as Cheap?

It is only because some people lower their standards of acceptance and willingly put their personal safety and health at risk that they are able to stay in Cambodia and spend less money than they would in their home country. And then they go around telling everyone that Cambodia is cheap, while conveniently leaving out the details of why exactly it seemed cheap.

One more time – if you take into account what you get for your money, Cambodia is a bad, bad value for money and an overall expensive country. Unless of course you take personal abuse, health hazards and endangerment of life as acceptable standards. Then it is cheap but that way it can be cheap in any country, including Canada.

Invaluable Advice

The best and the only way to avoid the mistreatment Cambodia greets visitors with is by not going to Cambodia. Khmer temples can be visited in other countries (such as Thailand or Laos) and outside of that, by giving Cambodia a pass, you won’t be missing out on much.

But if you absolutely must visit Cambodia, then stock up on everything you will need beforehand. Food and drink should be the only thing you’d buy locally but avoid buying them from local businesses that don’t have prices visibly posted. Instead, head over to larger chains (such as Lucky Mall) which are now starting to pop up all over the country to keep up with the demands of growing numbers of foreigners.

Scamming foreigners by selling them worthless counterfeit products is a very common and widely practised way to profit. While in most cases it would mean the loss of money, Cambodians push this a whole flight of steps further and won’t wink over potentially killing someone if it leads to easy income. For example, Cambodia is a global leader in sales of fake malaria pills, and that’s a serious threat to health that could easily lead to death. Imagine you’d buy the malaria pills in Cambodia and thinking you are protected, you’d go exploring Angkor Temples and get bitten… I can’t stress this strongly enough – stock up on everything you’ll need before coming to Cambodia and never leave purchases of anything that could affect your health or life for Cambodia. Ever!

Cambodians don’t believe in earning a living through hard work. They either want handouts or easy income through scam or theft. I said it many times before and will say it again – you can’t be 100% alert 100% of the time. Sooner or later, after a long tiring day you’ll let your guards down for a second and with dozens of con artists hanging around waiting for that opportune moment, one is bound to notice and take advantage. This will make your stay in an already expensive country even more costly and as it turns out, of all the people with whom I spoke (and who comment on my posts), virtually everybody had something stolen in Cambodia. A lifetime commitment to thievery makes them very skilled thieves. They also work in teams and know how to distract an unsuspecting tourist to make the pull successful. The only safe way to avoid it is by not going to Cambodia at all. By taking a risk and going you stand a very solid chance of becoming a victim. You have been warned!

15 thoughts on “Is Cambodia Cheap?”

  1. I agree attitude of sellers in asia and in particular in cambodia stinks of shabbiness and poor quality. Almost everthing is shabby and extremely overpriced.

  2. This article upsets me because I believe that the reason for the people being so cheap and items costing well-over market price is because of the Khmer Rogue that took place not even 40 years ago. The country has been tortured by communists under the rule of Pol Pot. More than 2 million people died. That’s a lot to overcome, don’t you think? Don’t tell people to not visit Cambodia! That’s a horrible thing to say. There’s so much culture and history to be learned and much to discover. The people of Cambodian are just tired of being stepped on by neighboring countries and the rest of the world and by people like you. We must encourage tourism to help the country become a thriving center of commerce.

  3. Hello Michelle,

    the truth upsets you? Shouldn’t it be the other way around? Shouldn’t you get upset by people who don’t tell the truth?

    The weak excuse about Khmer Rogue you are using is just that – weak. It’s been more than 30 years since the fall of Khmer Rogue yet some individuals still use it as an excuse. After Khmer Rogue wreaked havoc on Cambodia, the country was nowhere near as devastated as say Germany or Japan after WWII. But when you look at where each of these countries got in 30 years since total devastation, it will show you all you need to know about what 30 years of hard work can do. That of course depends on the fact that the citizens of that country roll up their sleeves and get to work. Cambodians are too lazy to work hence they got absolutely nowhere in 30 years.

    Another reason why they got absolutely nowhere in 30 years is because there are people out there, who instead of addressing the real issue and calling a spade a spade, bash on everyone who does call things for what they are, and pamper Cambodians with donations further encouraging the culture of handouts their society is soaked throughout with. This type of “help” got Cambodia nowhere in 30 years. Perhaps it’s time that these people step aside and reflect on why Japan could become a superpower in 30 years but Cambodia got nowhere.

    There will be no solution to Cambodian problems, unless the problems are identified for what they are. Two of the most noticeable problems are laziness and greed. Giving them donations and whining on their behalf will only strengthen their belief that they can get away with being both lazy and greedy. Unless someone stands up and slaps them across the face while yelling at them to stop being lazy and get to work, nothing will change. But for as long as there are people dedicated to hindrance of progress, it will be impossible to achieve any real change in Cambodia

    If we allow whiners to complain each time someone addresses real issues of Cambodia and calls them by real names, another 30 years will pass and Cambodia will get as far as it got in the first 30 years after fall of Khmer Rogue – absolutely nowhere.

    Mark

    1. I agree with Mark on this. As a Khmer citizen living in Cambodia and having learnt a great deal about Khmer Rouge Regime from books and family members, I think it’s high time Cambodians stopped whining about Khmer Rouge regime and started looking for opportunities to grow. The past is the the past and we can’t do nothing to change it. Instead, we would be better off thinking of what to do in the future for us and the country. Having said that, I think Cambodia is wasting millions of dollars on the Khmer Rouge Tribunal circus. Take the money to do something else for the country, and Cambodia will become a much better place.

      1. This is precisely what Cambodia needs. Khmer Rouge happened. It is unfortunate but there is nothing we can do about it now. Many people suffered, many were slaughtered, the atrocities were unspeakable, but how is dwelling on it going to help? Remember it, learn from it, but don’t make your life all about it for it is in the past. It’s gone and done with. Move on or perish.

  4. The self pitying culture of cambodia, caused by their own greed and perpetuation of their own crude, brutal asiatic culture will get them nowhere. Tourist will only come if they can afford to travel. But having unhappy experiences as a tourist in cambodia and the shabbiness that I was treated and the overpriced and unpleasant guesthouses that i have to stay, I certainly would never recommend anyone to travel there, unless there is no other choice. It is just a myth that they are poorer than us when their streets is flooded with cars and bikes. I was the poor tourist who have to struggle walking in their streets. The cambodians don’t need tourist and the cambodians may be haughty but they are certainly not poorer than other countries. Just another stingy, frugal, selfish asiatic country.

  5. Hi, thank for writing such a nice post. And, I respect your opinion. But, can you be fairer when it comes to making any conclusion or statement?

    First, your comparison about 2$ burger in Cambodia and 6$ burger in Canada is not fair. If you are willing to pay 2$ for a burger in Cambodia, you will get completely different experience and taste from what were discussed in the post.

    Second, you can’t make a judgment based on some people. I’m sorry that you had a bad experience but that experience should not represent the whole impression of Cambodians and Cambodia. For example, your advice to others not to visit Cambodia is too strong. As a Cambodian citizen, let me make a big clarification: YOU CAN’T VISIT CAMBODIAN TEMPLES in no other countries, but Cambodia unless you are looking for in-genuine temples.

    Third, Cambodia is definitely not cheap. But, if you are looking for something cheap, don’t come to Cambodia.

  6. Hello Vina,

    In this post I was answering the question stated in the title (Is Cambodia Chap?). I elaborated on why I maintain that Cambodia is not cheap with a comparison of burgers. There is way too much misinformation on the internet about Cambodia so I decided to put the record straight.

    I back up my statements with real life examples and analysis that support the claims. I didn’t start this blog to gain worshippers, but to provide truthful travel reporting the way it really is, outside of the pink tinted bubble. If I wanted worshippers, I’d do what other sheep do and would make deceptive posts claiming that Cambodia is cheap and Cambodians hospitable.

    Mark

    1. Hello Mark,

      I’ve landed in Cambodia yesterday arriving from Malaysia and I just took notice of your comments about the country.

      I’ve been travelling quite without interruption for the last 14 years,it’s my first time here.i’m writing from Siem Reap….

      The country is incredibly expensive for what you get :food is particularly costly.Bottled water is outrageously expensive,tripple the price that I pay back in France for the same brand Evian.80 cts in France,75 cts in India…..2.20 USD here in Cambodia at a local retail store and you’re damn right about tooth paste,electronics and evrything else!
      I came here following the advice of some german travellers who told me how Cambodia was so cheap: I shoudlnt have listened to these idiots!
      Not that I’m looking for a cheap place but I spent more here in 24 hrs than I spend in the US during 24 hrs doing the same stuff,eating the same…..
      About the people I haven’t seen much of them so far but they love making fun of you in your face that is SOO true and these people don’t even give you a chance to
      bargain I feel like leaving already but I’m gonna try Sianoukville tomorrow for the beaches and see how it goes.
      I will watch my belongings closely.
      Cambodians haven’t been very welcoming so far and when it comes to bargaining they make you feel like you have no chance I’m gonna be much less flexible with these people from now on.
      But they now how to smile fakely it’s impressive.
      Thanks for speaking the truth Mark.
      Cheers.

  7. Hi,

    I’m a Cambodian. But, I don’t protect my country just because I live in it. I do because I don’t want it to be misinterpreted.

    In fact, I have read quite many of your posts and could see that you have made a lot of fair statements about the country and your experience.

    If I have to be honest, I think you are honest in the way you express your opinion because you don’t manipulate information.

    Yet, I just think that there are some statements and/or opinions that need more backups (with a number of experiences, not just one).

    Anyway, I respect your ideas as a writer and traveler and thank for visiting my country with a thought to help this poor country.

    Regards,
    Vina

  8. Hello Vina,

    I don’t disagree with you, but truth is – I’ve never claimed for this to be a tourist guide. This website is my personal blog which means it is a collection of my personal experiences and feelings presented from my own perspective. People digging out information should verify several sources before drawing conclusions. Ultimately, though – their experience will be their own and it could be utterly different from mine or anyone else’s. The main beef I have with other travel bloggers is that they live in a bubble and are either afraid or unable to include negative experiences in their reports for fear that their fellow sheep will not approve of it. That in my mind is a grave disservice to people who may consult their blog before drawing conclusions and that could have detrimental consequences. I elaborated on it a little bit here:

    http://www.travelingmark.com/deep-thoughts/reign-of-sheep/

    Mark

  9. Hey. I’m writing from Siem Reap, been travelling around the world for the past year, including Australia New Zealand and have been going around south east Asia for about a month now. I couldn’t agree more with your post! The whole reason I came across your blog was because I was really really confused why people ramble on about this place being cheap, so I googled the term “Cambodia NOT cheap”.

    I’m glad to see a sensible person as yourself who write straight about this country. Facilities here are very little but mostly non-existent, the roads are… I have no words to describe how bad they are, continuos power outages throughout the day every day! Having just left Thailand 3 days ago, I’m in disbelief how much more expensive this place is for the FRACTION of the quality!!

    People are not nice, I’ve had the experience of crossing the border from Thailand on land. Cambodians will be pushing you aside in the queue and just walk past you. You would have to physically hold them with your hand and say NO to prevent them from just going past you, to which they’ll just laugh in your face. Rarely have I met ruder people then those I met here. Anyone thinking of crossing the border on land, nothing I can say will get you ready physically or mentally for that hellish experience!

    I wish there were more people with sensible posts like yours when I was doing my research, but as you said, lot of sheep posting a lot of bull. Ended up wasting a lot of money and my precious time, on a genuine third world experience!

    By the way, after reading about your burger comparison, I got up to have a look at the “hotel” menu: burger $6.50 US . In Thailand I could get a 3 course meal for that in a nice restaurant! Now, off to find a way to leave, sharpish!

    1. Totally agree with this comment and this post, it is a shame I didn’t read this post before, I have lost time ndd money here, the only thing I enjoyed were the temples, I felt all the time scammed for tuk tuk, restaurants and sellers in general; the worst country in southasia I have been…I am from Peru, and the prices here are much more expensive than my country and the quality much more lower, I don’t understand the people who recommend this place to visit, at least that they enjoy seeing poverty; there are enough poverty in my country to come so far to enjoy that.

  10. I am in Cambodia right now. I am sorry to say you are all off a bit. Here is the low down. 1 can of come in Cambodia is $1 in America at a 7/11 store considered expensive gos for 80 cents. And a burger here is $5 without frys and $7 -$8 with. A 25cm pizza is more than $10 dollars. Toast with jam is $2. The food quality is poor and the food cost more than it does in the US. And if I eat the local food I get charged double for the cost. I have been to many Asian countries and Cambodia is the most expensive when it comes to food for sure.

  11. Not just food! Let’s talk about the tuk tuk rides! $15 just to go around Angkor Wat area! It’s outrageous! We also paid $72 for a 7 day pass. $37 just for one day! The no tuk tuk nor vendor is down to negotiate with you. Been traveling for some time now and we find that we are spending the same amounts of money here than we did in Paris. The cost of going around the city of Siem Reap is the nail in the coffin. As it was way cheaper to ride the metro in Europe.

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