Month in Bangkok drives a decision on moving there

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Somewhat dated and romanticized view of “downtown” Phnom Penh with Central (or, in Khmer, “New”) Market in foreground. Source: Cambodia Hotels and Travel Guide

Part 2 of 2

In the first of two parts regarding whether moving to Bangkok from Phnom Penh was a good idea, I listed a number of pluses.

If you read Part 1, it will not surprise you to learn that a batch of minuses had to be in the offing.  What follows are some of them.

  • Horrific traffic.  The owner of our Airbnb said he can get to or from his current home that is a bit on the outskirts in as little as half an hour.  During rush hours, it can take him two and a half hours, once three hours.  Such congestion and traffic lights that try my patience can mean we would spend several long minutes waiting to walk across some streets.
  • Many pedestrians clogging the sidewalks.
  • Often having to share many of those sidewalks with motorcyclists who at least mostly respect pedestrians’ right of way everywhere as opposed to the vehicles in Phnom Penh, which consistently dare us to go first.
  • Condition of many sidewalks.  They are intersected by numerous high curbs at driveways, presumably so high because of street flooding.  Pedestrians who fail to notice otherwise uneven surfaces, risking sprained ankles at best.  (I merely twisted mine a little.)
  • The practicality of having to open yet another bank account to facilitate local transactions.
  • The cost of exchanging dollars for Thai baht and the unpredictability of rates as opposed to the ease of using dollars for all transactions of more than the value of a $1 in Cambodia.
  • The need to report our address to the authorities every 90 days.
  • Military rule, which tramples on civil rights, though it is only superficially very much different from Cambodia’s government.
  • High prices for common items.  Because of taxes, liters of my favored gin and vodka run approximately twice what I pay in Cambodia — here less than $12 for Bombay Sapphire, for example, and $7.60 for a liter of Smirnoff vodka.  My 250-gram bag of ground coffee costs about $5.50 here and twice that for a lesser brand in Bangkok and more for decaf spotted in just a few stores.  Imported cheese is prohibitively expensive there.
  • Rent where I would want to live probably would be at least 10 per cent more than it is in Phnom Penh.
  • Not knowing a soul who is a full-time resident and the necessity of making new friends.
  • The desirability of learning a new language.
  • Inescapable encounters with economic deprivation (but less so than in Cambodia).
  • As mentioned in Part 1, the cost, complexity and inconvenience of obtaining a retirement (long stay) visa.

I could go on, but you have an idea about some of the key issues on my mind, though I hadn’t come to a clear decision until I returned home to Cambodia, where we have lived since early December 2013.

What we concluded is that it seems to make sense to stay in Phnom Penh.  The city has become home, after all, and I have established roots here — friends, shops I frequent, my gym and the “buddies” I have here, a bank account with an establishment I trust in addition to my U.S. bank, some facility with the language and so on.

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A common street scene in Cambodia, which teems with vendors on bicycles.

Perhaps living in the same apartment, which I find wanting, is one reason to have considered Bangkok.  Even if not changing countries, moving to a new apartment in a newly constructed building may prove to be enough change for a while, and that is the plan for the fall.  Given that nearly 100 per cent of our worldly goods can fit into four suitcases, moving will be easy enough.

Meantime, nothing will stop us, given our proximity to the rest of Southeast Asia, from heading to other cities for a break, including Bangkok, from which we recently returned again following a week in Hong Kong.  Moreover, we will continue to travel farther afield occasionally to countries such as Bhutan this coming September.  (I don’t take for granted our good fortune in having, miraculously, the means to do so.)

There is no bad news regarding our situation.  The good news is this: Since we can leave Phnom Penh at any time for longer or shorter periods should the spirit move us, we are not forced to uproot ourselves and always could do so.

Email: malcolmncarter@gmail.com

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