There is much talk these days about the respective merits of retiring long-term to Thailand or Cambodia. Pattaya Today has conducted a research project which concentrates specifically on the respective merits and drawbacks of Pattaya and Siem Reap, the largest provincial centres in the respective countries.
Several correspondents said that the starting point for them was the visa situation. “Compared with Thailand,” claimed British expat Dennis Knight, “it is very easy to obtain a 12-month visa in Cambodia and there is no need to deposit funds in a local bank or to prove overseas income.” He explained that local visa agents in Siem Reap could arrange a year’s permit by simply paying US$200-300, provided that the applicant obtained a general visa rather than a tourist one on entering the country.
Nonetheless, it should be noted that both Thailand and Cambodia are in process of reviewing their long-term visa policies. The Thai government has endorsed a proposal to introduce a 10-year visa although the detail and the regulations are still being worked out. It is not even clear if the proposed visa will replace the current one-year retirement option, or be an additional option, and whether or not it will be available only in the applicant’s home country. In Cambodia, there are rumours of impending changes too, the most likely being a requirement to lodge a cash sum in a local bank and the possibility of providing three-year, multiple-entry tourist visas to supplement the current 30 days on arrival policy.
John Humphreys, another British expat who moved to Siem Reap from Pattaya last year, said “The daily cost of living in Siem Reap is certainly cheaper than in Pattaya though the gap is closing now, especially if you are converting pounds to dollars (the main currency used in Cambodia).” He felt that Siem Reap was much quieter and relaxed than Pattaya. “I don’t need to bother with 90 days reporting or the TM 30, and the town now has an identity of its own rather than being the place which happens to be near the Angkor Wat temple complex.”
On the other hand, John felt that Pattaya had the edge when filling your time. “Pattaya has a much broader choice of entertainment and things to do, including the beaches. Expats have formed their own clubs and societies but there is nothing comparable in Siem Reap where the number of Europeans, Australians and Americans is much smaller.” He added that most expats he knew were working in Siem Reap, so had less time on their hands, and he praised the large number of high-quality restaurants, Asian and European, to be found throughout the inland resort.
Other correspondents echoed these sentiments and stressed that Cambodians in general were a very welcoming people. “I’m never lonely here,” claimed Dan Revere from the USA, “as it is very easy to strike up a conversation and most locals know some English.” He explained that he was on a very limited budget and ate daily in one of the cheap eateries in Sok San road, a tourist belt, where a meal can be bought for as little as two dollars. “I’m surviving cheerfully here on about 500 dollars a month, including a cheap room two miles out of town, and I certainly couldn’t do that in Pattaya.
Other expats in Siem Reap warned that hospital facilities tended to be poorer than in Pattaya, pointing out that some serious illnesses still required a trip to Thailand. They also pointed out there is no public bus service of any kind, so it is a question of negotiating a fare with the individual motorbike taxi or tuk-tuk driver. “At first you tend to pay too much – four dollars rather than two – but it is just part of the learning curve,” said a Frenchman who has lived in Siem Reap for three years with his Thai wife. “Pattaya was just too frenetic for us,” he claimed.
It’s important to note that Cambodia lacks some of the facilities taken for granted in Thailand. There are areas of Siem Reap, for example, without any postal deliveries. Thus it is common to have a post office box which can be rented very cheaply, although some overseas banks and institutions won’t accept it for communication purposes. It can also be difficult to find a Cambodian government official to issue a stamp or signature on an official document required in the home country. Power outages in Siem Reap are more common than in Pattaya.
For the future, Pattaya and Siem Reap are both going through tremendous change. They are experiencing building booms as European influences wane whilst Chinese nationals increasingly dominate the tourist markets. Indeed, the Cambodian government has indicated that the Chinese currency, the yuan, will be accepted alongside the US dollar for currency transactions. The likelihood is that by 2027, in 10 years’ time, both Pattaya and Siem Reap will transform into very different urban centres from what they are today.