Luang Prabang, Laos. Image courtesy of Yoshitaka Ando / Creative Commons
While Southeast Asia’s many experiences can be covered in week-long itineraries, there’s something to be said about staying much longer, and seeing the best of the region at leisure. But that requires a different kind of commitment: the kind that calls for finding a local job, arranging for longer-term housing, or buying a car or a motorcycle where necessary.
We asked Jennifer Ryder Joslin – a Californian now living with her husband in Phnom Penh, Cambodia – to share her views on long-term travel in Southeast Asia. Jen and her husband Stevo share their travel experiences on their blog Two Can Travel; we asked Jen how other travelers can follow in their footsteps.
Q: You’re currently based in Phnom Penh at the moment. How convenient is your adopted city as a base to see the rest of Southeast Asia?
JEN: Phnom Penh is a great base for travel around Southeast Asia. The Phnom Penh International Airport was recently expanded, and there are more flights heading to different cities available than ever before.
We have lived in Phnom Penh since 2015 and have traveled to Thailand, Myanmar, Vietnam, Malaysia, the Philippines and Laos from Phnom Penh. You can access even more destinations from Kuala Lumpur, the hub for AirAsia, just a quick one hour flight from Phnom Penh.
Central Market, Phnom Penh, Cambodia. Image courtesy of garycycles8 / Creative Commons
Q: Help me break down what makes long-term stay in Cambodia a popular option: what’s the transportation like? The cost of living? Getting a visa?
JEN: Transportation is easy to come by in Phnom Penh. The most popular form is taking a tuk tuk, a motorbike that pulls a carriage. There are also many taxi services available now, and even apps similar to Uber to help you book one quickly.
The city is not too big, and we often ride our bicycles to get around. Many locals and expats also ride motorbikes.
Phnom Penh is a city of options, and depending on your budget you can live modestly or in luxury. We personally live quite comfortably on US$1,500 per month for two people. We wrote an in depth article about the cost of living in Phnom Penh on our website breaking down where our money goes.
Cambodia is one of the easiest places in the world for most nationalities to get year-long visas. In this article we have broken down the process of getting a Cambodia visa.
Q: You’ve found work as an English teacher – it seems to be a popular career option for long-term travelers. What other options do long-term travelers have?
JEN: Although English teaching is popular in Cambodia, there are many other sectors expats work in. The NGO field is huge, especially for human rights related organizations. Journalism, tech, marketing, hospitality and tourism are other popular areas.
Cambodian laws also make it a relatively easy place to start a business, which many expats move here to do.
Q: What kind of travelers/professionals will thrive traveling long-term in Cambodia, or Southeast Asia in general?
JEN: Travelers and professionals need to have an open heart and mind when traveling in Southeast Asia. Things don’t always go as planned, so the ability to be flexible and go with the flow is a necessary skill to develop. Having a kind and respectful attitude toward local people and the culture will take you far.
Of course, we all come into new places with our own unique backgrounds and ideas about how things should be done. Life in Southeast Asia is much different from the western world, but often in a wonderful way, so embrace where you are and learn from the people here. You have so much to gain if you maintain a positive attitude.
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Long term travel has its perks: Jen and Stevo spend a few months a year to explore the rest of Southeast Asia, thanks to their wide-open schedules. “Stevo and I work full time as teachers,” Jen explains. “We have the perk of long winter and summer vacations, with many other holidays in between.”
Long-term travelers like Jen can easily hop from Phnom Penh to other Southeast Asia highlights like the ones below:
- Kampot, Cambodia. It’s an easy drive from Phnom Penh, allowing Jen and Stevo to visit every few months. “Kampot is a beautiful breath of fresh air and green when we need a break from city life,” Jen writes. Read about nature-based tourism in Cambodia.
- Luang Prabang, Laos. “Luang Prabang was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site, giving it protected status to preserve its beautiful culture, architecture and history,” Jen writes. “This put it on the map for millions of people around the world who have since visited to experience all that the city has to offer.” Find out more about Luang Prabang.
- Bangkok, Thailand. The capital of Thailand is a major tourist hub for a reason: most tourists hang around for a few days after flying in, checking out the city’s markets, architectural wonders, and amazing street food scene.
- Yogyakarta, Indonesia. The heart of Indonesia’s only remaining ruling Sultanate retains the high Javanese culture of its heyday, centered around its Kraton (Sultan’s Palace) and the fine art district of Kota Gede. Side trips to ancient temples Prambanan and Borobudur are highly recommended.