Living in Siem Reap: Life in Cambodia with Meka Tubergen

Life in Siem Reap, Cambodia took Meka by surprise and she almost booked a flight back home but she was determined to experience a different kind of culture from what she’s used to. Meka has been living in Siem Reap for a while now working as a volunteer and she cannot get enough of Cambodian spring rolls and fried noodles!

We truly believe there is no better way to learn about a new city, new country or a new culture than living there. Our Living Abroad series is designed to tell stories of living overseas and show people that the world is really not such a scary place. We hope it inspires more people to pack up their bags, travel slow and see what it’s really like to live in a different place. If you’d like to tell your story, there’s more information at the end of Meka’s story.  

Here’s what Meka had to say about Siem Reap

Where do you live?

Siem Reap, Cambodia

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Where are you originally from and what did you do before?

Originally I’m from the mitten state in the States, Michigan. But I am currently living in the oh so beautiful Siem Reap, Cambodia. Before I left home to venture in SE Asia I was actually a restaurant manager at a local franchise, Jet’s Pizza.

living in Siem Reap

What is it like to live in Siem Reap as an expat/ foreigner?

When I first arrived in SE Asia I was shocked to say the least, at how the world works here. From the bathrooms, the cooking, and the driving. Oh and did I mention the heat, landed in Bangkok around 22:00 and was sweating in a t-shirt and shorts. It was different to say the least but it only took me a couple days to adjust to the ways of Cambodia!

What does a typical day look like for you?

Typically I get to the office around 9 until about noon which is lunch time. Typically find myself some yummy street food and then back to the office until five.

After work I find food to eat at night, corn or some type of vegetable and then try to sort something out for dinner. In Siem reap I have found it to be cheaper to just buy street food than to try and get ingredients to cook.

Why did you choose Siem Reap?

I actually applied for an internship with the Bamboo Project powered by GVN and got sent to the office in Siem Reap, Cambodia. The Bamboo Project is an organization that actually offers ways to travel as well as give back to the local communities at the same time.

I decided that Siem Reap was a good place for me because I was actually born in China and then adopted and brought to the States! I thought Siem Reap would be nice and maybe similar to China the village I was from. I really wanted to experience what life would’ve been like.

living in Siem Reap

What do you love about living in Siem Reap?

This town is amazing, from the people, to the food and culture. I love how many people come through this town, I love being able to meet locals as well as tourists and people from all over the world.

What are the local people like?

A smile says a thousand words is a very accurate saying for this city. The locals here are always trying to help, they’re always so kind and helpful.

What work do you do in Siem Reap?

I’m a programme specialist, intern with the Bamboo Project. My job is to reply to social media and try to help answer everyone’s questions whether via Facebook or email or on our adverts. I love the idea of giving back to the communities we travel to.

living in Siem Reap

What is the cost of living in Siem Reap?

This internship actually includes housing so I don’t have to pay for that but I do pay for all my food. I try to keep it cheap, so I mainly eat street food ranging from $1- $5

What’s the availability of short term accommodation in Siem Reap?

I am living at the staff house but I’ve heard renting a house here is not very expensive so anyone interested in a long term stay, a rented house is quite attainable.

What is the food like? (eating out & the quality of supermarkets)

The food here actually took me by surprise at first, the lack of health code requirements freaked me out slightly. But eventually after trying a few dishes and falling in love with the food, I started to care a lot less. Spring rolls here are to die for, as well as the fried noodles.

There’re few/slim grocery stores, but tons of restaurants and street food. Street food is the cheapest and typically the best tasting.

living in Siem Reap

Do you need a visa? If so how long can you stay in the country for?

A tourist visa in Cambodia is actually only $30 for someone coming from the States, which grants you 30 day in Cambodia without the working permit and one extension. The ordinary visa is $35 and I believe that you can extend it multiple times past the 30 days.

And then for the working visa I believe it is about 300 USD, I could be wrong. This is for one year of working inside of Cambodia.

How safe is Siem Reap?

Every city has a its pros and cons but as long as you take personal precautions you should be just fine. Siem Reap is as safe as anywhere, you should always take precautions and be as safe as you can.

A few things I have heard to be aware of is to be cautious of the handbags you use. Cross-body bags can be easily snatched and broken so those are not recommended. Personally I try to take a backpack with my stuff that I can strap across the front. If I do decide to take a cross body I’ll only put in up to $10 USD, just in case.

I have also heard to watch where you walk, typically scooters, bikers and cars will watch for you, but the roads here are chaos and it’s easier if you just keep an eye out for yourself as well.

Is there a big expat community?

There is a big backpacker community here. As well as the bamboo project staff their originally from all over the world.

Are there any other good places to travel to close by?

Cambodia is surrounded by amazing countries to go visit in your down time. A couple of weekends ago I went to KL, Malaysia. There are places like Vietnam, Singapore, and Bali. Did I mention Thailand? Thailand is a must, from Bangkok to Phuket.

Any other advice/tips for someone who might want to live in Siem Reap?

Siem Reap is a hotspot for backpackers, Angkor Wat and Pub Street are just minutes away from me. Let me just tell you something about Pub Street, it is wild. If you’re looking for nightlife, this is where you need to go.

living in Siem Reap

And, finally any advice or encouragement for someone wanting to take the leap and live overseas?

If you’re at home reading this wishing you could explore the world, work in another culture and experience new things. Stop wishing and start doing. Get out and see the world.

Meka Tubergen is currently an intern for The Bamboo Project powered by GVN based in Siem Reap, Cambodia. Meka has always been very passionate about volunteer work, and helping others in general. She wants to keep helping those in need as she travels the world. 

Keep up with her adventures on Instagram and on her blog The Wildly Wanderlust.



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