Renting a Villa in Phnom Penh – The Unattainable Dream

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A new year spells the beginning of a new chapter for many peoples’ lives. For some, it marks the start of a new job and relocating to a new country. Those who are lucky enough to make the move to Phnom Penh are met with mixed feelings of excitement and trepidation of what to expect. When it comes to meeting the housing requirements of new arrivals, we spend an inordinate amount of time scouting for properties in Cambodia and curbing new arrival’s expectations.

Many expats have visions of moving to Phnom Penh and settling into a large, French-colonial villa with open spaces, leafy garden and a swimming pool, in the heart of the city. There is also the belief that these types of houses are in abundance, and still relatively cheap. This, unfortunately, is a myth. One that is peddled by the few lucky residents of these houses who are still living on leases they signed 5 years ago (who have been shielded from the property price explosion in Phnom Penh). The myth is also perpetuated by those who reflect on living in Phnom Penh over a decade ago when the rental landscape for this type of property was vastly different to what we have now.

There are still plenty of villas in the most popular expat areas of BKK1, Tonle Bassac and Southern Daun Penh, but the options are limited. Most of the villas located on busy thoroughfares have been converted to restaurants or commercial outlets. Villas on larger blocks have been flattened for the development of high-rise apartments or office space. Villas next to the high-rise developments are almost unlivable whilst the construction is taking place, and are left to degrade and are almost unlivable afterwards.

What we are left with is a handful of well maintained, ‘western style’ ideally located villas. These ‘ideal villas’ change hands very rarely. Most tenants can see the value of their home and stay put, or they exchange hands between friends, colleagues or people in the know.

There is also the mismatch between the style preference of Khmer landlords and Western tenants. Villas that have been renovated or have been built recently are usually built in a different style to what western expats would like. Instead of the subtle hues and colonial trimmings people often imagine when they think of a villa in Phnom Penh, we have plenty of ostentatious mansions with gaudy finishes.

So, if you are moving to Phnom Penh and you expect to be sitting beside your pool in the garden of your own villa, then you should be prepared to make some compromises; be prepared to live in an apartment (there are plenty of high-quality options), or look further out of the city to Toul Kork, Chroy Changva, Boeung Tumpun or Chbar Ampov. You might not get the ideal villa you imagine, but there is an attainable alternative.

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