Tourists usually choose to visit Cambodia because of its cultural heritage; Angkor Wat is a well-known UNESCO World Heritage site and the largest religious monument ever built. Cambodia’s year-round warm temperature (which is particularly enjoyable during the winter months), combined with its safety and friendliness, results in a welcoming country in which different religions, cultures and nationalities can peacefully coexist together.
It is called the Kingdom of Wonder for a reason.
However, whenever you relocate, there are always reasons other than food, weather or touristic attractions. Here are the reasons I chose to move to Cambodia.
Fastest growing economy
When you roam through the bustling streets of Siem Reap or Phnom Penh, it’s hard to believe that only three decades ago, this country was ruled by a cruel dictatorship whose regime killed close to two million people. Over the past twenty years, Cambodia’s economy has been among the fastest growing economies in South East Asia. According to the UNDP, Cambodia’s GDP has grown at an average annual rate of at least 7% since 2011. The factors contributing to this fast economic growth include “restoration of peace and security, large public and private capital inflows, economic openness, fairly stable macroeconomic conditions, and dynamic and integrating neighbourhoods”. The tourism, garment, construction, real estate and agriculture sectors accounted for the bulk of growth. As a result, Cambodia has registered massive gains and improvements for human development, such as life expectancy at birth, availability of education and standard of living conditions. It is a nation with a history both depressive and inspiring, in which its people have demonstrated their strength and resilience in order to rebuild their country and move beyond its violent past.
Challenges yet to be faced
The Cambodian government has a vision for the country to become an upper middle-income country by 2030. However, the challenges lie in endemic corruption, income inequality, human rights issues and poor job prospects. Cambodia remains one of the poorest countries in Asia. As soon as you leave the cities, the lack of basic infrastructure such as access to water and electricity immediately shows you that Cambodia’s development journey has just begun.
…And the time for change is now
According to the Cambodia Development Resource Institute, “the country has a large potential skill pool. It is large because the numbers of youth are a large percentage of the population. This demographic window of opportunity will gradually close as the proportion of the population below the age of 15 years begins to decline in the next decade and half” (Madhur 2014). That is why there is a real urgency to act on reforms. The time to give the new generation a better future is now.
A country where you can really still make an impact
I chose Cambodia as a place to volunteer initially, and to work and live eventually, because I felt compelled by its call to action. It’s a country whose economy is growing, yet still with some serious humanitarian challenges to face. The urgency to make those changes now is quite evident. Experienced professionals can make a huge impact in Cambodia by bringing in foreign investment, creating new jobs and role-modelling responsible business practices. At the same time, we can help the Cambodian labour market to tackle its skill shortages by putting our expertise and skillset at the service of younger generations and providing education, development opportunities and vocational training.
I feel empowered by the Cambodian vision, and hope to be a small drop in the ocean of this wonderful country’s future. (And the food is amazing, by the way!)