A Sunny Day in Sihanoukville — and Monaco and Koh Rong

I was feeling a little sorry for myself last week. I’m sure the rain had something to do with it, but it didn’t help when I got an email from my son, who was on a business trip/holiday in Europe; including Monaco. When I was about 12, my ambition in life was to be James Bond and play baccarat in a Monaco casino with a “Bond girl” at my side. The closest I’ve gotten to it is this photograph. I’m not even quite sure it’s Monaco  — Justin tends to send a bunch of photos from different places all at once — but it’s nice.

This may be Monaco or it may be someplace else.

Monaco – maybe

Things got worse when Sopheak got to go to Koh Rong twice last week. A client of hers is leasing some land there and needed her to act as a go between with the land owner. For some reason, the sun was shining on Koh Rong even while it was raining in Sihanoukville. This is what Sophie was looking at while I was looking at the rain falling outside my office:

approaching koh rong by boat

Now that my James Bond fantasy days are over, my ambition is to live some place like Koh Rong. It can be on the mainland or it can be on an island. I don’t care, just as long as jungle covers a larger chunk of the landscape than civilisation. I’m too old and dumb to forage for my meals and get on a first-name basis with the wild animals as Sophie did when she was a girl, but if I can have a slice of paradise along with enough amenities to keep me alive, I’ll be content. This treehouse bungalow on Koh Rong would suit me fine:

koh rong treehouse bungalow

My next home a treehouse on Koh Rong?

Apparently, I’m not the only one who thinks a life on a tropical island sounds like an attractive proposition. Koh Rong is the latest Sihanoukville hot spot. Every travel shop in town advertises, “Koh Rong! Best Prices! Best Service!” and even though it’s the rainy season, the boat to the island, if not full, is never empty.

a walk on the beach at Koh Rong

Wouldn’t you rather be here?

Yesterday was the first sunny day in Sihanoukville of the week. A bike ride to Bad Panda and a bagel and cream cheese helped lift my spirits, but I still had one last assignment hanging over my head. I got that out of the way and then discovered that my latest post for Travelfish had just been published. It was only then that I realised just how lucky I am.

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A bit of a combination beach bum/workaholic, an excuse to combine work with an afternoon at the beach is perfect for me. It’s not every day the sun shines in Sihanoukville in the rainy season, so I popped my camera in my pocket, jumped on my bike, and headed for the beach. Which beach, I’m not going to reveal. You’ll have to wait and read my blog on Travelish.org to discover that.


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Expats Gambling on their Futures in Sihanoukville

A couple of weeks ago, my friend Joe Royle, a brilliant architect, took me to see his latest project, a mansion on a hill overlooking Sihanoukville and the Gulf of Thailand. He’s building it for a guy who dropped out of college 15 years ago to become a professional backgammon player and now does most of his business gambling online at sites like Party Poker Television.

Party Poker TV

I found this interesting for two reasons:

  1. I’d never met a professional gambler before and always imagined them to be like the tough guy types you see in movies. This guy is a pleasant, quietly spoken and even nerdy kind of guy with a head for numbers. He doesn’t drink or smoke. A married man with children, he doesn’t go to Sihanoukville casinos surrounded by buxom young women. Gambling is his business and he’s obviously been successful.
  2. He’s been coming to Sihanoukville for years, but only decided to settle here last year. Why? Because we now have stable, high speed internet – something he relies on for work.

When I started working online in 2008, I had to set up shop at Ana Guesthouse because it was too expensive to set up at home. Even at Ana’s, where they had the best internet service money could buy at the time, the connection was unstable and dropped out frequently. Two years ago, I finally got affordable cable internet at home. Now I just use a wireless USB stick that is very fast and stable and costs only a few dollars a month.

Joe’s client is building an air-conditioned office to house his absurdly high-speed computers and has a generator room for those occasions when the power goes out, but he’s not at all worried about his internet connection. He has a combination of fibre optic and wireless and reckons they’re at least as reliable as the connections he had in the U.K.

People often ask me how to make a living in Sihanoukville. I always answer, “Online.” Even if you decide to open a restaurant or guesthouse, you’re going to need an internet presence and if you have a skill you can utilise online, you can offer your services here as easily as anywhere else in the world and the cost of living is much lower. These are the things some expats in Sihanoukville do for a living online:

  • Writing (me)
  • Internet marketing
  • Software development
  • Software engineering
  • Website design
  • SEO
kite surfing in Sihanoukville

Click image to book your Sihanoukville hotel online

And now I can add one more to the list: gambling. Personally, I’m just smart enough to know that I’m too dumb to make a living gambling, but on sites like Party Poker Television you don’t have to play for high stakes if you don’t want to and, if you like gambling, it’s a way to while away your time in the rainy season when you can’t go kite surfing in Sihanoukville.

Can You Really Make Money Travel Writing?

Click image to visit Writing ResourcesCan you really make money travel writing? To my complete amazement, I’d have to say “Yes.” I say “to my amazement” because I used to be sure you needed a journalism degree and some solid media connections, like having Rupert Murdock as an uncle, to do it. I wrote off my early successes in getting published in print media as a fluke for almost 10 years and didn’t even start to try again until fate forced my hand. You can read all about it on my writing blog in my entry, Starting from Scratch.

From the beginning, my online writing career has been a trial-and-error effort. When I started out, I had no idea how much I could make or where to look for work. I needed money and I needed it fast, so I started at the bottom just because it was easy to get writing work on job platforms where my major competition spoke English as a second language. You can avoid that painful process – if you’re prepared.

Click image to learn more about Matador U Travel Writing School
I’ve spent hundreds of hours over the past few years reading blogs by writers, trying to find a “roadmap” to writing success. Some of them do seem to have reached that illusive goal of making a Six Figure Income as a freelance writer, travel or otherwise, but most of them write cookie cutter blogs about SEO, how to construct an article and/or social media marketing. On their sidebar or in a pop-up window, they generously offer “Free Writing Tips” if you subscribe to their newsletter. Then, every week you get another blog with some vaguely informative (and often out of date) but oft-repeated “tip” along with a pitch to buy their eBook or pay to attend their webinar.

Of all the writing courses I’ve taken a sneak peek at, the only one I can recommend is Matador U. Rather than spend a lot of time pitching the course to you, I’ll let you read about the MatadorU Travel Writing Course yourself and watch the video below. Before I go, though, I just want to say that while I believe this course has everything you need to get started as a freelance travel writer, the essential ingredient will be your determination. Just about every backpacker and half the expats I meet want to be travel writers or photographers, but very few are willing to make the commitment it takes to make it happen.

If, after watching the video, you want to give Matador U a go, please click the link or image above. That way, if you decide to complete the full course after trying it for a week for only $10, I’ll receive a modest affiliate commission. Thanks in advance.

How This Expat Makes a Living in Sihanoukville

Writing two posts in a day is going a little overboard for me, but something happened at Independence Beach today that compelled me to write this short post. Someone asked me a question several people have asked me before: “How do you make a living in Sihanoukville?”

4 out of 5 people who ask me that question are still confused after I answer it. I told him I write content for websites. That seems pretty straightforward to me, but obviously that’s because it’s what I do. When I think about it, though, I can understand the confused expressions those words elicit. What’s content? Basically it’s the words you see on the home and other pages of any website. I used to say, “I’m a freelance writer,” but then I had to go on to explain that most of my writing is only published online. Besides, a lot of people seem to think “freelance writer” is code for “unemployed”.

Actually, writing content isn’t all I do. I do copywriting, article writing, review writing and any other writing that’s asked of me. I don’t write spam and I don’t write anything promoting porn, violence or prejudice. Other than that, if it’s reasonably ethical, I’ll write about it. I have also ghostwritten several  ebooks and, more recently, “co-wrote” a book that was meant for print publication. Fortunately, I was paid for my efforts. Unfortunately, the client kind of misled me about his expertise in the publishing field. I wrote about it in one of my other websites, so I won’t bore you with it here. If you’re interested, the title is How Not to Get Published. Click the link and you’re there.

So that’s how this expat makes a living in Sihanoukville: he writes stuff. What was once an avocation is now a vocation. It’s something I’ve always loved to do, but was never hungry enough to pursue until I came to Cambodia. Now when people ask me how I make money in Cambodia, I’ll just direct them to this post. Or maybe I’ll just say, “I write stuff” and leave it at that.

My New Office and Other News

my new office

my new office

I wish I had more time to post here because something happens every day. The past two days have been so gloriously beautiful, the only way I’ve been able to get any work done at all has been to do it at the beach. Since I got my new Metfone 3G USB stick, I’m not limited to cafes with their own wireless network, so I’ve been able to claim a corner of the Small Hotel‘s beachside Small Beach Bar and Restaurant as my office. The photo is of the beach from my new “office.”

As spectacular as the weather is now, I haven’t forgotten that Cambodia suffered the heaviest rains in decades this year and the rice crops were ruined. It’s created enormous problems for the people, as you might imagine. If you come for a visit, keep this in mind. I’m not sure what the best way to contribute is, but before you do anything, check with some reputable sources. There’s been quite a bit of discussion on Travelfish about volunteering in general and for the most part, I think it’s been a valuable forum topic.  Click this link, Short-term volunteering in Cambodia: some questions and follow the thread.

Sun Kunthor, general director of Rural Development Bank, said yesterday that Hun Sen asked the bank on Friday to work closely with the Cambodian Rice Millers Association in supplying cheap rice to the market. Severe flooding in many of …
http://sahrika.wordpress.com/ — Mon, 17 Oct 2011 00:14:29 -0700
In a statement posted to the city’s website and dated Saturday, Phnom Penh governor Kep Chuktema said some vendors were using floods as an excuse to raise prices… Chhorn Chansy, p.27 http://www.camnet.com.kh/cambodia.daily/ …
http://www.opendevelopmentcambodia.net/ — Sun, 16 Oct 2011 22:58:32 -0700

Expats Not Welcome Anymore?

A couple of weeks ago, I met a guy out on the new pier at Serendipity Road. He had been living in Kerala for fifteen years, but was now relocating to Sihanoukville because the Indian government has changed its visa laws. He used to come to Sihanoukville in the monsoon season to escape the heavier rains in Kerala and to renew his visa, but now he has to go all the way back to the UK to renew his visa. I forget exactly what the restrictions are, but basically they are intended to dissuade foreigners from staying in the country.

The other night I met a British couple who had been living in Goa for ten years, but had now relocated to Sihanoukville for a similar reason. They told me they knew of six other couples who were doing the same thing. They also mentioned that the Indian government has openly said, “Let them come and spend their money and then make them go home.”

Last week, a friend of mine took a group of 12 expats apartment hunting. All of them had been living in Thailand for years. They were all relocating to Sihanoukville because Thailand was making it harder and harder for them to stay.

Awhile back I overheard a conversation between expats. One of them, an American, was moving to Phnom Penh with his Vietnamese wife and child because, in his words, the Vietnamese were “fuckin’ Commie bureaucrats” and made it too hard for him to renew his visa. His bizarre attitude struck me the hardest, but that’s food for another blog.

Last week my wife heard a story about a 76 year old Australian who was being deported because he had no means to support himself. He had been in this position for 12 years, but only now were the authorities taking action. This was because his Cambodian wife, tired of having him sponge off her family, finally filed for divorce.

Yesterday I breathed a sigh of relief when I renewed my business visa for another year without a hitch, but I’m still wondering how much longer I will be able to do this. I’ve heard that Hun Sen is taking steps to find ways to make older expats leave Cambodia when they start to become a burden on the economy and it is now illegal (or so I’ve been told by some reasonably reliable sources) for foreigners whose income is less than $2500 per month to marry Cambodian women.

I have mixed feelings about all this. Obviously, I have a stake in wanting to remain welcome in Cambodia for as long as I like and I like to believe that since I support a family of 10, most of whom live in my house, that I’m making a contribution to Cambodian society. On the other hand, I’ve seen expats do some atrocious things in this country and many others just huddle together in foreigner run establishments and do little if anything to contribute to the Cambodian economy. When a police officer came to take a photocopy of my visa for his records recently, he was actually surprised that I had one. Most of the foreigners’ visas he looked at had expired ages ago and some didn’t even have passports.

While I’d love to take the moral high ground and say, “Kick the freeloaders out, but let me stay!”,  I have to admit that I often have second thoughts about my own right to live in Cambodia indefinitely. While I do spend all of my earnings here, I do not employ Cambodians to any significant degree and arguably have a negative effect on the country’s social cohesion. I’m also aware that many expats contribute far more to their adopted countries than I do and that many others do the best they can and carry their own weight.

Anyway, my opinion matters little. What’s important is the fact that throughout Asia, we westerners are becoming less and less welcome. We have largely brought it upon ourselves and now that our western economies are disintegrating, there is even less reason for them to tolerate us. Interesting, isn’t it? We who come from countries that have problems with migrants from 3rd world countries (talk about “fuckin’ bureaucrats”!) are now starting to be treated like unwelcome refugees in emerging and 3rd world societies. The shoe’s on the other foot and the laces are being tied.


Working in Cambodia

In the interests of good travel journalism and in order to get back at the Sydney Morning Herald, which printed an atrocious article about Sihanoukville, claiming that construction had come to a standstill and that it resembled a ghosttown, I set off last week with my camera to record some of the new construction in town and the seeming record numbers of rainy season tourists that are here. Unfortunately, I neglected to recharge the battery on my camera, so those will have to wait. Trust me, though, while the U.S. and Europe seem to be sliding into third world status, Sihanoukville continues to grow.

At the same time my Cambodian family and neighbours are actually able pick and choose between jobs, I’ve been noticing increased levels of desperation in Western cultures. Statistically, it was pointed out in an eye-opening article I read this morning and summarised here. In cyberspace, I’ve noticed it amongst writers and others who are struggling to make a living online. I’ve only been doing it for a few years, but I’ve noticed increasing numbers of formerly well-paid journalists, copywriters and web developers looking for online work. Most of them are shell-shocked when they discover what they are offered as compensation online. It’s a situation I understand all too well. I also know that many of these people are duped by ebooks and online courses promising them 6 figure incomes if they learn the tricks of the online gurus.

All this nonsense makes me angry, so I’ve decided to write an ebook myself. The working title is A Poor Man’s Guide to Writing. Partly autobiographical and partly informational, it will tell the story of how I worked my way up from a 4 figure yearly income to a low 5 figure income. Not exactly something to get excited about unless you’re desperate, but it is actually an internet success story. I now make enough money to live comfortably and enjoy a middle class lifestyle here in Cambodia and could even conceivably survive in Australia.

As the photo above, taken just before I started writing this blog, shows, it’s not a bad lifestyle. While I work on the book, I may not be visiting here very often, but check back once in awhile to see how it’s progressing. In keeping with the title, it will be cheap and may help you avoid some of the mistakes I made when I was starting out.

After a lot of rain, it’s a bright, sparkling day, so I’m going to close now and go for a swim. See you later.

I Heart Sihanoukville

I’m sitting here working at JJ’s, a very nice guesthouse that used to be my “office” in its former incarnation as Ana Guesthouse, before I got internet at home. I seem to be coming here regularly now, partly because we’ve been having frequent power outages and partly because it’s nice to get a change of scenery while I work.

After finishing up my weekly assignments, I opened an email from Travelfish, telling me another comment had been added to a forum I’ve been following there. The topic, How Safe is Cambodia? drew me in when I felt compelled to write a rebuttal to someone’s ongoing rants about the dangers of Sihanoukville.

This time, the comment was about living in Phnom Penh and included some very helpful safety tips for travellers. Impressed with the positive tone of the entry, I checked out the blog. I knew I was on to a winner when I read the title, Penh and Ink. I picked out a random article to read. It was called I Heart Phnom Penh. “It’s so radiant at night,” she writes, “a theme park glow of fairy lights and fancy architecture and improbability.”

I don’t feel the same way about Phnom Penh, but her beautiful writing was so compelling, I was able to see the city through her eyes. It made me wonder why I don’t see Phnom Penh as she does. When I go there, I see a confusing jumble of streets, hear a jarring cacophony of sounds, imagine dangers lurking around every dark corner.

Then it dawned on me: I don’t “heart” Phnom Penh because I fear it. I do not fear Sihanoukville, though, and am always bemused and sometimes angered when I read a tirade about the dangers of Sihanoukville. Because I don’t fear Sihanoukville, I am able to appreciate it.

I love the way Sihanoukville is growing and changing. It’s a bit like a moody teenager right now, but it’s beginning to find itself.

I love the fact that I can still escape from city life whenever I want to. Just by hopping on my mountain bike or moto, I can be at a quiet beach, an intriguing dirt track or a secret swimming hole in minutes.

As a working expat, I love the fact that I can afford to live in Sihanoukville comfortably on a freelance writer’s income and still be able to take care of my rather large Cambodian family. If I was doing this in Australia, I would be living in a cramped apartment, barely able to take care of my own needs, much less feed nine others.

I love being able to take my pick of places to work from when I don’t feel like working at home. One day it’s JJ’s, the next it might be the Small Hotel,  Starfish Bakery or Q&A. On Sundays, we usually spend the day at the Airport down at Victory Beach if I still have work to finish up. That way it feels like a day off even if it’s not.

Thanks, Abigail: your short blog post made my day. Next time I’m in Phnom Penh, I’ll set my fears aside and look at it through your eyes. May those who visit Sihanoukville view this city through mine.

Some Tips for Expats Working Online

Airport, Sihanoukville

Airplane at Sihanoukville's "Airport"

I bought a new laptop last week just so I could do what I’m doing today. As offices go, my  home office is pretty good, but I spend far too much time there and really don’t get the opportunity to get out of the house alone much. My laptop is my attempt to redress a pretty severe imbalance in my life.

Freelance writing has been more than a full time job. In fact, during my first year I was working at least 60 hours a week just to survive. I could never have done it in Australia: the pay was just too poor. Happily, things have changed. I have to give some of the credit to Elance. It’s not perfect, but it’s the best job platform I’ve found yet.  It took awhile, but I now have a 5 star rating there (you can check my profile here) and am able to get well paying assignments from great clients. Now I can get by on a 40 hour work week + extra time on my blog and other projects. At last, I can honestly say that freelancing is the best job I’ve ever had, especially now that I’ve got my new laptop.

A few months ago, one of my clients suggested Dropbox to me. Both he and I were getting sick of constantly exchanging files by email. The beauty of Dropbox is that you can set it up to share files any way you like. I started by setting up a folder to share only with him. That worked out so well, I suggested Dropbox to another client with whom I’m collaborating on a book (out soon!). Then I set up a private folder that I only share between my PC and my laptop. That has simplified my life considerably. When I get home this afternoon, as soon as I connect to the internet, the work I save in my private file here on my laptop will automatically be saved onto my PC.  You can store up to 2 gigs free on their server, so if the worst happens and your computer crashes, it is saved on Dropbox. You can also store photos there. I wish I’d done that, because I have some pics of the beach here I’d like to attach to this post, but it will have to wait until I get home.

Getting paid has never been a problem for me. On Elance, clients have to put money in escrow until the job is done and I only work privately for trusted older clients, so PayPal works fine for me. However, I do have one client who doesn’t trust PayPal. He pays me through a service called AlertPay. This is a very slick and professional service that has a lot of advantages over PayPal. For one thing, it seems to be more secure. For another, you can set it up so that the client has to put money in escrow as is done on Elance. While this doesn’t guarantee payment, it does guarantee that the money is there when you have completed the project.

If you, like me, have to write in Australian English, English English or American English depending on the client, Firefox has dictionary add-ons. I wouldn’t know what to do without mine. I’m always switching back and forth between spellings, often without realising (realizing) it. Just right click and change dictionaries and check your spelling.

Okay, it’s 3.14 pm and I have to go attend a funeral at 5. Thank (choose favorite [favourite] deity) for my new laptop. I can finish my spring rolls and go for a swim before I go home and change. Otherwise, it would have been another beautiful Sunday spent at home.

Writing Workshop Coming to Sihanoukville

Compared with the border dispute with Thailand, rising commodity prices and political unrest in the Middle East this may not be big news, but it’s exciting news for me. My friend and writing mentor, Jan Cornall is coming to Sihanoukville at Easter and will be giving a mini-writing workshop at Q&A Bookshop. I’ve pasted our first flyer below:

Creative Writing Workshop with Jan Cornall

Have you always wanted to write a travel memoir, life story or play around with fiction or non-fiction? In this workshop find out where to start, how to progress and how to set goals for finishing. Learn the essential elements of writing: how to find your writers voice, develop descriptive detail, create interesting characters and find the structure that will bring your story to life. Using meditative techniques, discover how easy it is to access your creative source on a daily basis and leave the workshop with a plan that will see you completing your writing project within months. All genres, all levels of experience welcome.

WHEN: Easter Sunday April 24

WHERE: Q&A Bookshop

WHEN:11 am – 2pm

COST: $10

BOOKINGS: Contact Andy at Q&A on Serendipity Road

Your Tutor

Jan Cornall has authored 15 produced plays and musicals, a feature film, 3 musical CDs and a novel. Highly regarded as a writing tutor in Australia and the Asia Pacific, she leads popular writing workshops and retreats using meditative writing techniques. Since 2000 Jan has taught writing at writer’s centres, community colleges and universities; including University of Technology Sydney, Diponegoro University (Indonesia) and University of Western Sydney.

Known for motivating and supporting writers to finish what they start, each year more of Jan’s participants find themselves securing major publishing contracts. Some of them include: Margaret Wilcox, Gone (Penguin); Anne Lovell, Connie’s Secret (Allen & Unwin); Catherine Therese, The Weight Of Silence (Hachette Livre); Marguerite Van Geldermalsen, Married To A Bedouin (Virago); Margaret Stevenson Meere, The Child in The Lotus (Rockpool); Walter Mason, Destination Saigon (Allen & Unwin); Yvonne Louis, A Brush with Mondrian (Murdoch); Public Life, Private Grief, Mary Delahunty (Hardie Grant). Established writers also receive valuable assistance, like award winning fantasy writer Margo Lanagan, whose novels Tender Morsels (Allen & Unwin, Knopf USA, Johnathon Cape UK) and Sea Hearts (X6 and Prime Books) were supported by Writers Journey workshops.

For more information about Jan and her workshops, visit her website: