Understanding Phnom Penh property types

Cambodia’s capital city has more and more housing built every day, but most Phnom Penh real estate fall into one of six categories: Traditional Khmer houses, Khmer-style shophouses, renovated shophouses, Western apartments, full-service apartments, and freestanding villas.

Cambodian wooden house

Expats romanticize Cambodian wooden houses, but they aren’t easy to find!

Traditional Khmer houses

As Phnom Penh grows, traditional wooden Khmer houses are harder and harder to find in the city. Cambodian wooden houses are made of wood and on stilts (this isn’t the first year Phnom Penh has flooded, after all); traditionally the breezy area under the house was used for hanging hammocks, lounging, and keeping livestock safe. Today, almost all available wooden houses in Phnom Penh have been renovated, and the downstairs will have been turned into a ground floor made from concrete, and many have been turned into restaurants. While the idea of a wooden house is charming, they can be hot and prone to mosquitoes — many expats find themselves spending most of their time in the concrete part of the house because it’s easier to keep cool with air-conditioning.

Cambodian shophouse

The interior of a Cambodian-style shophouse. Simple but functional.

Khmer-style shophouse

The Khmer-style shophouse is one of the most common Phnom Penh property types. Khmer-style shophouses are usually three or four floors high, and are rented either as individual apartments or the entire house. They are long and narrow, and have windows only in the front and back, so the bedrooms may only have internal windows. Kitchens are basic, with a gas burner stovetop and very little, if any, kitchen storage. Bathrooms are similarly basic, with no separate shower and often no windows. Some will have air-conditioning, but often only in the master bedroom. Khmer-style shophouses are affordable and abundant.

Renovated Camodia shophouse

The renovated shophouse: Like a Cambodian shophouse, but better.

Renovated shophouse

This type of apartment has been renovated to offer Western touches to the standard Khmer-style shophouse. Like the Khmer-style shophouse, they are long and narrow – 13 feet by 52 feet, with updated floors, lighting, and modern kitchens. They will always have air-conditioning and are usually quite affordable. Many will come with a washing machine and a fresh coat of paint, as well as Western-style furniture (no wooden couches).

Phnom Penh modern apartment

Modern apartments in Phnom Penh offer a lot of bang for you buck.

Modern apartment

New build Western-style apartments are diverse, covering a wide range of sizes and styles, with features not usually found in shophouses like built-in cooktops, kitchen cabinets, and bathtubs. Most are larger and feel more spacious than shophouses, and are of a significantly higher standard. Phnom Penh currently has a glut of high-rise condos, and many of the modern apartments are found in this type of building. If you’re considering one of these apartments, be sure to check for fire exits, as it’s reported that many of the new condos are not up to international regulation. They are significantly less expensive than luxury apartments, and offer good value for money if you’re looking for something nicer than a shophouse.

Phnom Penh luxury apartment

Phnom Penh luxury apartments or full-service apartments are the cream of the crop.

Full-service apartment

Also called luxury apartments, full-service apartments in Phnom Penh have everything that you’ll find in a Western apartment, but with the addition of a gym and pool, security guard, parking, elevator and included services including cleaning and Internet. Luxury apartments are usually designed to look as Western as possible, and are completely furnished with all necessary (if sometimes tacky) décor and appliances. Full-service apartments are designed with the sort of expat who has a lot of money and won’t be in Cambodia for more than a year or two (think embassy employees). Getting a modern apartment is almost always a better deal, but they are less likely to have a pool.

Phnom Penh villa

A (massive) Phnom Penh villa; they don’t come cheap.


In Phnom Penh, freestanding houses that are not shophouses are always referred to as villas, and usually have at least a small garden. Villas are found in various neighborhoods in Phnom Penh and are just as often used to house businesses and NGOs as expats. In the more central parts of Phnom Penh, well-maintained villas will be snapped up quickly but it’s usually quite easy to find one in Toul Kork and Chroy Changva. Villas are mostly new build, but the occasional restored colonial villa is available. They come both furnished and unfurnished, and are usually significantly more expensive than shophouses.

Want to know more? Check out all of the other Move to Cambodia posts on Cambodia real estate

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