Kamel and Marie-Francoise Chitour.
MOVING to a new country, especially one on an unfamiliar continent, can be a daunting process fraught with problems, not least of which is finding somewhere to live.
This was the very challenge faced by Kamel and Marie-Francoise Chitour recently when they moved halfway around the world from France in search of new adventures.
They were certainly not new to living in far-off places, having recently lived and worked in the Gambia, but they were new to Asia and Cambodia. "We've always had an interest in Asia but never really had the opportunity to come," Kamel said. "Now we are here, and it is wonderful."
One of their main concerns, prior to travelling here, was finding somewhere to live. Not knowing what to expect made the process more formidable.
"I really knew nothing about the type of housing on offer in Phnom Penh," Marie-Francoise said. "I had an image in my head of small houses surrounded by gardens; I'm not sure why, but it was there."
Marie-Françoise made contact, via the internet, with a freelance estate agent in Phnom Penh. It gave her more of an idea of what to expect but was "no substitute for actually looking at places", she said.
They began rectifying that soon after arrival, taking on the hunt for a place of their own. "We were very surprised by the strange layout of some apartments; living room and bedroom on the first floor and kitchen and bathroom on the ground floor," she said. "We couldn't live like that."
Other places they saw were located mid-terrace and were very "dark, claustrophobic, uncomfortable and reached by rickety metal spiral staircases," she added.
Kamel was somewhat alarmed by the security precautions on display around Phnom Penh. "To see barred windows with barbed wire around them and a security guard sat out front made me feel uneasy at first, but now I'm used to it," he said.
They finally found a fully furnished flat with an "accommodating landlady" and moved in the next week. "When I came to see this flat, the first thing I noticed was the amount of space it offered and the sunlight streaming into the living area; two things that are very important for us," Marie-Francoise said.
The main floor contains a large living and dining area and the smaller of the two bedrooms. Complete with an ensuite, it is ideal as a guest room although too small for a "living bedroom", she said.
The kitchen is also on the small side, and is situated at the far end of the house from the living room in true Khmer style.
"We would like a larger kitchen a bit closer to the living room, but we can't have it all," Marie-Francoise said. "Also, we were surprised to see that there was no hot water; we planned to change this but now we've got used to it."
The upper storey hosts a dressing room-cum-study and the master bedroom, which overlooks the living area and balcony. "It is decorated simply and is very light; it's nice to unwind there with a good book or with one of the guidebooks we have on Cambodia, planning our next holiday," she said.
The couple were also more than happy with the way the flat was furnished and decorated. "We like the furniture," Kamel said. "Nicely laid out and not too dominant, it doesn't command one's attention, though we did buy a new throw for the sofa; the original one was a bit neutral."
"The decor is good too, the small Khmer touches are nice, the potted plants give the place a relaxing feel, and I really like the photos that adorn the walls, and the map of Phnom Penh comes in very useful."
No big changes have been made to the flat so far; just a reading lamp, some art reproductions and their latest acquisition - a magic gecko. "I think that it's a nice styling feature and I've been told that it will bring us luck," Marie-Francoise said. "And the colours remind me of the Gambia."
PHOTOS BY JONATHAN ALLISON