Construction boom Phnom Penh Cambodia

Cambodia: Mekong River Sunrise Cruise… and an insight into Chinese investment in the region

Date: 12 May 2018

After spending all of yesterday visiting Choeung Ek genocidal center, Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum and exploring other sights in Phnom Penh, we woke up really early to go for a sunrise cruise on the Mekong river. I booked the tour with Memorable Cambodia. It cost $20 per person for the 5:30am trip.

Early morning Mekong cruise
We were picked up from our hotel by a tri-cycle taxi the tour company organized for us and dropped off near the starting point
Mekong cruise boat seats
The cruise boat was two decks but we were the only passengers so it was pretty much a private cruise for us. We went to the upper deck.
Cambodia sunrise Mekong river
When we set off, the sun had just opened its eyes
Mekong river ferry service Phnom Penh
Cambodians were starting their day
Ferry service Phnom Penh
Many ferry boats were transporting passengers and vehicles from one side of the river to another

While we were served juices and freshly cut fruits, I could not help but notice the stark contrast between the two sides.

Construction boom Phnom Penh Cambodia
This side of Phnom Penh you had several tall buildings coming up

The minute I stepped out of Phnom Penh airport, I could not help but notice the amount construction going on in the city, much of it by Chinese companies. There are projects funded by Korean and Japanese companies too but the Chinese investment far outnumbered those.

I used the opportunity of having a local Phnom Penh resident (who could also speak English) with us to ask him about China’s growing presence in his country. I started by asking him about the high rise apartment buildings coming up in Phnom Penh.

Cambodia tour guide
I’m blurring his face… when you get to the part about Hun Sen, you’ll know why

He told me most of these luxury apartments are built by Chinese companies for Chinese buyers. Only a few Cambodians can afford them so the majority are bought by Mainland Chinese as real estate investments and only a few migrating to Phnom Penh. He told me about how some Chinese are buying multiple apartments, sometimes an entire floor of apartments to spend their new found wealth (and in some cases, illicit wealth too). Reading about Chinese buying apartments in Phnom Penh — it’s certainly not cheap. According to this Reuters article from 2018, the average going rate is $350 (Rs. 24,000) per square feet. Very expensive considering the average Cambodian in Phnom Penh earns less than $1000 per month. But as stated, Cambodians are not the primary customer target for these builders.

Chinese buying property abroad is nothing new. They are now amongst the highest buyers of property in places like Vancouver, UK, Australia, Singapore and United States. Buying expensive property (or property that foreigners are eligible to buy) is usually a path to migration and many Chinese are taking advantage of it, especially the newly rich and upper middle class. Those who can’t afford the global cities of the “first” world are looking to countries like Cambodia, where property is still cheaper than the big Chinese cities like Shanghai, Beijing and Shenzhen.

Our host was a young college graduate who after completing his degree in tourism, he and his batchmates started a tourism company. He also had a lot to say about Cambodia’s “corrupt politicians” in power and how they are basically “selling Cambodia” to the Chinese. It may sound like an exaggeration coming from the youth complaining about politicians but when you hear about how in 2008, a Chinese company was granted a 99-year lease to around 20% of the kingdom’s total coastline at the modest price of US$30 per hectare, he’s not that wrong to think that way.

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Cambodia: Phnom Penh Central Market and Wat Phnom

Date: 11 May, 2018

After spending our morning at Choeung Ek genocidal center and then the afternoon at Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum, we took a tuk-tuk to get to Phnom Penh’s Central Market.

Suzuki showroom Phnom Penh
It was around 5pm in Phnom Penh
Auto taxi Phnom Penh Cambodia
Indian-made auto rickshaws are now quite common in Cambodia
Alley Phnom Penh city street
We got a chance to ride through alleyways of Phnom Penh
Vattanac tower Central Market Phnom Penh
We were dropped just outside Central Market. The tall tower in the background is Vattanac Capital — currently the tallest building in Cambodia. Vattanac is a Cambodian bank.
Fruits central market Phnom Penh
The central market was choc full of shops selling fresh foods
Seafood Central market Phnom Penh
What was shocking was the price of seafood and even things like grilled chicken

Either meat is expensive in Phnom Penh or the sellers were quoting ‘tourist prices’ whenever we asked “how much”. Maybe the items are cheaper for locals.

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Tuol Sleng prison cells Cambodia

Cambodia: S21, the Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum

Date: 11 May, 2018

We began our morning visiting the infamous “Killing Fields” — Choeung Ek genocidal center. It wasn’t a pleasant place but it’s what most foreign tourists coming to Phnom Penh see without fail. Well, that and S21 — the Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum — which is where we were headed next.

Phnom Penh trike bridge
We asked the tricycle taxi driver to drop us off at Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum next
Phnom Penh countryside
We were going back the same way we came
Phnom Penh highway Cambodia
This is Chamkar Doung Street
Cambodia riding opposite direction
Another reminder Cambodia is no better than India — yes, our driver was riding in the opposite direction of traffic
Tuol Sleng Genocide museum entry fee
We had a quick lunch from an eatery nearby and then entered the Tuol Sleng genocide museum

Entry costs $8 per adult with an audio guide. It’s $5 without the audio guide device.

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