Thursday, October 08, 2009

Phnom Penh – Where Old Camrys Go to Die

What do you call a country where everything is priced in US dollars, where a beer costs just $1 (.75 during happy hour) but signs in English warn you to not patronize the country’s infamous child sex industry? Here’s a hint, I found it in my hotel room but I’m seeing it all over town:

Phnom Penh - Cambodia Welcomes Responsible Tourists

Cambodia is still recovering from wars involving the United States, its neighbor to the east Vietnam and a civil war which culminated in a genocide that wiped out a generation and targeted anyone with any knowledge (doctors, teachers, engineers) about anything beyond day to day farming and peasantry for death.  2 million Cambodians perished at the hands of their countrymen.

Here's a story that ties obvious corruption and a convicted Russian pedophile in one nasty little package: Pedophile Was Permitted To Leave Prison  Why?  To go visit one of his many investments,of course.

The present government of Cambodia is a corrupt mess but I’m sure that most Cambodians find that preferable to the genocidal government that it replaced.  So Cambodia is a land of dollar beer and no local industry to speak of other than tuk-tuk taxi driving and child prostitution.  So why are the streets choked with Lexus cars, motorbikes and tuk-tuks?  And why are a majority of the cars I see in Phnom Penh Toyotas and why are the lions share of those Lexus SUV’s and Toyota Land Cruisers and Camrys yet there are no Honda Accords (but plenty of Honda CRV’s)?  

But wait, it gets stranger.  The Camrys are all American spec with US 2.5 MPH bumpers and I’d bet every last one of them popped out of Toyota’s assembly plant in Georgetown, Kentucky.  They look very different from the Thai assembled Camrys I saw in Bangkok and that Toyota sells in most of the world outside of North America.  I rode in one from the Phnom Penh airport to my hotel and noticed that the speedo showed MPH, not KPH.  Then I started noticing that some of the Camrys on Phnom Penh’s streets carried stickers on their rumps from dealers in places like Miami, FL and Norman, OK.  A few had California license plates, one a Colorado tag.  I’ve combed through the Internet and other travelers have noticed the dominance of the Camry here but nobody has an explanation why. 

My best guess is that these Camrys were indeed built and bought either new or more likely used in America by Cambodians or Cambodian Americans and sent home to the rest of the family. That would also explain the Toyota Tacomas I’m seeing.  Outside of North America the Toyota pickup is known as the Hi-Lux and I’ve seen a few of those along with a few other North America only models such as the Toyota Matrix.

I have no explanation for all of the Toyota Land Cruisers I see in Phnom Penh in both Toyota and Lexus dress.  Most are late model and the Land Cruiser sells for around $65,000 new in the US, the Lexus variant costs around $76,000.  They have big thirsty V-8’s, all of this in a country with next to no economy and no Lexus dealers.


Stephen said...

"So Cambodia is a land of dollar beer and no local industry to speak of other than tuk-tuk taxi driving and child prostitution."

Dude, that is a controversial comment. In defense of the Cambodians, they have a growing garment sector. They are also a net rice exporter. Very soon there will also be a significant energy and resources sector. I am a private equity investor in Cambodia and believe that this unfair perception people have of frontier markets is what makes them such great business opportunities. I am highly optimistic that Cambodia will become the next China. There are good years ahead in China.

Furthermore, my guess as to why they like American cars is because Americans and Cambodians share in common the practice of driving on the right hand side of the road, as opposed to the Thais to drive on the left hand side.

Bjelke said...

I am in Phnom Penh right now and is also amazed by all of these cars, primarily Lexus and Toyota SUVs. Is there nobody with a proper solution?