Post-COVID, Cambodia is Back in Business

Worker is seen at an overpass construction in Phnom Penh. Photo: Soy Rathanakvisal

PHNOM PENH – Eight years ago, when I first came to work in Phnom Penh, the city was buzzing. Cement trucks queued up, blocking traffic on side streets as high-rise buildings sprung up across the capital.

Malls were opening. Optimism was in the air, not least from my landlord who was in his 30s and who had just had my apartment block built.   He told me of his other properties and plans for more.

When I returned six years later, the trucks were gone, as were most of the tourists who propped up the economy.   

Many of the shops in malls were shuttered. One mall had closed as people struggled with the aftermath of COVID-19.

Now, as an outsider, I see new hope springing up all around.  The guest house where I live is getting a new coat of paint.  

Rooms which lay empty are being filled again and I’m greeting more occupants on the stairs. The owners are building a skybar on the roof.

All around the district there is activity.  Restaurants have opened on the streets near me. House construction and renovation is in full swing. I can hear hammering on a building site as I write this.

And it’s not just me who has noticed it. 

“I have seen an increase in construction with more high-rise buildings,” said Thun Senghong, who covers international economics for ThmeyThmey. 

“I see more events.  We have more parties and weddings and other events like exhibitions and fairs.

“Retail has started up again.  During COVID-19 there was not much.  New shops have started up. Tourism has recovered, too, with more people visiting provinces.

“I see a lot of students at universities and private schools opening a lot of programs to newly enrolled students.”  

Torn Chanritheara, deputy editor in chief of Cambodianess, said, “The streets are busier.  I have noticed in the evenings the greater presence of electric vehicles.  

“We have Teslas but I mostly see cars made by the Chinese BYD company.”

Fellow journalist Nhor Sokhoeurn said, “On Sunday of last week I went to Wat Phnom and saw many tourists, more than I expected.  They were from countries such as France and China.”

Po Sakun, who covers cultural affairs for ThmeyThmey, said she had seen an increase in activity by young film makers.

Economists’ growth predictions for Cambodia this year vary but most are in the 5-6 percent range. The prestigious Economist Intelligence Unit forecast that the country’s real GDP growth will accelerate to 6.1 percent in 2024 after an estimated 5.2 percent growth in 2023.

It says manufacturing activities will benefit from closer supply-chain links with China and Vietnam. 

“The tourism sector will also recover more strongly, driven by key source markets such as Thailand, Vietnam and China.”

The Asia Development Bank puts this year’s growth at 6 percent, a big jump from three percent in 2021, while the government forecasts 6.6 percent growth. 

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