Driving me mad

February 21, 2013

I was appalled and baffled in equal measure earlier this week, when I heard the news that German sports car maker Porsche is planning to open a showroom in Phnom Penh early next year.  A spokesman said “The Cambodian market is becoming increasingly sophisticated by the day. High-end customers are ready for our premium cars.”

High-end customers? In Phnom Penh? The roads have only recently been paved. The average wage here is less than $2 a day. And in the rainy season, the water will be above the sills of the cars, which, as everybody knows, are preening tosser-mobiles, driven by the sort of genitally disadvantaged middle-aged oafs who give mid-life crises a bad name.

It’s bad enough that Porsche thinks they’ll make money here, and can move it back to Germany to give to their shareholders, but the sad fact is that they’re probably right, and the look-at-me culture that surrounds the super-rich here will probably sucker enough relatives of kleptocrats to stump up for the grisly two-seater blingfest, in a country where five to a moped is the most common form of transport.

It does seem cruel to really flaunt your wealth by driving a 200-mile-per-hour car amongst the potholes in a 20-mile-per-hour city. Perhaps it’s aspirational?

Close to where I work, is a car showroom, all glass walls and sleek steel fittings, which houses a bunch of luxury cars. I’d noticed that the cars didn’t seem to change very much, so in the end I decided to investigate. And it turns out that it’s not a showroom at all, but a private garage, and all the cars are owned by one man.

As it happens, they all belong to Srey Sothea, the head of a local real estate company called 7NG.  When I peered in through the windows earlier today, there was a Hummer, a Smart Roadster, a Dodge Charger, a Porsche Boxter, a Ferrari ($380,000) and a Mercedes SLS ($600,000).


Srey reportedly comes to pick a car for a ride once or twice a week, sometimes with friends or his girlfriend. Then he’ll go for a ride around Phnom Penh. To avoid crashes that could mark the cars’ flawless exteriors, Srey apparently only travels in the centre of an armada of four motorbikes ridden by his bodyguards who make sure the roads stay clear.

“Oh,” I hear you say, “I bet he’s a really good upstanding member of society, who strives to improve the lives of his fellow men.”

Srey is fairly well known in town, not for his ostentatious and silly driving habits, but for forcefully demolishing the homes of residents after refusing to pay them any compensation for their land.

A couple of years ago 7NG Construction physically expelled 152 families in Phnom Penh’s Chamakar Mon district and tore down their homes to develop a commercial site consisting of townhouses and office space. Those residents are now homeless and living without basic necessities. One resident said “there were many authorities, police, and military police standing in front of my house … they suddenly grabbed me and beat me. They even pulled my seven-months’ pregnant wife out and pulled her hair …they beat my arm with the butt of a gun and they hit me in the jaw, which is still swollen…They kicked me all over my body until I rolled over, handcuffed me, and then pulled me to the other side of the road,” the man said.

Srey gets an award from Hu Sen

Srey gets an award from Hun Sen


You can see why Srey might think he needs to travel with bodyguards at all times.


3 Responses to “Driving me mad”

  1. Setsuko Winchester said

    Love this story!

    Sent from my iPad

  2. Lesley MacCulloch said

    I’m trying to think of a suitable comment. I’m still too busy processing the reminder that so many people like this exist and think that what they do is okay. Nay, more than okay…

  3. Richard Ellis said

    Yeah but you wouldn’t go for the Merc……..unless of course you have a penchant for hairdressers.

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