Friday, September 16, 2011

Boating in Cambodia

First off, there is no boating in the sense we normally understand it in Cambodia. There are a couple of charter boats in Sihanoukville for tourists, notably one run by a Kiwi and an Aussie – a 12m regular fishing vessel, with a small bar, head, and so on. They offer day trips to outlying islands. Other than that, you don’t see a whole lot of recreational fishing.

I am an avid boater and had to do without one for over a year now. I am really itching to get back on the water. Although, to be honest I am not that great a fisherman, this is still my most favorite pastime. People who fish know what I am talking about. There is nothing quite like it if you are out on the water dropping your lines to the bottom and getting that bite and the line starts reeling off like crazy. Of course, those are the great times. The other times are much more frequent though; you just sit there and nothing moves. It’s really frustrating sometimes. You see all those nice fishing reports online accompanied by trophy pictures or even videos of the catch, and you were out there to show zilch for it. The only consolation is that those great reports are usually written by pros – charter captains - this is one way to lure new customers to their business; and they know from long experience where the fish are. We all know the saying ‘You got to fish where the fish are.’ To find that out, though, takes time and patience, not to mention a bit of money for the gas. Those marine motors don’t just sip gas, they guzzle it. Nevertheless, the true fisherman never gives up.

Now if one were to believe boat salespeople the only thing you need is a great boat, preferably big, with big, powerful motors, and the fish will just wait to snap up your bait. Frankly, I succumbed to that sort of persuasion once myself. I got a nice boat that could take me out 100 miles offshore. More often than not, I didn’t come home with dinner for four, maybe for one. At $3.80 a gallon, I had just blown $100 for one fish.

Now I am ready to get back into boating here as well. After all, the main reason I bought land and built a house on a riverbank about 500 m from the open sea was that I could get out quickly, maybe just for a quick spin of an hour or two and head back in, hopefully with a cooler full of fish. But where to get that boat? I had been looking all over the place but apparently the only thing available were those traditional wooden fishing boats that lie low in the water and have a sort of a lawn-mower motor with a driveshaft and propeller attached to them. The bigger ones have Diesel engines; but they normally only produce 30 hp and that doesn’t get you anywhere fast. Those boats are affordable sure enough, but it really isn’t what I was looking for. They go about $2,500 for a smaller one (used with motor) to $20,000 for a bigger, new one as in the picture with a 30hp – Diesel.

10 m traditional fishing boat

Then one day I spotted an ad on – somebody was selling a 10 m traditional boat and a speed boat with twin 200hp Yamahas. The traditional boat was $5,000, if I remember correctly, but it had that diesel engine, bilge pumps, etc., so maybe this was an alternative. The speed boat was $40,000 and with those two motors would have burned a big hole in my pocket. I checked them out both. Not for me.

The seller, a guy named Rob (he won’t mind giving his name here as this will possibly help him) – friendly as he is – pointed me to another outfit in Koh Kong. They had a 22’ center console monohull with a 140hp Yamaha on it, which exactly fits my bill. So off I went to take a look at that boat.

If I ever saw a ‘great’ salesman, here he was. This was a boat made in Thailand by an American. Supposedly, it was new and hardly had any hours on it. The first look I got I thought that thing is at least ten years old. The seats were all mildewy, both outer and inner hull had nicks and scratches, the gelcoat was dull, and signs of rust all over the place. The motor seemed to have been either re-built or at least tuned and serviced lately. Anyway, the owner started by telling me he didn’t like the way the boat was built, e. g. the hull (gunwale) was not smooth, the beam was too narrow, etc., etc. I made that trip for nothing.

Looks good in the picture, but.....

On the positive side, though, this guy – an Aussie just like Rob – imports rigid inflatable (RIB) boats from Australia. They are really nice and I would indeed buy one of those if the price wouldn’t exceed my budget. Which brings me to the question of import duty and taxes. The salesman said he paid $2,500 for that Thai-made boat, but isn’t sure how much it would be now. My guess was that since boats are luxury items just like cars in Cambodia the import duty and tax would be the same, namely 115%.

This is a RIB

Now Rob back in Sihanoukville told me he is starting his own boat-building business in Sihanoukville, and maybe he could help me with that; especially since the approximate price he gave me was exactly within range of my budget. A locally built boat would not be subject to those outrageous duties and taxes. Of course, all the special marine hardware, brackets, etc. would have to be imported, but the duty on those is but a fraction (15% plus 10% VAT). The only downside I found was that the boats were going to be made of fiberglass-encased wood. I am a firm believer in full fiberglass boats; fiberglass doesn’t rot. Hardwood is too heavy for a speedboat, so the plywood used is particularly susceptible to rotting. I read up on that and found that another risk is called ‘delamination’, that is, when and if the fiberglass were to peel off the wood exposing it to water. You really got a problem then. Rob has a partner, Ted, who is the actual boat builder. He hails from Connecticut; and all the coastal states in the U. S. are prime boaters’ country. Ted honestly said he couldn’t deny that but this is where the craftsmanship of the boat builder comes in. You do shoddy work, you will have a problem; you do it right, we will all be happy.

Then my Khmer friend told me of a shop in Phnom Penh that makes full fiberglass boats. He used to work with him when he assisted in building a luxury wooden river cruise boat for a French touring company a few years ago. I looked for him and found him on state road no. 5 to Battambang along the riverside. It was a typical Khmer operation, which doesn’t really instill confidence in foreigners. I am used to that from car repair shops where I have never been let down, so I wasn’t put off too much. He only builds smaller boats up to 16’, 17’. That’s a little too small to go offshore. But he promised me he could help me import any boat I wanted. He also claimed that there is no import duty as Cambodia doesn’t have a code for boats yet. I was quite excited. Maybe, after all, I could get a nice fishing boat from the U. S. and promptly checked online. I found two excellent boats in California. The freight would be around $5,000, but if the tax was halfway like the guy said I was ready to go for it.

I wanted this beauty

He checked with the customs department. That took forever, of course, and in the end he emailed me some sample tax invoices which showed anywhere from 15% plus 10% to 100%. Bottom line, he didn’t really know.

So I contacted one of the larger freight forwarders in town. If they wouldn’t know, who would? As I had suspected import duty, luxury tax, plus VAT comes out at a compounded 115.25%, just as with cars. There went my dream of getting one of those nice boats. Because in the end I would have to shell out something like $40,000 for a boat that would sit idle about 90% of the time. I don’t believe in paying that kind of money for a used car, why should I pay this for a boat? That price is only an average price tag here for a 2008 model, most of them go for $60,000 to $80,000.

After some hard thinking, I made up my mind and ordered that boat from Rob and Ted in Sihanoukville. Here is a model of what it will look like except that it will be a center console and the deck layout as well as the transom will be designed differently. If you are interested in a speedboat for fishing, diving, snorkeling, here is his phone number 016 511 251. Hopefully in 6 to 8 weeks I will be on the water catching snapper.

Something like this

Incidentally, Rob does have quite a bit of experience with boats. First he is the operator of the Beach Club in Ream, where he uses two traditional boats for his guests there. He also has that 32-footer(I believe)with the twin motors, and operates three speed boats at the Sokha Beach Hotel activity center.


Anonymous said...

Do you know anything about import tax if I were to export something into Cambodia? I would give you some commission if you have some idea to make profit? By the way, the Rib boat looks nice, how much is it cost?

KJE said...

I do roughly know the tax code but I am not into importing. You may gleaned from my blog that my business is rubber plantations, both operating as well as consulting.

Anonymous said...

Hello KJE,

Thanks for the times to respond. If anything we could legally make profits, please share with me. I've been advised by many not to invest in Cambodia; however, I'm pretty much resisted because I knew that there are many opportunities there. I'm a junior and a low scale investor, but I considered myself very aggressive. I dream BIG. Life is good when you stay away from any kind of trouble. To be honest, I do enjoy reading your articles. Please keep them up.

Anonymous said...

Hello, thanks for the interesting article.
Have you an email contact for Rob the boat builder?


KJE said...


Adventure Charters Cambodia said...

I've been working for a multi-million dollar resort in Cambodian waters and had a few fibreglass boats under my care. I can tell you right now that repairs, modifications and any kind of equipment is a royal pain in the arse to source in Cambodia. It's all got to come from Thailand and even then it gets a bit tricky with import taxes and the tendency for customs to withhold items until you pay some "extra fees". Cheaper to drive on over there and bring back what's needed on your boat!

I just finished modifying a traditional wooden boat to do charters. I've got plenty of photos online and some construction photos on facebook if anyone's interested.

Adventure Charters Cambodia

Facebook page

I did most of the work myself and have been living on the boat in the dry dock for the last couple of months, so I've got to know a few tricks of the trade. Happy to divulge a bit (not all!) of information over a beer or two if anyone needs it.

KJE said...

Adventure Charters
Please email me your email-address through my profile.

Ben101 said...

Hi - how did the boat that you ordered work out ??

KJE said...

I am sorry to say. It didn't work out at all. Rob and the fellow who worked for him had a falling-out; the work was interrupted for over a month; I ended up cancelling the order. I must say, though, that Rob did act in the fairest manner throughout. I have now ordered a boat from Vietnam, which will be delivered at the end of January. Once fitted out I will post pics.

Anonymous said...

So how is the new boat...? Oh...I never worked FOR Rob...I was his partner...

KJE said...

Check out the other post about boat I bought.

OpenID LiveJournal WordPress TypePad AOL said...

I love the second to the last photo! So this is what your boat looks like? I think it’s pretty cool. I hope it also has the same color. Lime green is a beautiful shade, and it’s very noticeable, even from afar. I’m sure you already made activity plans for the coming summer. What’s on your list, btw?
Mark Brown

Kim Chanthy said...

I like to go fishing alot in Sihanuk Vile, and I always think of to buy a boat for my own fishing activity. After browse for couple of weeks. I saw a boat fitted for me. It's Pro-line 22 walkaround. This boat look good for salt water fishing with the price less than 20,000$ after shipped to Cambodia. If I can have this boat, I expected to going far more than koh rong sanlem for a nice fishing spot. By the way, if anyone has knowledge about this kind of boat I would really appreciate if you could share your knowledge and experience.

KJE said...

Kim Chanthy
The Proline 22 is a nice boat and is good for going off-shore if the seas aren't too rough. The walk-around, however, has a rather small fishing platform aft. The cuddy cabin is not much used anyway. If you have a chance get a center console. If you want to go overnight, sleep on one of the islands. People here know how to fix Yamaha 2-strokes. I am not sure about the inboard/outboards, e. g. the Mercury, or the Penta. The price of $22,000 landed here seems kind of low, what with 115.325% import duty and tax plus around $2,000 fees in port. If that boat is less than $10K in the U. S. I would double-check whether it is still seaworthy. Depending on the mode of shipping you are looking at least at $5,000 from the West Coast, a lot more from the East Coast; I don't think it will fit into a container. It is not easy to import or buy a boat here.

Sambath PHO said...

You can buy in Phnom Penh, our company bought the boat last few months, 3k for small n 10k for big one. Welcome to Golden Siver

Jeands said...


Not too sure if you are still in Boat building and got organised with fibreglass work ... Just in case, I have a mold for a 10' catamaran, several hulls and lots of spare parts such as aluminium profiles for both beam and mast and many other accessories in stainless steel. I also have 3 complete new cats and 3 used ones but without sails.

In case you would be interested, please call at 012 807 001. I am going to sell which ever boat I can and trash the rest.