Over the last decade, Cambodia has witnessed rapid urban development in many areas.
As tall buildings and thousands of shop houses continue to be built across the country, materials of modern construction are pouring into Cambodia to fulfil the demands of the growing construction sector.
Modern construction materials vary across a huge range; wood, bricks, cement, and metal as the basic necessities, and many other secondary materials such as tiles, porcelain, glass, plastic, paint and rugs. Most of these materials are imported, even hollowed bricks and solid bricks, which can be easily made here in the country.
A 50-year-old owner of Santepheap Brick Factory, located at Bakheng in Russeikeo district, said demand for his bricks vary with the seasons.
“We’re mostly busy only in the dry season,” he said.
“The sales decrease in the rainy season. It’s normal.”
He continued, “This year, sales have decreased because solid and hollowed bricks are being imported from the neighbouring countries. Mostly, more people living in provinces like Kampot, Takeo, Kandal, Prey Veng, Svay Rieng, Kampong Cham, Tbong Kmom, Ratanakiri, and Mondulkiri – areas close to the borders – are using imported bricks.”
When asked what were the factors contributing to locals and businesses using imported construction materials over local ones, he said local bricks are more expensive.
“The production costs in our country are high. We have to pay the electricity, petrol, labour, and transportation costs.”
In terms of quality, however, “It’s comparable, but most [construction workers] tell us that local bricks are stronger than imported bricks.”
He added that building companies are also struggling with a lack of skilled workers. “Right now, we are facing a lack of workers because most young Cambodians are emigrating abroad,” adding that a brick factory worker earns about 20,000 riel ($5) a day but can earn more if they put in overtime work.
Hen Vuthy, head of a family-owned construction firm in Svay Rieng province, who has been in the industry for almost a decade, said, “In fact, if local bricks are heated properly they’re stronger than Vietnamese bricks, but Vietnamese bricks usually have a more even shape, better colouring, and easier when used to set up walls.”
Nonetheless, he said that he still prefers to use Cambodian bricks, even though they are more pricey compared with Vietnamese bricks.
In comparison, Vuthy added, “Most heads of construction at my hometown in Svay Rieng and Prey Veng use bricks imported from Vietnam.”
The price for bricks in Phnom Penh is $285 to $300 for 10,000 bricks, including the transport fee from the factory – around Bakheng – to Phnom Penh.
Vietnamese bricks are not sold as widely in Phnom Penh compared to the provinces, but the price is roughly the same.
Chan Kea, from Kampong Trach in Kampot, had just finished constructing his small house: “I saved up and purchased bricks from Vietnam since the dry season. [A set of] 5,000 bricks cost about $120 to $130.