Cambodia and Vietnam are emerging as new economic powerhouses. These once war-torn countries are sloughing off the chains of their embattled history and gaining ground as two of the fastest-growing economies in Asia, attracting impressive inward investment and opening up fresh global markets.
Vietnam is strategically located on the South China Sea stretching North to China, with Cambodia situated to the west along the Gulf of Thailand; both share land borders with each other and with neighbouring countries on the peninsula, including Laos. Manufacturing dominates the economic output in both regions, thanks to the preferential access it offers investors to large and developed markets via the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) Free Trade Area (AFTA).
Cambodia – ‘Factory Asia’
Cambodia’s garment manufacturing expertise puts it at the heart of an established global supply chain, with exports to the EU accounting for 40% of its output, closely followed by the Unites States at 30%. Major multinationals like Gap, Marks & Spencer and Uniqlo have long-standing relationships with contract manufacturers here.
Concerted efforts by the Cambodian government in the 1990s helped to boost its manufacturing profile and promote overseas investment. Today, the garment industry still accounts for a significant percentage of Cambodia’s GDP and the majority of its exports.
This so-called ‘Factory Asia’ economic growth model relies on low-cost labour to provide a competitive export proposition and has lifted millions of people out of poverty across Asia. But it’s not the only contributor to Cambodia’s growth. Services, finance, transport and communications are all driving investment and adding value to the country’s economy. Innovative ventures are also taking the plunge in Cambodia, like Phnom Penh-based brewer Kingdom Breweries.
Vietnam – forging a startup ecosystem
Vietnam is among the fastest-growing nations in the world, due mainly to its annual double-digit rises in manufacturing and exports. It ranks in eighth place in the World Bank’s ‘Ease of Doing Business’ rankings 2018 for the East Asia and Pacific region, and occupies fifth place among its fellow ASEAN countries. But it’s also becoming a magnet for savvy startups, largely as a result of Ho Chi Minh City’s young, vibrant population and entrepreneur community.
The tourism sector is gaining traction and generating many new opportunities for further growth, too. Startup accelerator Mekong Innovative Startup Tourism (MIST) is providing much-needed mentorship to tourism companies across the region, with tourism tech leading the way.
Ho Chi Minh is investing in a Vietnamese version of Silicon Valley. The Saigon Silicon City Centre is attracting investment from a group of high-tech sectors including micro-electronics, IT, telecoms, engineering, biotech and energy, and will host workshops, commission research projects and incubate startups. Tech startup hubs like Dreamplex are also emerging in the capital, while the coastal city of Da Nang is one of only 33 cities worldwide to receive IBM’s ‘Smarter Cities Challenge’ grant to improve infrastructure.
Amazing cultural experiences await
Exploring the rise of Cambodia and Vietnam in the global economy is fascinating stuff but a journey into the region’s cultural history will pay dividends, too.
Phnom Penh’s glorious Royal Palace and Silver Pagoda (Wat Preah Keo Morokat) are itinerary essentials. The Palace serves as the King’s residence, with the pagoda acting as a venue for royal ceremonies and home to a priceless collection of Buddhist and other historical objects.
A Mekong Delta tour offers a glimpse of rural Vietnam, with its tranquil canals, paddy fields and breathtaking landscapes – a sharp contrast to the buzz of the city streets