Phnom Penh Show In April: Cambodia Alive

By Thom Calandra

PHNOM PENH -- There is some harmony in my visit to Cambodia, a nation of 14 million and neighbour to Vietnam, Laos and Thailand.

[caption id="attachment_1394" align="alignleft" width="300" caption="Tuk-tuks can outpace taxis in Phnom Penh"][/caption]

Cambodia’s prospecting fields of gold, copper, molybdenum, zinc ... are for me the steppe lands of Mongolia in 2002; the Middle Cauca of Colombia in 2006. Ghana’s Kibi Gold Belt in 2007.

I like to be first, or almost first, in a place that is largely unknown to resources investors. That's why I invest in Colombia, Sierra Leone, Ethiopia.

It's not just resources that ignite me in this polite yet poor country of over-achievers in southeast Asia. It's the buzz here in the capital (see photo). The people, the quality of the roads, the number of cellular towers across the landscape -- no hype here. Real feel, and maybe a tenth of the smog that comes with Asia capital cities.

Phnom Penh is Ulan Bator 10 years ago. Maybe Jakarta 20 years ago. Freetown in Sierra Leone today.

Cambodia is still cheap. Its citizens all seem to understand how to make a buck, or 4,000 riels as the case may be. Everyone -- cassava farmers, local geologists, tuk-tuk drivers -- is trying to make something of their lives; no one I met was on the make.

I am here on the planet mostly to understand misunderstood and sometimes maligned places. Write a little. Make some money if I can.

Joe Martin and Cambridge House are hoping you can join the Cambodia Investment Summit in late April. The folks who have this country wired, including Australian investor Richard Stanger and Cambodia editor Stuart Alan Becker, are staging the show in Phnom Penh. I'll be there. So will Joe Martin and many of our Canadian, USA and European friends.

I know it's a 12-hour trip from the western USA and Canada. More from other parts of North America. But I am going back.

I am going back not just to check on my shareholder stake in Angkor Gold, the only Canada-traded gold and copper junior explorer in Cambodia. (See: Thom @ Large In Cambodia.) I also am returning 1) to see those kids at Borkeo High School way up in Angkor Gold portfolio land, these kids who were so eager to absorb everything we had to give 'em: language, algebra, a "never say never" spirit that to my knowledge did not come from the Justin Bieber concert movie of the same name. (Photo: Mike Weeks and the high-schoolers); 2) to meet some of the Cambodians, Vietnamese, Laotians, New Zealanders and others who cobbled together Cambodia's mining laws, its free-wheeling telecom landscape, its fledgling banks, its farms, real estate developers, medical professionals and overall, investors.

[caption id="attachment_1398" align="alignleft" width="300" caption="Mike Weeks of Angkor Gold and those high-schoolers"][/caption]

I know this is not exactly what an economist or a telecom salesman or a prospector wants to read about an investment conference in a fresh land. But I am a serious investor, mostly in resource companies, and I have my own methods of "trying out" a new country skin.

This past month, I participated in various community efforts at medical clinics; the high school that Angkor Gold (ANK in Canada) and Canada supporters are assisting; and a hospital, all organized by Mr. Weeks, by Mike's wife, Delayne, and by RIchard Stanger, who serves as founder and chairman of the Cambodia Association of Mining & Exploration Companies.

Angkor I am informed means “city” in the Khmer language. Mr. Stanger, a tall, somewhat reserved Aussie, is recognized by businessmen and businesswomen throughout the nation. Mr. Stanger’s CAMEC has about 25 miners, drillers, labs and assorted Cambodian resource companies supporting it. Many of those will be attending the Cambodia Investment Summit in late April.

I look to return in April for what looks like a benchmark investment show organized by the capital city’s Phnom Penh Post newspaper and special sections editor Stuart Becker. Mr. Becker serves as a kind of gateway into Cambodia investing; he knows the miners, the bankers, the technologists. (Please see details.) I know those who attend will get two days that will set them straight about commerce of all types in Cambodia.

The new Sofitel Hotel in the capital will host the affair. It's gorgeous, elegant and cheap as all heck.

Mr. Weeks and his Angkor Gold will arrange property tours of company holdings. With luck, those on board might even get to swim across an 800-meter wide volcanic lake, as I did almost every day I was here. Joe Martin of Cambridge House thinks Myanmaris a possible next-stop for those who wish to stay an extra week. He's there now, checking out remote Chan province and the wealth of culture and resources in former Burma.

(Photo: Joe Martin and a weaver who is wearing the golden neck brace commonly seen on women in these parts -- Mariellen Martin photo)


[caption id="attachment_1399" align="alignnone" width="300" caption="Mr. Martin in Myanmar with a weaver and her golden full-metal necklace"][/caption]

That is about all for now. We'll have more from Stuart Alan Becker, from Mr. Martin, Mr. Stanger and Mr. Weeks, an avid runner and swimmer born and raised in upper Alberta.

I can't guarantee you'll make money in Cambodia, although I think I quickly am understanding why Angkor Gold and other minerals prospectors will have their hands fulll in coming months, cataloging drill core and performing electromagnetic, geophysical and geochemical surveys on their vast holdings in once war-torn Cambodia.

The two new assay labs in the capital city look to get busy real quick now, I would guess.

I can guarantee that you will see wedding tents lining the streets and highway; scooters and China-made motorbikes carrying improbable loads of five-dozen chickens, a week’s worth of cassava, a family of five. Mostly, I think you'll see a lot of hard-working Cambodians, men, women, children. Even the water buffalo put in seven-day work weeks.

– Thom Calandra’s has appeared in newspapers (San Francisco, London, New York), newsletters, magazines and across the Web. He is a founder of CBS MarketWatch, now Dow Jones MarketWatch. He also founded Ticker Trax for Stockhouse of Canada. His work can be seen at, which is a Torrey Hills Capital service. Thom also writes for the publisher of this article, Cambridge House Café, which is a service of Joe Martin’s Cambridge House conference presenter. Thom supports the non-profit and prolific Gold Antitrust Action Committee at He will be moderating a mining panel at the Cambodia Investment Focus conference in late April. For more, please see: