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New Riches, New Problems in Land Sales

Eth Thang lived happily with her husband until they sold a house and two fields of paddy for $2,000. Eight cars, $10,000 in debt and an absent husband later, she regrets the decision.

Over the past few years, land sales have jumped, creating windfalls for many Cambodians. However, not everyone is spending the new money wisely.

In Phnom Penh, land that once sold for $20 per square meter now sells for $6,000 per square meter. In Siem Reap, Battambang and Sihanoukville, land has gone from $5 per square meter to $2,000 per square meter.

Soung Bunna, a realtor, said recently the high prices were driven by political stability and economic improvement, making people want to live "very clean and modern." But the booming land prices have also meant that some Cambodians have gone into debt, unaware of the dangers of the market.

Other Cambodians have been able to make money, making the rising price of land a good thing, said Kong Chandararoth, an economic analyst and director of the Economic Development Institute.

"It's a way for people who don't have money to have an opportunity," he said. "They can sell and make money. But what will they spend the money on?"

Poor choices after the land sale can have a negative impact, he said.

Eth Thang, who lives about 20 kilometers from central Phnom Penh, in Dangkao district, had a good life two years ago. She and her husband were farmers, spending their days together, tending rice fields.

They had two fields and one house, and another parcel of land not far away, though they had no motorbike or car.

When land hit $2,000 per square meter, they sold the two fields and house, moving to the other piece of land and building a small wooden house on stilts.

Eth Thang bought a motorbike for her children and a car for her husband, she recalled recently.

But it wasn't long before her husband took a mistress, and began changing cars.

He went through eight cars, and now her children are asking her for another motorbike, an expense she can ill afford.

With no paddy and no income, she has been forced to sell her house and borrow $10,000, a debt she still owes.

"Now I've sold the motorbike as well," she told VOA Khmer. "We do not have enough money to buy rice to eat, or for other expenses. My husband has sold the car and expended the money with a young girl."