Magazine for Porsche enthusiasts • year 15 • quarterly • February/March 2019 • 57
FROM CAMBODJA TO VIETNAM WITH MEKONG PANDAW
Mekong Pandaw: in slow motion from Cambodia to Vietnam. 2
text: kathleen van bremdt - photos: kathleen van bremdt & sven hoyaux
No river is as fascinating as the mighty Mekong. The stream rises in the Tibetan plateau, runs through six countries and ends after 4,909 kilometres via the Mekong delta in Vietnam where it flows into the South China Sea. The brown river brings us from the serene tranquillity of Cambodia to bustling Vietnam. It is also a journey from one Porsche Centre to another, because for the first time in the history of Porschist we build a bridge between two Porsche Centres: the Phnom Penh Centre in Cambodia and the Saigon Centre in Vietnam. The result: strong photo shoots and an interview with two enthusiastic Porsche CEOs.
Raffles Grand Hotel d’Angkor in Siem Reap
The colonial hotel Raffles Grand Hotel d' Angkor dates back to 1932.
The smell is of lemongrass, white lilies and furniture wax. A doorman dressed in beautiful livery has just opened the heavy door of the Raffles Grand Hotel d'Angkor for us. The colonial hotel dates back to 1932 and has been renovated over the years with a great amount of care for the preservation of authentic architecture and grandeur. From the impressive soft yellow façade with light blue shutters, the spacious lobby and the black and white tiled hallways to the guest rooms with their wooden floors and softly purring ceiling fans: the whole hotel radiates pure elegance. Hanging on the walls are yellowing photos of Charlie Chaplin, President John F. Kennedy and Charles de Gaulle. These are just a few of the global greats who have stayed at this hotel during their visit to Cambodia. Recently, Michelle Obama was a guest here. We are spoiled and are allocated the beautiful private villa in which the former first lady and her entourage have resided.
Apsara's: “celestial nymphs of unrivalled beauty who could enchant the gods with their dances”
THE DANCE OF THE GODS Five of them stand in a row: beautifully decked out in colourful silk costumes and with impressive, golden tiaras on their heads. Motionless, they balance on one leg, while the foot on the other leg point upwards at a right angle. When the music starts to play, the dancers move virtually soundlessly across the stage with smooth, but precise movements. The extremely flexible fingers fan out in complex positions. The way the fingers are folded so that they practically touch the wrist is the hallmark of traditional Cambodian apasara dance that is as old as the temples of Angkor. According to Hindu mythology, apsaras were celestial nymphs of unrivalled beauty who could enchant the gods with their dances. Today, the enchantment still succeeds wonderfully.
Performance traditional Cambodian ballet
Thick trunks rise up like giants from the ruins of the Ta Prohm temple.
10 The beauty of Angkor Wat, the biggest temple complex of the world
THE IMPRESSIVE LEGACY OF A LOST CIVILIZATION The sleepy town of Siem Reap in the northwest of Cambodia is just a stone's throw away from the famous temple complex of Angkor. Angkor was once the capital of the powerful empire of the Khmer (802-1431), an empire that extended over an immense area that included both the present Cambodia, Thailand, Laos and parts of Malaysia and China during its peak in the 12th century. That the Khmer were excellent builders can still be seen today. Each king, in an attempt to surpass his predecessor, built an even more beautiful and larger temple, which led to an exceptional concentration of beautiful buildings. Hundreds of temples are spread across an area of 400 km2. In 1993, the area was placed on the UNESCO World Heritage List..
“This is grander than all that was left to us by the Greeks or Romans." Henri Mouhot, 1860
ANGKOR, W(H)AT? You would need a week to visit all the temples of Angkor Archaeological Park. Because we only have two days, we limit ourselves to the top three: Angkor Wat, Angkor Thom and Ta Prohm. Angkor Wat is the largest and therefore the most famous temple. Although temple is an understatement, because the immense building is a city in itself. When the French world traveller and naturalist Henri Mouhot discovered the ruins in 1860, he wrote in his diary: "This is grander than all that was left to us by the Greeks or Romans." Thanks to the rectilinear structure, the complex remains orderly. We climb the steep, worn out stairs and effortlessly move from one part of this home of the Gods to the other. The stunningly detailed bas-reliefs depict a world of Hindu gods, celestial nymphs and warring monarchs. We also spend some time in Angkor Thom, a complex of five temples inside a broad wall. In contrast to the linear Angkor Wat, here we end up in a warren of corridors and rooms. For the first time here, architects applied Buddhist elements to their creations. In the centre of Angkor Thom we find the Bayon, the temple with many mysteriously smiling faces. We look at them and smile back. The images represent the 'buddha of compassion' and it is always a good idea to make sure he is well-disposed towards you.
UNDER THE SPELL OF THE TREES Out of all the temples, the Tam Prohm fascinates us the most. This is Angkor pur sang as it was discovered by Mouhot: almost completely overgrown and occupied by the jungle. Thick trunks rise up like giants from twisted roofs, trees grow out of cracks and joints, and colourful mosses thrive on the crumbly stones. Nature is inexorable here. Most of the Angkor temples have been made accessible by 'liberating' them from the jungle, but man has hardly intervened here. The imposing fig and kapok trees, the roots of which spread like long, jagged tentacles over the walls, are centuries old.
MEKONG PANDAW: EEN RIVIERBOOT
MEKONG PANDAW: A RIVER BOAT WITH COLONIAL ALLURE
Our trip has started in a fantastic way with the visit to the Angkor complex and the remainder promises to be just as fascinating. As soon as we embark on the Mekong Pandaw we chill out by several degrees and become 'zen'. The soft breeze on board makes the blanket of heat more bearable and the panoramic view of the wide Mekong river caresses our senses. Pandaw River Expeditions is the brainchild of Scot Paul Strachan. Twenty-five years ago, this man set out the ambitious plan to revive the famous Burmese Irrawady Flotilla Company. Today, the shipping company operates sixteen ships and offers fantastic river adventures in Southeast Asia and India. Like all the ships in the fleet, the Mekong Pandaw was modelled after the beautiful paddle steamers of yesteryear, although the rotating paddles have now been replaced by powerful engines. Shiny teak, copper and brass and a spacious promenade deck create a wonderful colonial atmosphere. Catherine Deneuve, in her role as Eliane from the film Indochine, would feel completely at home here. The MP - as she is affectionately called by the crew - with a length of 60 meters and a width of 11 meters – is elegance personified. The 24 cabins are very comfortable and surprisingly spacious.
Mekong Pandaw: small, luxurious and with a delightful colonial atmosphere. The fantastic crew of the Mekong Pandaw ship
The Breitling Cinema Squad Brad Pitt Adam Driver Charlize Theron
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A PHOTO SHOOT OFF THE BEATEN TRACK Today’s itinerary includes Koh Okna Tei or Silk Island. The island is – as is evident from the name - known for its silk production. From worm to weaver, this is definitely a process that is worth discovering, but we have other plans. Captain Le Van Nhien skilfully manoeuvres the Mekong Pandaw to the shore and ties up. A beautiful Macan appears out of the tall grass along the shore and drives towards the boat. It was a Herculean task to get the Porsche on to the island, but thanks to the fantastic cooperation of Keovattey Ngoun, the marketing and PR supervisor of Porsche Centre Phnom Penh, it has all worked out beautifully. The image of the stylish Macan in front of the white balustrades of the traditional Pandaw is simply a match made in heaven..
Keovattey Ngoun together with the Macan and the Mekong Pandaw on the picture
TRAVELPORSCHIST RURAL CAMBODIA In the same way that a train journey leading past the back yards of houses tells you more about a country than a trip on the motorway, so the views of life that takes place along the river banks during a cruise on the Mekong provides the most authentic image of the country in which we find ourselves. Nestled in the broad wicker deckchairs, we watch the passing Cambodian landscape. Mothers wash their children in the river, fishermen throw their nets out from wobbly small boats and farmers grow rice on immense green fields. Now I know my ABCs, next time won’t you sing with me? ... The cheerful tune from which almost all children in the world learn their first English words rises up into the air from a small school. Lured by the clear children's voices we moor on the island of Koh Trong and pop into a school. Thirty olive-skinned cute faces look up at us. Cambodian children are particularly endearing because of their slender physique and dark eyes. We have a chat with them which, despite their still limited knowledge of English, succeeds wonderfully. The teacher watches us with an amused smile.
A school in the little village of Koh Trong
PHNOM PENH: A CITY WITH MANY FACES Phnom Penh is still one of the undiscovered cities of Asia. The capital of Cambodia is a vibrant city where chaos and charm go hand in hand. The Silver Pagoda which owes its name to the five thousand silver tiles, the Royal Palace and the National Museum with its extensive collection of Khmer objects are some of the most important sights. Of course, for us, the hypermodern Porsche Centre also belongs on that list. CEO Graeme Hunter receives us warmly. Over a cup of coffee, we talk about the origins and future of Porsche in Cambodia. Still completely overwhelmed by the Raffles Grand Hotel d'Angkor in Siem Reap, we deviate from our Pandaw programme and spend the night in the equally prestigious Raffles Hotel Le Royal in Phnom Penh. This building also effortlessly interweaves the glamour of times gone by with contemporary comfort. In the colonial Elephant Bar one can still order the house cocktail 'Femme Fatale' which was blended especially for Jacqueline Kennedy as a result of her visit in 1967, and the renowned restaurant Le Royal is the most elegant fine dining restaurant in Phnom Penh by far. Michelle Lee, the sympathetic sales and marketing manager, has a surprise in store for us. She has actually arranged a conversation with H.R.H. Princess Sita Norodom, granddaughter of the previous king of Cambodia Norodom Sihanouk and half-sister of the current king Norodom Suhamoni. We are impressed. Quickly, we look up some information about her. Her biography is a captivating tale with many twists. You can read her story further on in this magazine.
The Independence Monument in Phnom Penh
20 The Killing Fields recall the many atrocities of the Khmer Rouge.
During the Khmer Rouge regime (1975-1979), 1.8 million Cambodians died.
THE SCARS OF THE PAST It is difficult to believe that in a country with such a proud history, one of the most horrific periods in recent world history took place just 50 years ago. The rock-hard experiment by Pol Pot to completely destroy Cambodian society and bring it back to 'the year zero' to then turn in into an agrarian, communist Utopian state, had catastrophic consequences. During the Khmer Rouge regime (1975-1979), 1.8 million Cambodians died of starvation, torture, executions and forced labour. The entrance building at the Killing Fields displays countless skulls, layered according to age in large showcases: a macabre testimony of the genocide. People who were killed because they were intellectual, spoke a foreign language or even because they wore glasses. Tuol Sleng, a former university, is also a place of human suffering. There is little to see in the empty classrooms, but if the walls could speak, they would tell horrific tales about the heinous things that took place here when Pol Pot's security department used the building as a prison (S-21) and torture chamber. With a lump in our throat, we wander through the spaces.
WHAT IS THE CONDITION OF CAMBODIA TODAY? Today's Cambodia is in full development, but is still licking its wounds. The country has been a monarchy again since 1993, but it is Prime Minister Hun Sen, who has been firmly in charge for thirty-four years now. Much to the annoyance of most Cambodians who are more than tired of his corrupt and authoritarian regime. “In economic terms, Cambodia lags behind Vietnam by 35 years and by 50 years when compared to Thailand”, says our guide Kinal. At the last election in July 2018 there was a moment of hope for change when everything indicated that the biggest opposition party, the Cambodia National Rescue Party, would manage to unseat Hun Sen from power. But two weeks before the election day, the man cunningly dissolved the party on the grounds of treason. “An election in which the main opposition party is unfairly side-lined, is a sham”, Rhona Smith, employee of the UN Human Rights Council, commented. The Cambodians watch in dismay how their country is descending into an open dictatorship.
Wide rivers and narrow channels alternate in the fascinating Mekong delta.
THEN VIETNAM IS INDEED DOING BETTER Vietnam, too, has a turbulent past, but thanks to successful economic reforms is succeeding in recovering. We notice the difference immediately once we have passed the border marking - which is no more than a yellow wall with the flag of the neighbouring countries on either side. The activity on the Mekong increases immediately. We share the river with countless cargo ships, loaded so full of rice or sand that they barely manage to stay afloat on the water. Rows of bright blue fishing boats are moored on the shore. Gradually the decor along the bank undergoes a metamorphosis. Gone are the rickety stilt houses, the numerous washing lines with colourful textiles and the children who are playing in the river and enthusiastically waving at us. Factories, high-rise buildings and silos rise up and the number of electricity poles and transmission masts increases spectacularly. The modern world is closing in with every mile we travel downstream.
The Mekong delta is a world on its own.
AN OASIS OF GREENERY Just for a moment longer, we escape the crowds. In a sampan we explore the many channels of the vast Mekong delta. We sail past fish farms and sleepy villages. In Gao Giong we glide under a canopy of immense water coconut trees. A dreamlike world where colourful birds nest. The Vietnamese Trinh quietly steers the narrow boat. The quintessential conical hat balances on her head. Back on board the Pandaw, with a cocktail in our hands, we watch the sun setting over the city skyline that is waiting for us.
SHOULD WE SAY SAIGON OR HO CHI MINH? Like Cambodia, Vietnam belonged to the large French territory of Indochina in the 19th century. In that period the city was called Saigon. After the reunification of North and South Vietnam in 1976, the name was changed to Ho Chi Minh City, referring to the North Vietnamese revolutionary Ho Chi Minh, founder of the Communist Party and President of North Vietnam from 1945 to 1969. Although Ho Chi Minh City is still the official name, many Vietnamese prefer the name Saigon. The way in which the city is now developing is at any rate a long way away from the sober egalitarianism that Ho Chi Minh had in mind in his time. Today’s Saigon is a hungry city where construction projects follow each other at a rapid pace. It is therefore the largest city in Vietnam, even if it is not the capital. The capital is Hanoi, in the north of the country. In the city district where our hotel is located, only the most expensive luxury brands adorn the shop windows. The Park Hyatt is a magnificent hotel with an impressive art collection and an equally impressive number of employees who provide impeccable service. It is the meeting place for the fashionable society members who walk in casually on towering heels, complete with their large shopping bags.
Statue of Ho Chi Minh in Phnom Penh
alloux, luxereizen voor drukbezette mensen Wie op zoek is naar een high-end reiservaring kan terecht bij Alloux, een reisbureau gespecialiseerd in echte luxereizen. Drukbezette mensen hebben vaak geen tijd om zelf hun reis te regelen. Daarom biedt Alloux inspirerende luxereizen aan: van een ballonvaart boven de duizend tempels van Bagan, een safari door de sneeuwvelden tijdens de Aurora Borealis tot het ontdekken van de mooiste tempels van Angkor Wat. Laat je verleiden door unieke ervaringen, beelden om van weg te dromen. Stuk voor stuk zijn het unieke belevenissen waarbij de beste verblijfplaatsen en mooiste locaties werden geselecteerd. Echte reisontwerpen. Alles wordt tot in de puntjes verzorgd. Je hoeft je nergens zorgen over te maken behalve misschien over de tijd die te snel voorbijvliegt. Duikt er toch een probleem op, dan kan je de klok rond op Alloux rekenen.
Praktisch Bekijk alle reizen op www.alloux.com. Mail naar email@example.com voor meer informatie. Sint-Benedictusstraat 28 te Mortsel Enkel op afspraak.
Reizen heeft voor mij minder met een bestemming te maken en veel meer met een beleving.
THE SCENE OF WAR AND VIOLENCE But Saigon too has been the tragic scene of grim combat and brutal violence. Still fresh in memory is the Vietnam War (1955 - 1975), at least so called by the West. In Vietnam itself it is called the American War: a war between the United States-oriented South Vietnam and the communist North Vietnam backed by the Soviet Union and China. The war dragged on for twenty years. In the name of freedom and the fight against communism, the most violent bomb and poison attacks in history to date were carried out. In the end, despite the help of the American military, the South Vietnamese army was unable to deal with the stubborn opposition of the thousands of Vietcong guerrilla fighters. On 30 April 1975, the last Americans left Saigon by helicopter.
The shocking photo of the 'napalm girl' captured the madness of the Vietnam War.
TESTIMONIES OF THE WAR YEARS In the War Remnants Museum - besides many other photos from the darkest period of Vietnam – also hangs that one iconic photo from 1972 that shook the world. The photo shows a naked girl who is totally distraught, her arms wide open and screaming loudly in pain, walking straight at the camera. An immense sea of flames can be seen in the background. The shocking image of Kim Phuc - the 'Napalm Girl' as she was soon called - captured the horrible war madness and led to worldwide protest against the Vietnam War. Even now the sight of the image immediately moves us. The Reunification Palace is also connected to the Vietnam War. The rectangular concrete colossus from the sixties is certainly not the most attractive building in the city, but it is here that the capitulation of Saigon took place. In the early morning of 30 April 1975, a North Vietnamese army tank broke through the cast-iron fences. The attack meant the end of the Vietnam War. The building has subsequently remained untouched and now serves as a museum.
The most famous picture of the Vietnam War shows the nine year old girl Kim Phuc running naked on a road after being severely burned by a napalm attack. She survived.
30th of April 1975: Storming of the then still named Independence Palace by the North-Vietnameze army.
The Reunification Palace is now a museum.
TWO TOP MODELS IN FRONT OF THE PARK HYATT, THE BEST HOTEL IN TOWN.
After the hard aspects of the past it is time for the beautiful aspects of the present. And they really are beautiful. For the photo shoot of the Porsche Panamera Executive we manage to get one of the very prettiest Vietnamese faces in front of the lens: Linh Khanh Pham, 18 years young and a breathtaking beauty. Her Áo dài (the traditional Vietnamese outfit consisting of a long dress with two high slits worn over silk trousers) fits her like a glove. Although the garment covers her from neck to toe, it reveals more than it conceals because of the tight fit. When the wind plays with the fabric, a small piece of bare belly is momentarily revealed. Can anything be sexier? We also take Linh to the Hotel de Ville, the former French town hall. The yellow walls form the perfect backdrop. As the icing on the cake, the gates of the Reunification Palace also open up readily for the Panamera. Andreas Klingler, the CEO of Porsche Centre Saigon, is extremely satisfied with the photos. Ten years ago, full of healthy ambition, he started building the Porsche brand in Vietnam. We talk to him about the long journey that he and his team have made.
The Park Hyatt is definitely a world-class hotel.
TRAVELPORSCHIST GO WITH THE FLOW... That is what we did and it was fantastic. An unforgettable journey along the banks of the breathtaking Mekong with an infectious mix of history and culture, French flair and Asian authenticity, rural tranquillity and urban craziness, tacit pleasure and inspiring conversations.
GENERAL INFORMATION KINGDOM OF CAMBODIA Area: 181.000 sq km Population: 16 million inhabitants Capital: Phnom Penh Government: a constitutional monarchy operated as a parliamentary representative democracy King: Norodom Sihamoni Prime Minister: Hun Sen Official language: Khmer Travel documents: International passport and visum required
GENERAL INFORMATION VIETNAM Area: 331.000 sq km Population: 96 million inhabitants Capital: Hanoi Government: Socialist republic President: Nguyen Phu Trong Official language: Vietnamese Travel documents: International passport and visum required
Thanks to: - Michelle Lee (Area Director of Sales and Marketing Raffles Hotels & Resorts Cambodja) - Oliver Dudler (Cluster General Manager Raffles Hotels & Resorts Cambodja) - Vincent Gernigon (Hotel Manager Raffles Grand Hotel d’Angkor) - Frederic Boulin (General Manager Park Hyatt Saigon) - Andre Dreyer (Sales and Marketing Manager Pandaw Cruises, www.pandaw.com)
Panamera Executive in front of the Hotel de Ville in Saigon
CEO Porsche Cambodia Scottish roots and tons of management skills
In a country where the roads are not of exactly 'Autobahn' standard and luxury cars are hardly seen in the streets, you may not expect the first building that catches your eye when you leave the international airport to be a shiny Porsche showroom. And yet it is so. Porsche Centre Phnom Penh covers an impressive area of 1,200 km2 and fully complies with the Porsche CI guidelines. Scot Graeme Hunter is the man who put Porsche on the map in Cambodia. Of course, we want to know how he has achieved that.
34 Graeme, you’ve already built an impressive career at Porsche. I have more than 30 years of experience in the automotive industry. In 1995 I started working at Porsche. First as general manager at Porsche Centre Aberdeen. They were the days of the 993, the last generation of Porsches with air-cooled engines. A year later, Porsche launched the Boxster. The handsome roadster was a hit and the sales figures exceeded our wildest dreams from the start. And then foreign climates beckoned. Well, in 2006 I received an offer from the Middle East. The Behehani Motors Company, one of the largest and most important players in the car market in Asia, was looking for someone to lead its Porsche and Volkswagen import department in Kuwait. A wonderful job. I stayed there until 2012. It was certainly a very educational and special experience, but Kuwait is not an easy place to live because of the harsh climate. Is that when Porsche Cambodia crossed your path? Yes. At the international launch event of the Porsche 991 in South Africa in 2012, I got talking to a colleague who told me that a Chinese-Malaysian company was looking for someone to introduce Porsche to the Cambodian market. A few years before, the company had successfully started marketing Porsche in Vietnam. Business there was doing well in the meantime and they felt the time was right for Cambodia.
35 From left to right: Graeme Hunter (CEO Porsche Cambodia), Keovattey Ngoun (Marketing & PR Supervisor), Jan Weisser (After Sales Manager)
'I definitely thought it would be a huge challenge to start Porsche in Cambodia.'
And then you thought: that’s something for me ... I definitely thought it would be a huge challenge. I had to start completely from scratch: looking for a plot of land to build a showroom and workshop, building business relations, conducting market studies ... you name it. I started in one of those typical, small commercial buildings that you see everywhere on the side of the road here, with just one Porsche available. In June 2013, Precision Cars Cambodia Ltd was established as the official importer and distributor of Porsche in Cambodia and on 12 February 2015 the beautiful building we are in now was officially opened. How many Porsches are there on the market in Cambodia? That is difficult for me to estimate, because in Cambodia many cars are still being marketed through parallel sales. According to our database, there are currently 270 Porsches around, of which 90% in Phnom Penh. Sales are clearly on the rise. Cambodia is in full development. In the period that I was gone, the city has changed hugely. Many buildings have sprung up and modernised and the purchasing power has increased. It is just a pity that the city’s infrastructure is still lagging behind.
How much of a nuisance is that grey market for you? In any event, it is an aspect that we must take due account of. That is why it is essential for us that we can show buyers what the advantages are when they buy a car from an official dealer. It will always be slightly more expensive, but at least you know what you are buying: a car that has no obscure past, that has no hidden defects, that is safe and reliable and, above all, that has an engine suitable for the Cambodian market. The Porsches we distribute are built especially for the market here. In contrast to Europe and the US where the motors have long complied with the EU 6 standard, the Porsches for Cambodia are still equipped with an EU 4 engine because the quality of the petrol is so bad here. The very highest octane content that you can find here - and then you really need to know where to go - is 95. We also don’t import Porsches with diesel engines because the sulphur content in the diesel here is too high resulting in technical problems for the engine. The other distribution channels do, with all the consequences that brings.
Is it easy to find well-trained staff? Well, that really is a big challenge in Cambodia. Luckily, I was able to count on Jan Weisser from the start. Jan was the first colleague I employed. He was part of the original project team for the development of the Cayenne in Zuffenhausen and has clocked up 18 years of experience as a Porsche technician. Jan now runs the aftersales service here. That I can rely on someone like Jan is of course a great asset. A good aftersales service sells a lot of cars. Customers must be able to count on you. As far as the sales team is concerned, we are currently mainly looking for sellers who speak Chinese. In the last two years, Cambodia has seen a huge influx of Chinese, which means it is important to have sales people in-house who can speak their language. Are the import taxes for Porsche high in Cambodia? The import tax depends on the capacity of the car, but fluctuates around 150% for a Porsche. Which, for an Asian country, isn’t too bad by the way. In most neighbouring countries the import tax is much higher. Which model is the most popular? Without doubt the Cayenne. When it came to the market, it was a blessing for me. A sports car is not suitable for Cambodia. The roads are too bad for that. In Phnom Penh it may not be too bad, but as soon as you leave the city, you can forget it. Although we did have a 911 in the showroom last week for a customer. It attracted a lot of attention here. Where do you feel most at home? East or West? In the last ten years, I have only been back to Scotland four or five times, so for me home is here, in the east. If I have to go to Porsche Germany for a meeting, then of course I combine that with a visit to the home front, but I do not travel specifically to Scotland just for a family visit. My brother is also a globetrotter and it is the other way around: we make sure that our family comes to us. (laughs warmly) Graeme, thanks for the great welcome!
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Magazine voor de Porschefanaat • jaargang 15 • driemaandelijks • februari/maart 2019 • 57
Surf zeker naar onze website www.porschist.be U vindt er exclusief filmmateriaal over onderwerpen die in deze Porschist aan bod komen.
HRH Princess Sita Norodom of Cambodia
H.R.H. Princess Sita Norodom: a princess with a mission.
Porschist has been lucky enough to meet many fascinating personalities over the years, but a conversation with a princess is still something a bit special. We meet H.R.H. Princess Sita Norodom in the chic Le Grand restaurant at the Raffles Hotel Le Royal in Phnom Penh. Not entirely coincidental, because Princess Sita is ambassador of the two Raffles hotels in Cambodia, a task she takes very seriously. In contrast to Belgium, the members of the Cambodian royal family do not receive an allowance, but have to work to make a living. Princess Sita is ravishing, and is a woman who knows exactly what she wants. Just for a moment, we get a glimpse into the life of a contemporary princess.
text: kathleen van bremdt - photos: sven hoyaux
You have already led an eventful life, a life that would provide enough material to write a book. Yes, that is something that has already crossed my mind too. Maybe I'll do it sometime. The fact that I am part of the royal family is already appealing to many people. My mother is H.R.H. Princess Bopha Devi Norodom, the eldest daughter of the former King of Cambodia, King Norodom Sihanouk, and my father is Monsieur Bruno Forsinetti, the son of a former Italian Consul whom she married. I was born six years later. The course of my life was largely determined by the political situation in Cambodia.
Your grandfather, King Norodom Sihanouk, was very popular and was also called the 'king father'. What kind of man was he? I have a lot of admiration for my grandfather. He was intermittently king and head of state of Cambodia between 1941 and 2004 and has done a lot for his country: in 1953 he enforced Cambodia's independence after the French colonisation, in 1991 he negotiated the Peace Treaties of Paris and in 1993 he re-installed the monarchy. These are all important achievements. But there were also dark periods. My grandfather strove for harmony between his policies and Buddhism, but his neutralist course received no sympathy from the United States which resulted in the coup d’etat of Lon Nol in 1970. At the time of the coup, my grandfather was in France. Later he was often asked why he did not stay there, but no country wanted him. Only the Soviet Union, North Korea and China reached out to him at that time. Eventually he lived in exile in China for 13 years. He passed away in 2012.
"The course of my life was largely determined by the political situation in Cambodia.”
And what happened to you? After the coup, I stayed in Cambodia for another three years, but the political atmosphere there became increasingly grim. In 1973, I left the country together with my great-grandmother Queen Sisowath Kossamak. I was eight years old then. I was fortunate to be allowed to leave with her, although at the time, no one suspected what catastrophes would befall Cambodia. I spent time living in China, North Korea and Belgrade successively. In 1976 I went to France, where I stayed for almost twenty years. I studied there and built a life for myself. Then I lived in London for six years. When I returned to Cambodia in 2000, I spoke fluent French and English, but little Khmer. People asked me if I was not ashamed of that, but I had seen the traumas my family had endured and it had never occurred to me that I would one day return to Cambodia.
H.R.H. Princess Sita Norodom
And yet you returned ... Yes, isn’t life strange? My mother was getting older and I wanted to be there for her. And the rest of my family was here too. The older generation doesn’t know any other life than their life here. I could just as well have stayed in Europe, even in Belgium (laughs warmly). I also feel European. But I don’t regret that I came back. Although I have to say that I also like the fact that I can travel a lot because of my job. Cambodia is a very special country, but there are so many other countries that are also worth exploring.
"Ambassador of the Raffles hotels in Cambodia is a function that perfectly suits my role and status."
Tell us a little bit more about your job. I have been working for the Raffles hotel group in Cambodia since 2003. I started in the marketing department. I spent a very pleasant fifteen years working there. But at a certain moment that job no longer gave me satisfaction and I longed to find a position that - let us say – was more befitting of my age and status as a member of the royal family. The role of ambassador is therefore perfectly suited to me. I mainly maintain contacts with embassies and international institutions and promote the royal image of both Raffles hotels in Cambodia as much as I can. Because in the past there has always been a strong connection between the hotels and the royal palace, it is all the more wonderful that I can now ensure that the historic character of the hotels is preserved.
There is a beautiful, life-size painting of your mother, Princess Bopha Devi Norodom, hanging in the restaurant here. We have been told that she was a world-famous dancer. That's right. Art and culture have always been very important to the royal family. Dance in particular occupies a very special place. My great-grandmother, Queen Sisowath Kossamak, made the classical royal dance, the apsara, which according to tradition was handed down from generation to generation and was only destined for the royal court, available to the public. She made sure that my mother was trained in the difficult apsara dance. My mother became a brilliant dancer. In 1962 - when she was barely 18 years old - she performed in sold-out venues across the world with the Royal Ballet of Cambodia. The regime of the Khmer Rouge put an end to this beautiful period. For the Khmer Rouge, every form of art had to be eradicated. Ninety percent of all dancers and choreographers were killed. After the expulsion of Pol Pot, my mother did everything in her power to revive the Royal Ballet. And she was successful. Those dancers who had managed to survive the Khmer Rouge's horrors got a new future. She no longer dances herself, but is the principal Director and choreographer of the Royal Ballet which travels around the world again. Tickets for shows regularly sell out six months in advance. Do you dance yourself? No, unfortunately I didn’t have a chance to learn, but I support my mother’s dance foundation (Norodom Bopha Devi Foundation) in every way I can. My extensive network helps me to do that. My mother is a living legend and I have a lot of respect for what she has achieved in her life. You also support a number of charity initiatives. Indeed. One of those is the Khmer Sight Foundation. I have been a member of the board for several years now. The Khmer Sight Foundation is a charitable organisation that was created by a good friend of mine, a Cambodian who grew up in Australia but who, at a certain time, decided to devote his life and energy to the welfare of the Cambodian people. With a team of specialised surgeons, he travels all over the country, to the most remote places, to perform completely free cataract operations. The fact that my name is linked to his organisation helps him to acquire the much-needed operating funds. People are of course the most important, but I am also increasingly committed to animal rights and the protection of endangered species and wish to be more active in the future. Princess Sita, it was a real honour to be able to talk to you.
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CEO Porsche Vietnam Bitten by Porsche and Asia
Andreas Klingler is no stranger to us. We have met the friendly CEO of Porsche Vietnam before, in 2008. Then, with the eagerness and enthusiasm that typify him, he had just accepted the offer to market Porsche in Vietnam. A challenge for which would not have suited everyone, but which Andreas quickly turned into a success story thanks to his innate organisational talent. A decade later, we look him up again to talk about the past, the present and the future.
44 Hello Andreas, here we are again, 10 years on. What can you tell us about the last ten years? Lots has happened. We have worked hard. (laughs). As you know, Porsche was not present at all on the Vietnamese car market ten years ago. When I started here, there was a blank sheet before me. If I remember correctly, we had just started building the showroom in Saigon when you were here. The Porsche Centre Vietnam was officially opened in October 2008. Prestige Sports Cars Company Limited is still the only official Porsche importer and distributor in Vietnam. In the first year, we sold 21 cars. Which wasn’t bad at all for a start-up of a luxury brand in a market like Vietnam. Nowadays, we sell an average of 250 cars per year which means we are on track. In addition to the Saigon branch, we have also had a showroom in the north of Vietnam, in Hanoi, since 2012. Are the import taxes still as high as ever? They have become much higher still, and are now exuberantly high. Anyone who has set his sights on a foreign luxury car in Vietnam has to have very deep pockets. Depending on the capacity of the engine, the import taxes range between 250% to 380%. The cheapest model in the Porsche range can therefore easily cost 180,000 US dollars. For that money, you can buy a Porsche 911 Turbo in Europe. Who is able to spend so much money in Vietnam? Those people have to be multimillionaires. And there are quite a few. You can distinguish between four groups here. On the one hand, you have the entrepreneurs who have cleverly responded to the growing economy in Vietnam and set up a business in the early years of that economic revival. That includes anything from IT companies to production companies and shopping centres to restaurant chains. People who have taken a serious financial risk and are now reaping the benefits. The same applies to property owners. Building plots have increased
enormously in value in recent years and property prices are ever rising. And a third group is made up by the young people who have been fortunate enough to have been born into a very rich family and who, thanks to the family fortune, can afford an expensive car. These young people don’t choose a BMW or a Mercedes, because in Vietnam Porsche still has an exclusive allure and therefore a higher status value. That puts Porsche in a special position. True, and we also respond to that and enhance that perception by the way we position Porsche on the Vietnamese market. We have a different marketing approach and strongly focus on excellent service provision, which distinguishes us from our competitors. In addition, we don’t offer discounts. No discount? Why not? Because that actually emphasizes the exclusivity of the brand. Our competitors are mainly focused on selling as many cars as possible and compete against each other with discounts. In principle, we don’t do that. Of course we might make a financial gesture for a customer who is buying his third, fourth or fifth Porsche in the same year, but even then, the discount will be limited to a maximum of 3%. Didn’t you mention a fourth group of rich people? Yes, those are the Vietnamese who have become wealthy thanks to certain “payoffs”. Payoffs is simply anchored in the Vietnamese economy and there are a lot of people who benefit on it.
From left to right: Luu Thuy Trang (Senior PR Executive), Nguyen Le Thu Ha (Marketing Director), Andreas Klingler (CEO Porsche Vietnam)
'Porsche has in Vietnam still an exclusive allure and therefore a higher status value'.
Which Porsche models are the most popular in Vietnam? It is mainly the Cayenne and the Panamera. This year the Panamera was actually our best-selling model. The well-to-do Vietnamese likes to show that things are going well for him. A brand new Panamera with all the trimmings is therefore a car that they like to show off. However you look at it, the roads in Vietnam are not exactly favourable to a Porsche. No, unfortunately not. Much has already been improved, but the infrastructure remains a weakness in Vietnam. This also means that Porsche owners cannot really enjoy their car to the full here. The distance between Saigon and Hanoi is 1,800 kilometres. That could be a nice road trip for a Porsche, but our customers don’t do that. They take the plane for that journey. They just drive around in their own city, even though the traffic is permanently ground to a halt. What counts for them is the sexy design of the car, the luxury and the interior comfort and of course the status that the car gives them.
'The future for Porsche in Vietnam looks bright'.
So Boxsters and 911’s aren’t sold here. You would think so, but still 10 to 15% of the Porsches sold here are real sport models. This is because we regularly take our customers to Sepang in Malaysia where they can drive on the track and can experience a real driving experience. But those people who buy a Boxster, Cayman or 911 nearly always already has a Cayenne, Macan or Panamera in their garage. What does the future look like for Porsche in Vietnam? It looks bright. Vietnam is still one of the fastest growing economies in Asia with an average annual growth of 6%. That is, of course, also very good news for Porsche and we are therefore expanding at the moment. The new showrooms in Saigon and Hanoi will be opened during the course of 2019. We are aiming at an annual sales figure of 500 cars and that is a realistic figure. Meanwhile, we are already eyeing up other cities to strengthen our presence on the Vietnamese market even more. There are several locations that might qualify for this. Danang for example, or Nha Trang. Hai Phong is also enormously on the rise because it is a harbour city in which a lot of money circulates. The Mekong Delta is also doing very well at the moment. So there are still a lot of opportunities for new Porsche centres. Good prospects then. Andreas, it was great to meet up with you again!
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