Filling up in Cambodia

By Elliot Ambrose

When the needle hits E and it’s time to refuel your car or moto, you have two options in Cambodia: fill up legally or illegally.

The legal choice is a station just like those in The United States with several gas pumps and stores stocked with snacks and drinks. The second, more common, option is to buy gas in an old soda or liquor bottle illegally from a roadside stand or shop.

Gasoline is smuggled into Cambodia through the porous borders of Thailand and Vietnam and, despite being illegal, is available practically everywhere. Many Cambodians will have a display stand of illegal gas sitting outside of their shop or homes and some even construct makeshift pumps from barrels and plastic tubing.

While the illegal gasoline is much cheaper than gas from the large service stations, it has its drawbacks. Many vendors dilute the gas with water in order to increase their profits and this can damage an engine. To eliminate this problem, Japanese companies have begun marketing motorbikes with internal water filters in Cambodia. Such bikes, however, are not yet common.

Many police are corrupt and generally aren’t concerned with the smuggling and sale of illegal gasoline. For many Cambodians, selling gas is their main source of income. Taking that from them would be removing their ability to provide for themselves and their families, so the practice is allowed to continue.

The most that you would expect to pay for a liter of gas at a legal station is $1. Most drivers, however, opt for the cheaper illegal gasoline from a stand. When traveling in Cambodia, the choice is yours.


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