Duong Tech, the owner of an import-export company, spent $150,000 on his chrome-rimmed Cadillac Escalade SUV. Then he shelled out an additional $10,000 at the Phnom Penh municipal transportation department for a license plate ending with the numbers “9999.”
“I just love the number so much. It brings me luck,” said Mr. Tech of the numeral 9. “Now, it is hard to get a number series like this. Only if you are a high-ranking official can you get these numbers,” he said.
Mr. Tech is not alone in his eagerness to tout his status through a series of favorite numbers — and willingness to pay vast sums of cash to do so.
In Phnom Penh, custom-numbered license plates are affixed to the many luxury cars navigating the city’s traffic, while mobile phone shops offer bespoke phone numbers costing thousands of dollars.
“I spent $2,000 on my license plate,” said Lea Sophy, 27, the owner of a silver Mercedes sedan whose plate ends in “8777.”
“It’s an expensive number, so not many of my friends have this kind,” said Mr. Sophy, adding that four matching numbers would have cost even more.
Cheang Yole, 28, a taxi driver from Pursat province, spent $9,300 on his Toyota Camry sedan, and $230 for a license plate ending in “1666.” He said that the number helps his vehicle stand out from others like it.
“The number attracts people when you use the car,” Mr. Yole said. “It tells people you are awesome and rich,” he explained.
Asked whether he though the numbers might bring him good fortune, Mr. Sophy said no. “It’s easy to remember,” he offered.
While Chinese culture, pervasive throughout Cambodia, holds certain numbers to be particularly auspicious, Dok Narin, secretary of state for the Ministry of Cults and Religion, said that a belief in lucky numbers usually has nothing to do with the numerals most often chosen for license plates and mobile phones.
“It is not belief or religion,” Mr. Narin said. “The numbers are the same. It doesn’t make any difference. People…decide to say number 10 is the best, or 9, or 2.”
“It’s just the tendency of people to follow each other,” he said, noting that the ever-changing obsession of the rich with certain numbers is a boon to business people such as phone shop owners.
But Lea Sophy, 27, the owner of a mobile phone shop that, in addition to handsets, sells phone numbers costing up to $5,850 (068-666-666) said that her customers consistently prefer phone numbers with numerals higher than 5, which they consider lucky.
“All kinds of people buy these numbers…. People who buy these [expensive] numbers believe they will bring them luck,” she said. “It’s numbers 6, 7, 8 and 9, because these numbers are high.”
“The bigger, the better,” agreed Neo, 27, tapping on his iPhone inside a café in Phnom Penh. “Nine is the luck number,” he said.
Gesturing to his Range Rover parked outside, Neo, who would not divulge his full name, said that he had paid $900 for its license plate (“9299”), explaining that not only did it resemble the last six digits of his phone number (992-999), but the digits, when added together, made 29, which also ends in 9. “Lucky,” he said.
But even Neo conceded that luck wasn’t everything. “I think everyone does this,” he said. “Right now, everyone has a good number.”