Are tourists re­ally to blame for mis­be­hav­ing in Cam­bo­dia?

The Myanmar Times - Weekend - - News - RAMA ARIADI news­room@mm­times.com

THE ar­rest of ten for­eign­ers on charges of pro­duc­ing porno­graphic im­ages in Siem Reap last week has grabbed the at­ten­tion of lo­cal and for­eign au­di­ences – es­pe­cially in light of the state­ment re­leased by Siem Reap’s Deputy Chief for Anti-hu­man Traf­fick­ing Po­lice, Duong Thavry, who said the im­ages “made it look like Cam­bo­dia has these kinds of par­ties”.

Is this state­ment en­tirely true, though? Cam­bo­dia has long been con­sid­ered at­trac­tive for its lais­sez-faire at­ti­tude to­ward cheap booze, drugs and pros­ti­tu­tion. This was one of the first things chef An­thony Bour­dain noted dur­ing his first visit in 2000. In the book that cat­a­pulted his ca­reer, he con­sid­ered Cam­bo­dia the one des­ti­na­tion where “mis­sion­ar­ies, back­pack­ers, aid work­ers and jour­nal­ists come to be­have badly”.

This per­cep­tion is also echoed by tourists this year.

“I didn’t re­ally know much about Cam­bo­dia when I de­cided to go back­pack­ing in South­east Asia,” said Aza­lea Phi­nata. “But the gen­eral per­cep­tion among my group of friends is that Cam­bo­dia seems to be the right place to overindulge, so I was dy­ing to check it out.”

Blake Moore, an Aus­tralian, con­curred with Phi­nata. “I found it very con­fronting when I did my re­search on things to do in Cam­bo­dia. So many ar­ti­cles I read seemed to de­scribe where and how to score a date with a sex worker, and how cheap the booze is in the coun­try,” he said. “It seems like all I can see are rows of beer ad­verts wher­ever I go.”

Within min­utes of tak­ing a leisurely stroll along Street 51, one can see premises that count cheap booze and ‘friendly girls’ as their main draw. Take a turn to Street 172, the at­mos­phere is heavy with the scent of stale beer and the stench of mar­i­juana, which grows ever stronger as night falls.

De­spite a vis­i­ble po­lice pres­ence, no one seems to be moved to re­act – which may lead some to con­clude that the city it­self is feed­ing the he­do­nis­tic im­age that Cam­bo­dia is try­ing so hard to dis­pel. With law en­force­ment seem­ingly in­con­sis­tent, there is lit­tle won­der why Cam­bo­dia con­tin­ues to at­tract a rowdy crowd as premises that cater to their needs con­tinue to op­er­ate. As such, per­haps it is Cam­bo­dia that has per­pet­u­ated this he­do­nis­tic im­age that at­tracts them to the coun­try in the first place – de­spite ef­forts made by the gov­ern­ment to en­sure peo­ple re­spect lo­cal cus­toms.

One must not for­get that au­thor­i­ties and en­trepreneurs are mak­ing the ef­fort to re­vamp the hot­beds of vice that give Ph­nom Penh a bad rap. One such ex­am­ple is the project to re­vamp Golden So­rya Mall. Known as a pit-stop for night owls mak­ing their way to the in­fa­mous night­club Heart of Dark­ness, the run-down stalls are be­ing ren­o­vated, with plans drawn to turn the block into Ph­nom Penh’s ‘New Pub Street’. It aims to at­tract more ‘re­fined’ tourists to the area. And this move has been wel­comed by work­ers in the area.

“This area is not ex­actly safe to walk at night,” said Kakada Kim, the man­ager of Li­brary Cafe. “In the past we’ve had to deal with peo­ple pass­ing out on our premises. Fin­gers crossed things will be bet­ter once the ren­o­va­tion is com­pleted.”

But there was a sense of ap­pre­hen­sive­ness as Kim spoke. Busi­nesses in the area have adapted to cater to the de­mand for vice, and these busi­nesses feed the mouths of many – from wait staff to kitchen hands, and last but not least, sex work­ers. The prob­lem is com­plex and re­quires an in­clu­sive so­lu­tion as well as po­lit­i­cal will to tackle the root of the prob­lem.

Point­ing fin­gers at tourists alone can only achieve so much, as Cam­bo­dia’s prob­lems run far deeper than ap­pears on the sur­face.

– Kh­mer Times

Cheap booze and other vices are avail­able on al­most ev­ery street cor­ner. Photo: Kh­mer Times

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