Are tourists really to blame for misbehaving in Cambodia?
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