They are from the provinces, so they don’t know much about public order.
THE telltale signs of Water Festival – racers readying boats on the Tonle Sap, clusters of villagers fresh from the provinces, an influx of portable toilets – could already be seen along Sisowath Quay on Thursday afternoon, three days before the festival officially begins.
One festival staple, however, was conspicuously absent: the scores of street vendors who typically set up along the main roads, eager to hawk
their wares in the capital, which generally welcomes more than 2 million visitors for the annual spectacle.
In a move to improve “public order”, City Hall has banned street vendors from Sisowath as well as Sothearos and Norodom boulevards, instead compelling them to gather on the grounds of Wat Ounalom and along Street 154.
“We will not allow them to sell on the busy streets because we want to manage them and maintain public order,” said Phnom Penh Deputy Governor Mann Chhoeun. “They are from the provinces, so they don’t know much about public order.”
The move has dismayed vendors, who expressed concern that their earnings would plummet if they were forced to sell from low-profile locations.
“This year I will not be able to earn nearly as much as last year because the authorities will not allow us to set up in front of the pagoda,” said Sou Chea, a 47-year-old vendor sitting on Street 154 amid the more than 100 woven baskets she brought to the capital from Kandal province. “The festival-goers will not know that they need to come here to buy my baskets.”
She said she and other vendors from her village had made the trip for the past six years, and that revenue from her baskets – which go for 7,000 to 15,000 riels – totaled around US$50 annually.
“We have no choice except to obey the authorities, but it is a lot easier to sell on the river,” she said.
Meanwhile, local authorities on Thursday morning told more than 40 vendors stationed in front of Wat Ounalom that they would be moved inside the pagoda grounds today.
Sok Penhvuth, deputy governor of Daun Penh district, said that the new restrictions on vendors would “make the city beautiful and reduce traffic jams”.
The news left Pet Chheu, a 55-year-old vendor who had never before been to the capital before arriving on a Thursday morning bus, wondering whether she would be able to sell enough toys, bracelets and rings to afford the $5 bus ticket back home to her native Siem Reap.
“I came here for the festival, but also because I was wondering what Phnom Penh looks like,” she said. “I am really excited to be here, but if they don’t allow me to sell on the road, I don’t know how I will pay for another bus ticket.”