The entrance to Sok San Palace, one of Siem Reap's nightclubs.
SOK San Palace, the nightclub famous for its flexible dancers and its very flexible definition of "massage", shut its doors earlier this month, kicking off speculation that Siem Reap's most prominent girlie bar had been shut down by authorities.
But Harun, general manager of Sok San Palace, told the Post that the closure was due to extensive renovations, and that Sok San will reopen on May 8, with some big changes. He said the new and improved Sok San Palace will be clean, commercial and without a scantily clad dancer in sight. Or, in a word, unrecognisable.
"We have a new image, a new style," said Harun. "We want to change the concept of Sok San and make it more of a bar, and bring in more tourists."
But the abrupt decision to "change the concept" of the club, which only recently underwent major renovation, comes after a government crackdown on gambling and prostitution shut down scores of casinos and brothels throughout Cambodia.
Sok San management have obviously read the wind and decided on a pre-emptive strike at a new decency. Harun said the government had not been in contact with Sok San Palace and added that he hoped the changes to the bar would bring it in line with what he perceives to be new government requirements.
Thomas Tay, a Sok San consultant, said he was unsure how far the government was going to take the morality drive, and said that the smartest move was to play it safe.
"The next day, a directive might come from the top saying ‘No more karaoke bars' or ‘No more discos'," he said. "We don't want to offend people. The dancers offended people. They have been laid off and will not be coming back."
In the first week of April, signs were posted up around town claiming that Sok San Palace would be closed for the duration of the Sivutha Boulevard road works, which blocked access to the club. Harun said that they used the closure to clean house by renovating the rooms, turfing the dirty fish tanks and giving pink slips to the dancers.
Tay said that the road works was an opportunity to "take a step back and improve the operation with a new plan and a new direction".
He said the new Sok San Palace will place more of an emphasis on family-friendly entertainment, bringing in comedians, singers and guest DJs to perform on the bar's prominent catwalk.