Police followed through with a promise on Wednesday to block partygoers heading to the kaZantip music festival on Koh Puos island, drawing the ire of foreign tourists that had purchased tickets, and in some cases traveled across continents, to attend the 10-day rave.
Although the provincial government insisted that the hedonistic party was still cancelled because it had not received government permission, organisers tried to assuage disappointed ticket holders, claiming that it would start today instead.
But many don’t appear to be buying that message.
Robson Cadore and Natalie Deduck, a Brazilian couple who live in Thailand, waited with dozens of tourists at a gate blocking access to the bridge that connects the mainland to the island on Wednesday afternoon. They said they had traveled by bus for 42 hours from Phuket.
Although the couple complained that Kazantip Asia, which is running the event, had provided a paucity of official information about the festival’s status, they were adamant they still had confidence in the organisers and were baffled by the government’s reason for the cancellation.
“There’s a lot of money spent here, and it could [all] be wasted,” Deduck said, adding that she had friends who traveled all the way from Brazil.
Dima Nako, a 25-year-old Ukrainian who traveled from Bali, was similarly concerned about a group of his friends who had spent at least $1,000 each on plane tickets from Ukraine.
“Right now, I am concerned… But I do hope this can happen within like, a couple of hours, or maybe the next day,” he said. “But I’m not too stupid [to believe it will happen].”
Tickets for the festival, called a “Viza” by the self-styled party republic, cost $200 for the 10 days. It remains unclear how many tickets had been purchased, but official tour operator Lotus Tours told the Post on Tuesday that it had lost 700 bookings as a result of the government’s stance and an attack on its headquarters by an alleged shakedown gang last Friday.
Others who had hoped to profit from the festival said they now stood to lose a lot of money due to cancellations.
A man who had been contracted to construct and run a bar at kaZantip and requested anonymity in order to speak candidly conceded that even if the festival went ahead, his bar was unlikely to turn a profit.
Whie he admitted that the organisers had misunderstood Khmer culture, he added that kaZantip had been unfairly portrayed by the media.
However, his biggest concern was what would happen if the festival did not go ahead at all and a large number of partygoers were left to their own devices in Sihanoukville.
“[It is] not because these are bad people, [but] because they are coming here to have a good time and drink and they don’t know anything about Cambodia….They are not here to see Angkor Wat, they are not here to learn about Khmer culture. They are here to party and all of a sudden that gate is closed.”
Deputy provincial governor Chhin Seng Nguon said on Wednesday the while he understood the concerns of ticket holders, the organisers bore responsibility.
The provincial government officially rescinded permission to hold the festival from Kazantip Asia on February 4 based on its reputation for debauchery.
But governor Chhin Sokhun claimed that “the ball is in the Ministry of Tourism’s hands” to now ultimately decide. Officials there could not be reached for comment. ADDITIONAL REPORTING BY KEVIN PONNIAH AND MAXIME ELVINGER