A meeting held this week sought to allay business owners’ concerns that street carts, beggars and drugs are bringing down business on Siem Reap’s bustling tourist strip
At a quarterly Siem Reap tourism meeting hosted on Monday this week, Siem Reap Governor Kim Bun Song pledged that action would be taken to address problems on Pub Street, including police taking bribes from those seeking to avoid the law.
In August, more than 20 business owners on and around Pub Street filed a petition to the governor, citing congestion, noise, street vendors, beggars and street children who take drugs as disruptive for business. Four months later, they say the situation is getting worse.
This week, several owners and managers – who prefer to remain anonymous – laid the blame squarely with the police who, they say, instead of keeping the area clear of disturbances, are taking bribes from those responsible.
The main targets of ire are the drink carts lining Street 8, which sell alcohol to the soundtrack of ear-splitting music.
“They are driving our business down by offering cheaper products since they pay no rent, tax or wages. Even worse, they sell right in front of us, on our entrance,” one general manager wrote in an email to Post Weekend.
“They are profiting from the success that we have created and are slowly destroying it,” said another. “Business is down two years in a row, which hasn’t happened since the bank crisis in 2008.
”According to business establishments, the cart vendors are allegedly paying between $30 and $100 per month to the police in order to avoid being removed from the area.
“It is hard for us to get evidence for this, but we know that only the police can allow parking and selling within the Pub Street area,” said one restaurant owner.
According to the governor, the cart vendors are not permitted to sell in the area surrounding Pub Street, but they are allowed to sell along the riverside near Old Market. At the meeting, he said that the police should enforce the law on where cart vendors could sell, according to a Pub Street restaurant manager who attended.
Speaking to Post Weekend this week, the governor said, “We are thinking and paying attention to this, but we need time, and we have to make sure our solutions will not affect the business of local people who are selling things along the road in Pub Street.”
Business owners also cite concerns about the levels of criminality in the area, including drugs being offered for sale, prostitution, tourist scammers and noise levels.
“Customers are being confronted with this mayhem,” said one owner. “In the end, this will only damage more businesses, and Siem Reap’s image as a “cultural” holiday destination overall will suffer.
“We don’t want to be another Khao San Road,” he said, referring to Bangkok’s famous “backpacker ghetto”.
This thought was echoed by one British visitor dining at Red Piano on Tuesday evening this week. Mr Bourne, who declined to give his first name, was a little taken aback.
“It’s so strange how close we are to the ancient Angkor Wat, and then there’s Pub Street and the two are melded together… It’s more like Thailand,” he said.
Six visitors that Post Weekend spoke to on the same evening described the area as noisy, tacky, drunk, dirty, debauched, bustling, fluorescent and “a sex pit”.
None of those interviewed felt that Pub Street was representative of Cambodia, citing its focus on profit, cheap alcohol and lack of uniqueness, among other reasons.
The governor acknowledged that multiple problems need to be addressed, saying that the relevant authorities are being assigned.
Among the solutions proposed at the Monday meeting was a separate parking area for the tuk-tuks that line the streets at each end of Pub Street, sometimes two to three deep. Another solution proposed the construction of another Pub Street near the centre of town.
“The governor said that if the current Pub Street is getting more and more crowded, there should be another one at a newly built shop house near Angkor Hospital for Children,” said one attendee.
“The governor acknowledged [police accepting bribes],” he added. “But there was no sign of strict disciplinary actions or measures that would be taken.
“Let’s wait and see how effective it will be.”
Additional reporting by Thik Kaliyann and Kezia Parkins.