Mon, Feb 05, 2018 - Page 7 News List

Cambodia’s backlash against ‘disrespectful’ partying culture

Siem Reap depends on tourists, but 10 have been arrested as the town starts to lose patience with drunken and scantily clad foreigners behaving badly

By Hannah Ellis-Petersen  /  The Guardian, SIEM REAP, Cambodia

As the neon lights of the Yolo club flash brightly and the chest-pulsing beats of Rihanna blare from Temple Bar, a young man is on his knees in the road, chugging beer poured through a funnel. As the liquid gets too much he chokes, spraying warm beer over the road, known as Pub Street. The passing tourists and five busking landmine survivors playing traditional Cambodian music nearby barely look up.

“When the foreigners come to Siem Reap and wear these clothes and act like this, it is looking down on the culture of Cambodia,” said Keov Leakna, who wrung her hands as she sat on the steps of the spa she has run for 11 years. “I find it very difficult to see every day.”

It was not just occasional drunken antics she despaired of but a “disrespectful” partying culture that has taken over some quarters of Siem Reap, home to Angkor Wat, the most sacred site in Cambodia, but last week 10 tourists — five Britons, a Dutch citizen, two Canadians, a New Zealander and a Norwegian — found themselves the target of a crackdown on the pub crawls and booze-fueled pool parties.

A raid on a weekly pool party, called Let’s Get Wet, on Thursday last week saw the arrests of Dan Jones, 30, Paul Harris, 32, Vince Hook, 35, Thomas Jeffries, 22, and Billy Stevens, 21, alongside five others, all accused of taking sexually explicit photos and publishing them online. For police and prosecutors this equated to a charge of “making pornography.”

Cambodian police have said they witnessed pictures being taken of half-naked women at the Let’s Get Wet party, but Duong Thavry, head of the anti-human-trafficking and juvenile protection department in Siem Reap, told reporters these 10 had been arrested because they had put “pornographic” pictures from previous parties on Facebook to advertise the event.

“These photos and videos are against our culture. They were publicly putting them up on the Internet, and making it look like Cambodia has these kinds of parties here. It is very disrespectful and gives the wrong idea of our country,” she said.

Duong said the police had warrants for the 10 before the event and had come looking specifically for them, despite suggestions by some of those arrested that it was a case of mistaken identity in the chaos of the raid. Several of those in jail have stressed that the “pornographic” images released by Cambodian police, of tourists playing “sex twister,” were not from Let’s Get Wet but a separate pub crawl a few years ago.

Some tourists feel the response has been excessive — and possibly self-defeating. Sitting on the terrace outside the Blue Pumpkin, Georgie Eccles from New Zealand said: “People come here because of Angkor Wat, but also because it’s a fun place to go out and meet people and the bars are good. If they shut all that down or made it scary to go out, I think they would get way less visitors.”

Many businesses and travel agencies in the town echoed that fear. Siem Reap depends on the tourists who visit in the few months of high season and it has already been a quiet year, with hotels slashing prices by up to 80 percent.

For many living in the town however, the arrests signaled a much-needed clampdown. Sophoan Dam, a language teacher who grew up in a rural village near Angkor Wat, expressed a distaste for the pub crawls and parties, which she said promoted “behavior that is disrespectful to our culture.”

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