All restaurants, bars, massage parlors and small vendors located at Wat Phnom must relocate within one year to halt the noise and traffic congestion that officials say are harming the historic area, City Hall announced Tuesday.
The removal order, however, does not extend to the two major hotels located at Wat Phnom or to the new US Embassy compound, which officials maintain do not impinge on the integrity of the area.
“Wat Phnom is a historic site that we need to develop and preserve within a good environment,” Phnom Penh Governor Kep Chuktema said.
“We should not allow there to be pubs, beer gardens and restaurants around the compound, particularly because those businesses have created many problems, including noise and traffic anarchy,” he said.
Kep Chuktema added that the municipality had cancelled an agreement to rent an area next to the US Embassy to a Chinese company, which had planned to open a beer garden.
He declined to say whether Wat Phnom’s established business owners would receive any compensation.
The area around Wat Phnom is home to more than 80 small businesses, said Srah Chak commune chief Chhay Thirith, including restaurants, bars, traditional massage businesses, small food kiosks and fortunetellers. It is also home to the Sunway and Casa Hotel.
Business owners near Wat Phnom said the directive was unfair and questioned city officials’ motives for the project.
Som Sang Long, owner of the Dark Room Bar, said he and about 15 other business owners plan to hold a demonstration against the order. He said their businesses had been a boon for the city, playing host to tourists who visit Wat Phnom.
“If they don’t allow restaurants and bars here, how will this place attract tourists? It will become an empty area,” he said. “Pubs and restaurants are a good resource for the city.”
As for preserving the historic site, he said his bar has never caused any problems.
Down the street, pulling drinks at his French restaurant and pub, Le Deauville, Jacky Sar, 57, said he would also protest the city’s order. He added that he has operated his business for a decade and had no idea where he would relocate.
“I don’t understand the reason for this,” he said. “We will protest, but it’s hard to say whether those city officials will change their minds.”
Deputy District Governor Hem An said he understood owners’ concerns, but stood by the decision to clear the area.
“It’s rarely easy to relocate a business. But it is the municipality’s order. And we have received complaints from residents about the noise of pubs and beer gardens,” Hem An said.
Chhay Thirith added safety as another reason for the relocations.
“Foreigners who come from those pubs at night are often beaten or robbed of their money by children who sniff glue or by drug addicts. A historic site cannot have this,” he said.
“Owners can protest if they disagree,” he added.