At midnight in some parts of Phnom Penh, the party is just getting started.
But on Monday, City Hall said it was considering ordering all businesses that serve alcohol to close their doors by 12 a.m. to reduce fatal traffic accidents caused by drunk drivers.
According to City Hall spokesman Long Dimanche, the freedom to drink throughout the night was fueling the rising death toll, and that imposing a midnight curfew for establishments that serve alcohol would help counter the trend.
“In the provinces, but especially in the city [Phnom Penh], almost 90 percent of traffic accidents happen at night, due to drinking alcohol, which has caused municipal authorities to consider initiatives to curb their frequency,” he said.
“It is just an idea that we are considering…drawn from lessons we have learned from other countries, and would cover all businesses selling alcohol, including restaurants,” he said, adding that the curfew was the brainchild of Phnom Penh governor Pa Socheatvong.
Tith Chantha, director-general of the Tourism Ministry, said a master plan was needed to properly assess the effect the curfew would have on tourist numbers.
“I think a master plan could designate zones that are suitable for those kinds of businesses, which are far from people’s homes, schools, so people who like those things can go to those zones,” he said.
Mr. Chantha said that because most tourists favor Siem Reap and Sihanoukville, restricting alcohol sales in Phnom Penh would not significantly affect the country’s popularity.
“The entertainment services are secondary; they are not the core tourist attractions in Cambodia,” he said.
Chhai Sotheakdey, the bar manager at Top Banana Guesthouse on Street 278, a popular backpacker hangout, said partying late was the prerogative of his patrons.
“If they cannot change their habit of going out late, they will maybe go to neighboring countries instead,” he said, adding that Top Banana’s busy bar closes at 12:40 a.m., but that most guests then leave for pubs and clubs still open elsewhere.
“Before we close, they often ask us where else they can go to drink more and party until late, like 3 or 4 a.m.,” he said.
At Egypt Entertainment on Mao Tse Tung Boulevard, which draws both tourists and locals, Ma Ryna, the general manager, questioned the logic of City Hall’s plans.
“It seems like Cambodia, especially in Phnom Penh, they are trying to scare people,” he said. “Tourists come here for the freedom, to be happy, and I think they are old enough to be responsible for themselves.”