The newly developed Chruoy Changvar peninsula is not only housing nearly half of this year’s Water Festival-goers, it is also keeping them away from brothels, officials said Wednesday.
The Tonle Sap now stands between Phnom Penh’s Tuol Kok red light district and roughly 30,000 boat racers from the provinces staying on the river’s opposite bank.
In addition, the municipality has ordered a five-day shutdown of brothels in Tuol Kok district during the festival.
Sok Leakkhana, deputy municipal cabinet chief, said the temporary shutdown would help curtail the number of racers visiting brothels—a number that has risen into the thousands in years past.
Shutting down the brothels during last year’s festival resulted in a 50 percent to 60 percent drop in business in the red light district, mostly made up of poorly educated racers from the provinces, Sok Leakkhana said. He said he hoped the measure would be as successful this year.
The combined effects of the brothel shutdown and the relocation of racers to the east bank would not keep all potential customers away from prostitutes, but would help reduce the visits, Sok Lekkhana said.
“We are worried about people’s visits to brothels. They can contract AIDS and spread it to their innocent wives and children at home if they don’t use condoms,” he said.
Veng Thai, municipal health director, agreed the brothel shutdown will reduce the tide of boat racers traveling to the red light district.
But he did not agree the measure would bring the 50 or 60 percent reduction which Sok Leakkhana predicted. He said he thinks the reduction will be closer to 20 or 30 percent.
Officials admitted that racers intent on visiting brothels could not really be prevented from doing so.
Tia Phalla, secretary general for the National AIDS Authority, said he patrolled the Tuol Kok brothel district Tuesday night and found that sex was still being sold there.
“I found that the brothels don’t keep their doors open as usual, but they are still welcoming visitors, including boat racers. But there were fewer people going there,” he said.
Veng Thai said boat racers from the provinces often carouse through the red light district in large groups, with their oars in hand. However, not everyone in those groups is adamant about finding sex, and they are even less adamant if sex is not advertised, he said.
“Many people only go accompanying sex seekers, when the brothel doors are closed and prostitutes are not waving. So it means there are less people getting into brothels. If the brothels opened their doors, more racers would get in and have sex,” Veng Thai said.
Tia Phalla said he didn’t see any police patrolling the red light district Tuesday night to enforce the ban.
The municipality has arranged for a musical band made up of Prime Minister Hun Sen’s bodyguards to entertain festival-goers and boat racers on Chruoy Changvar peninsula.
“I saw a lot of people hanging out and dancing late into the night,” Sok Leakkhana said, after spending an evening in that area. “I don’t think they went anywhere.”
Before this year’s construction of the Chruoy Changvar riverbank area, most boat racers stayed in pagodas, schools and other sites, mostly near the Japanese Friendship Bridge, and closer to Tuol Kok brothels.