Phnom Penh began to empty in earnest Friday as residents headed to the countryside to celebrate the Khmer New Year holiday, which runs from Saturday to Monday.
Cars and motorbikes were at a near standstill on the Japanese and Monivong bridges Friday morning, and authorities were expecting similar traffic jams in the evening, municipal traffic police chief Tin Prasoer said.
With so many vehicles exiting the city, Tin Prasoer said that he had personally helped direct traffic around the Japanese bridge.
“When everybody is leaving to enjoy the New Year, we are completely occupied with untangling traffic jams,” he said.
Despite the mass exodus of residents, traffic and municipal police will be on duty in greater numbers around Wat Phnom, Hun Sen Park and the riverfront throughout the three-day holiday to prevent the holiday’s customary water and talcum powder fights, he added.
Municipal Deputy Governor Mann Chhoeun said that most of the city’s 1.5 million residents would be leaving for the provinces.
“People will leave the city, but it is totally different from when everyone left in April 1975,” he quipped. “In Pol Pot’s time, people left the city to die, but now they leave Phnom Penh for happiness.”
For those who are not leaving the city, the municipality has organized fireworks displays to ring in the year of the golden pig at Wat Phnom on Saturday and at Hun Sen Park on Monday.
Police will be particularly vigilant over the holiday to curb the activities of troublemaking youths, Mann Chhoeun added.
“If police see anyone throw water at other people on the street, police will arrest them and they won’t be released for three days,” he said.
With so many people fleeing Phnom Penh to spend time with relatives, most businesses in the city will be closed for three days. Consumers can also expect a spike in prices for food and taxis in the city.
Keang Lak, market chief for Phsar O’Russei, said that nearly all of the vendors have closed up their stalls for the duration of the holiday.
“Fruit, meat and transportation increase between 20 to 30 percent [during the holiday]. What can I do?” shopper Seng Sary said at Phsar Kandal Friday morning.
Though services will be limited throughout the city over the holiday, the municipality said that the health system would be functioning as usual.
“All hospitals in Phnom Penh will be operating,” said Municipal Health Department Director Veng Thai. “We have more [personnel] than normal days during the New Year,” he added.