PHNOM PENH (Khmer Times) – Riverside, where the city meets the water, is amagnet for all visitors — from shaggy backpackers to luxury Mekong River cruise passengers.
And yet along this showcase kilometer, a strange ritual takes place every night after closing time for bars and restaurants. Waitresses lug large plastic barrels filled with malodorous garbage, largely leftover food scraps for the day. Then they dump the garbage on the street.
Garbage spills out of untied or torn plastic bags. Some garbage is not even in bags, just poured raw next to the stone curb.
“I put the garbage in front of my restaurant for the garbage collectors to collect it,” Hun Sida, a 24-year-old waitress at the Pink Elephant Happy Pizza Pub, said one recent night. She said the restaurant owner orders employees to drop the garbage in the street in front of the restaurant.
“But the garbage truck doesn’t come regularly,” she continued. “I am not sure what time they come to collect it.”
Along the Riverside that evening, trash collected under the wheels of tuk tuks waiting for fares. In some places it was contained in tied black plastic bags.
But in other cases restaurant owners were saving money by not buying garbage bags. They just had their employees dump the day’s leftovers and trash in the street.
“The restaurants are closed around 12 o’clock, and the garbage is messy in front of each restaurant,” Ms. Sida said. “The garbage collectors always make it messy, even though the garbage is put in order.”
Ms. Sida said the street gets strewn with trash because restaurant workers don’t bother to tie the garbage bags. Either way, stray dogs or recycling men often tear open the garbage bags. The dogs go for the food. The recyclers for cans and bottles.
No one thinks to invest in sturdy garbage cans. It is always the fault of the CINTRI workers.
“The garbage trucks are very late to collect it,” said Sao Nhor, a 59-year-old King’s Court Restaurant staffer. “Sometimes the workers don’t collect at all, and some are left behind.”
Khmer Times garbage prowl came shortly after city officials cleaned up the park side of Riverside. With TV cameras recording the broom pushing, that side got a good cleaning.
“The street looks pretty clean to me,” John Mulroney, a 68-year-old semi-retired Australian pharmacy builder said as he relaxed with his wife Teresa over a few beers. “There are areas to exercise, to walk.”
But Brian Gruber, a writer visiting from California, said trash around Phnom Penh was turning him off, prompting him to spend most of his Cambodia vacation on the Coast.
“I am well-traveled and easily overlook those things, even charmed at times,” the American said as bars and restaurant started closing at the Riverside. “But the trash, the sheer indifference to public filth may be a deal breaker for me.”
“Shopkeepers throw their uneaten food on the pavement in front of their stores,” he continued. “Huge piles of ancient trash with hordes of flies that spread germs and disease. It is a big, big concern to me.”
From the city side, officials say cleanliness should apply to both sides of Riverside.
“We invite owners of restaurants to keep hygiene and keep their restaurants clean to attract tourists to visit,” said Chit Narith, chairman of the tourist office for the city’s downtown Daun Penh district. “We will be strict if they don’t follow the law. We will fine them.”
Will the city act?
With this report the Khmer Times starts a regular feature: Clean up Cambodia! Look for our green logo!