Rules for Street Weddings Do Exist—For Some

Contrary to popular belief, there are regulations for erecting wedding tents on the streets of Phnom Penh. But not all authorities know the rules, and they don’t apply to everyone.

From November to March—after one rice crop is harvested and before the next is planted— “wedding season” sweeps the country. But in the capital, the joy is often tempered by the grumbling of those whose daily routine collides with parties that cordon off entire streets, generating traffic chaos across the city.

Police direct traffic in front of a wedding tent blocking Street 242 at the intersection of Norodom Boulevard in Phnom Penh on Friday. (Ben Woods/The Cambodia Daily)
Police direct traffic in front of a wedding tent blocking Street 242 at the intersection of Norodom Boulevard in Phnom Penh on Friday. (Ben Woods/The Cambodia Daily)
And while it may appear that people are free to hold weddings wherever they please, City Hall spokesman Long Dimanche said on Friday that strict regulations had been in place for years to ensure that one’s special day does not impinge upon the rest of the community.

“Main streets are always busy, so people are not permitted to set up [weddings] there,” Mr. Dimanche said, naming Norodom and Monivong boulevards as completely off limits.“We allow weddings to be set up on smaller streets, but they can only take up part of the road — they must leave space for people to access it normally without any inconvenience.”

But these rules, it seems, only apply to some.

For about two weeks, the streets abutting the mansion of Interior Minister Sar Kheng in central Phnom Penh have been bustling with various contractors brought in to prepare for the wedding of his son.

On Friday, the day before the two-day event officially kicked off, gift-bearing guests began arriving and preparations were almost complete.

Street 242, to the south of the mansion, was completely closed off; a giant tent and dozens of air conditioning units blocked even foot traffic.

To the north, Street 240 was choked by parked luxury cars, while metal barricades partially blocked both ends between Norodom and Street 51.

In front of the mansion, more luxury cars filled the sidewalk and one lane of Norodom, whose traffic was brought to a near-standstill hours before the city’s regular gridlock hours. Lexuses, Land Rovers and a Bentley were parked on the sidewalk across the boulevard.

Traffic police officers help a van merge back into traffic after making a delivery at Interior Minister Sar Kheng’s mansion on Norodom Boulevard. (Ben Woods/Cambodia Daily
Traffic police officers help a van merge back into traffic after making a delivery at Interior Minister Sar Kheng’s mansion on Norodom Boulevard. (Ben Woods/Cambodia Daily

And the same police officers who are meant to be enforcing the regulations that Mr. Dimanche outlined were instead on hand to divert cars away from the cross streets and help guests — or rather their chauffeurs — find parking.

“According to the law, this is wrong, very wrong,” said one traffic police officer assigned to the area who declined to give his name for fear of losing his job.

“We are just low-level. I follow orders. What can I do?”

Scores of traffic police were directing traffic on Norodom as of about 4 p.m., as were about a dozen municipal police, a dozen military police, pairs of heavily armed members of the Prime Minister Bodyguard Unit, and numerous private security personnel.

According to Mr. Dimanche, district governors are in charge of managing weddings taking place in the streets.
However, Daun Penh district governor Kouch Chamroeun said he had no idea that regulations on street weddings even existed.

“I follow City Hall’s orders, but until now, I have received no such notification,” he said, adding that he had not ordered any security forces to guard the area around Mr. Kheng’s mansion.

A traffic police officer directs a Rolls-Royce in front of Mr. Sar Kheng’s mansion. (Ben Woods/The Cambodia Daily)
A traffic police officer directs a Rolls-Royce in front of Mr. Sar Kheng’s mansion. (Ben Woods/The Cambodia Daily)

Asked to justify the state resources expended for the wedding, district police chief Hout Chan Yarann hung up on a reporter.

District military police commander Thong Piseth said he ordered his officers there to maintain public order and provide security. “Top leaders will be there, and there will be a traffic jam if they have a party,” he said.

The wedding party is expected to be of such prestige that tycoon Kith Meng sent a mobile production unit and a team of 29 from his Cambodian Television Network (CTN) to capture it, according to Mom Reaksmey, an assistant to Mr. Meng.

CTN will “not be paid for this,” Mr. Reaksmey said. “Oknha Kith Meng wants to help Sar Kheng create a memory with a video documentary.”

Among the many citizens who have voiced their anger over weddings that clog up city streets is political analyst Ou Virak, who has written at length about the rich and powerful not being held to the same legal standards as the rest of the population.

On Friday, Mr. Virak said that the practice of hosting elaborate weddings with no concern for others was just another example of a two-tiered society that is showing no signs of rebalancing.

“Government officials think this is OK because it’s a once-in-a-lifetime event, but there are 1.5 million people in Phnom Penh. Do the math, if everyone thought like them, the streets would be blocked almost all the time,” he said.

“The key criteria in passing a law is: Can it be applied to everyone?”

Grandiose weddings are sometimes justified as simply being part of Cambodian culture. But in reality, he said, they are being shaped by the ever-increasing desire of citizens to present themselves as upper-class.

“These days, a wedding is to show wealth, to show status–this is wrong from the beginning. The whole of society should not pay the price for two families to show off.”

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