En Yom sat on a riverside platform Sunday and watched the crew of the “Moha Hong Senchey” propel his boat up and down the Tonle Sap.
“I must win the boat races,” he said. “Look! All of my 67 men are paddling the boat very well.”
“Moha Hong Senchey“ has come from Kandal province to race in 18 Water Festivals. The boat was victorious eight times.
Pride is now at stake, En Yom said. His crew has practiced hard over the past month, but so has their competition.
Ruon Vandy, 29, said his team from Kompong Cham province has worked hard in recent weeks. His boat, “Preah Khan Reach,” is also a past champion.
“Nothing would make us happier than becoming the winners,” he said. “If we fail, we would be disappointed, but I keep in mind, ‘Today I fail; tomorrow I win.’”
Several hundred racing boats crowded Chroy Changva’s bank, some of them lashed alongside larger boats aboard which crews could bunk and while away their downtime.
Up on shore packs of men with hats and shirts announcing their sponsors cruised the muddy lane lined with vendors, socializing and checking out their competition.
Many Cambodians coming to Phnom Penh this week view the Water Festival as a money-making opportunity. Vendors have pitched hundreds of umbrellas and tarpaulins along Chroy Changva’s western bluff.
“I have made $50 a night after expenses during the Water Festival,” said Tech Lyka, a 32-year-old porridge vendor from Svay Rieng province.
Tech Lyka said she pays 15,000 riel a day for the small plot where she does business and 5,000 riel a night for policemen to guarantee her security. She also hires someone to clean her stand for 5,000 riel per day.
“I always leave my farm to catch this opportunity to earn money,” Tech Lyka said.
Municipal Chief of Cabinet Mann Chhoeun said sufficient numbers of police and soldiers have been deployed this week to guarantee the same level of security the city enjoyed during the recent Asean Summit.
Two police motorboats patrolled the peninsula Sunday morning, one of which apparently had a rookie at the helm. Forgetting to untie a bowline, the policemen found themselves jerked back to shore and nearly overboard.
Som Saing, a 31-year-old racer of another Kompong Cham province team, arrived Saturday night. He said he is pleased with security on Chroy Changva, which will be a temporary home to thousands this week. His major concern is the weather.
“When it’s raining, the water pours down on us, so we can’t sleep. [Saturday night] it was raining so seriously we couldn’t sleep till dawn,” Som Saing said.
(Additional reporting by Porter Barron)