Cambodians Flood City for Water Festival

Wiping the sweat off his face while trying to find shelter under the thin shade of a lamp post in front of the Royal Palace, photographer Chea Sam Oeun watched the water in the Tonle Sap river flow from north to south—the signal he longs for every year.

The Water Festival begins when the water, which flows from the Mekong river into the Tonle Sap lake for several months each year, reverses course.

It is a good time for street vendors like Chea Sam Oeun.

“There will be more people this year, as the water festival and the King’s birthday coincide,” Chea Sam Oeun, 45, said.

“Last year, I made more than $25 from taking photographs during the three days of the water festival.” he said.

On a normal day, Chea Sam Oeun said, he has only 10 customers. During the Water Fes­tival, which this year runs from Tuesday through Thursday, he said he hopes to photograph 50 to 60 people per day.

“Farmers like having their photographs taken with the Royal Palace and pictures of the King and Queen posted there,” he said.

The holiday period has other vendors looking forward to the festivals and the crowds they bring.

Mam Saran, 48, a fortune teller with a booth near Chaktomuk Theater, predicted she will be busier this year telling other people’s fortunes.“On [festival] days, I usually have 20 clients per day. But I do not make much money, because people give according to their wishes,” she said.

Not everyone is overjoyed about the coming festival, however. Taxi drivers who run routes from Phnom Penh to the pro­v­inces and back have been complaining that the money is drying up this year, thanks to drought in some places, plus an in­crease in competition.

“Every year at Water Festival, I could get 40,000 riel to 50,000 riel (about $10 to $12.50) per passenger. But at water festival this year, I get only 30,000 riel (about $7.50) per person,” Battambang route driver Phann Vibol said.

Farmers near Tonle Sap lake have faced drought this year, and fewer are coming into Phnom Penh for the festival. One who did not is Chhay Ny from Banteay Meanchey.

“I want to go see the boat races in Phnom Penh, but I could not afford it because my rice died from drought,” he said. “I canceled my plans because I am busy with my business to support my family.”

Taxi driver An Vy says competition has become stiffer in recent years. “It is hard to make money. There are not many guests and too many cars each year. I have to wait and hope for the New Year,” he said.

Another concern for drivers is the rising crime rate.

“It is not easy work because there is danger all the time. I want to get a better job,” Kom­pong Cham driver Mon Morn said.

Government officials are bra­cing for, and embracing, the surge of visitors.

“There will be 10 to 20 boats added to the 400 boats in last year’s race,” National and Inter­national Festival Committee Deputy Chairman Min Khin predicted.

“Some boats have been en­larged from 58 rowers to 67 or 69. So that will draw more supporters,”  Min Khin said.

Phnom Penh Governor Chea Sophara said he, too, is looking forward to the festival because it will give Phnom Penh a chance to show off.

People will flow into the city to see its ongoing beautification efforts, the governor said.

“They heard about the new developments in the capital. They really want to see it,” he said.


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