City Quiet as Water Festival Canceled

On what would normally have been a bustling day in Phnom Penh ahead of the first day of the annual Water Festival—which usually sees millions of revelers travel to the capital for the festivities—the city was mostly silent yesterday.

Last month, the government canceled the yearly three-day celebration and boat races—meant to start today—in honor of the late King Father Norodom Sihanouk, who died October 15.

Though people still have the three days off work, this is the second year in a row the Water Festival has not been celebrated. Last year, it was canceled due to severe flooding in the provinces. The festival has not been held since 2010 when 353 people were killed during a bridge stampede at Koh Pich.

Outside the Royal Palace on Sisowath Quay yesterday, traffic flowed normally and there was no sign of vendors setting up to cater to the millions of residents and visitors who usually descend upon the city. Instead, about 20 people kneeled and prayed in front of the palace, while others waited at roadblocks as Prime Minister Hun Sen inspected the King Father’s funeral pyre—which is being constructed in front of the National Museum.

“This year, once again, we postponed the festival because of the passing of the King Father. When his majesty’s body is lying in mourning, it is not appropriate to have millions of people flocking into Phnom Penh in front of the Royal Palace, where the body is, and celebrating,” Mr. Hun Sen said during a groundbreaking ceremony for a new overpass in Phnom Penh’s Meanchey district yesterday.

On Koh Pich, about a dozen vendors said that they had already paid for booths before the King Father’s death, and had begun setting up their shops to sell goods over the next three days in spite of the cancellation of the events.

“I think it’s appropriate that we’re not celebrating the festival because the King Father passed away. But next year, we should celebrate it because we’ve already missed it for two years,” said Ly Sokuok, 35, a clothing vendor.

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