Though Phnom Penh Municipality is predicting that less than 1 million people will attend this year’s Water Festival, the Ministry of Tourism says that more than 3 million festival-goers will crowd into Phnom Penh this weekend.
Owing to a prolonged drought that has destroyed thousands of hectares of rice crops, rural farmers have little money to travel to Phnom Penh this year, said Chea Sokhom, the municipality’s deputy secretary-general.
The number of boats racing in the three-day festival is down from 400 last year to 382 this year, Chea Sokhom said.
“The decrease in boats is partly due to the drought that destroyed their crops and therefore they have no means of selling rice,” he said. “They have difficulty finding money to come to Water Festival in Phnom Penh.”
Ministry of Tourism officials, however, said they expect their efforts to promote the event internationally to pay off in the form of 3 million people, including foreign backpackers and tourists attending the festival.
“The ministry has invested so much effort in advertising and promoting the Water Festival internationally,” Tourism Minister Lay Prohas said.
For the first time ever, the ministry is setting up 200 chairs in front of the Royal Palace, where festival-goers can sit and watch the fireworks. All-you-can drink beer and soda will be available from 2 to 7 pm. The cost is $5.
Municipal Cabinet Director Mann Chhoeun said this year’s Water Festival is better organized than in years past.
“There are more public toilets stationed in public places, including along the riverfront, public parks and over the Japanese Bridge,” he said.
In addition, the municipality has turned a school into a hospital to treat festival-goers suffering from minor illnesses. The hospital will have doctors on duty 24 hours a day, Mann Chhoeun said.
Around 28,268 rowers will take part in the races, receiving $2 each for their efforts from the government, Chea Sokhom said.
adding that team meals and accommodation are provided by private sponsors.