Festival Means Business for Street Vendors

On a typical day, Ly Sothery walks nearly every block of Phnom Penh’s Meanchey district, her shoulders bearing the weight of bowls, chopsticks and a pot of noum banhchok (Khmer noodle soup). Balancing everything on two ends of a bamboo pole, she sells bowls of the soup for 700 riel (about $0.18).

So Ly Sothery was happy when the Water Festival came around again this year. Like many of the vendors who come to the riverfront for the festival, even though she’s working, she’s resting.

During the festival, she lets the other people do the walking, while she sits and sells her noodles for 1,000 riel (about $0.25) a bowl. She sells 150 to 200 bowls per night.

“I’m busy today,” Ly Sothery said, continuing to ladle soup into bowls while her children behind her washed the used ones. “I’m not walking around anymore. My kids and I are quite busy.”

City officials said they expect between 1.5 million and 2 million visitors for this year’s Water Fest­ival, which coincides with King Norodom Sihanouk’s 79th birthday. Approximately 400 boats continue racing at 11 am today. The event concludes with an award presentation Thursday af­ter­noon.

The city will use much of the re­venue from the park areas it rented to festival concert organizers to pay for the extra electricity for lights on Chroy Changva pe­nin­sula, said Oan Neang, commerce and advertising officer for the municipality. The rest of the revenue will go toward paying for the 17 boat teams sponsored by the city, he said.

Fireworks and dazzling Royal Palace lights can be seen on the waterfront at night, along with throngs of people, all of them walking for fun, and most of them hungry or thirsty.

“A lot of people are walking, and when they are hungry they like to eat,” a smiling Ly Sothery said, looking up from her ladeling. “It is a really good business, compared to a normal day.”

Although she and her family have to share the promenade with countless other vendors, there is never a shortage of customers. Prices go up, with the money going back into the family business or saved up for next year’s festival.

Ma Sopha, 25, sells six times as many glasses of sugar cane juice per day at the festival than on normal days. Instead of 20 or 30 glasses of squeezed green juice, she has to crush enough sugar cane to fill between 120 and 170 glasses, she said. At 1,000 riel per glass, she makes as much as 70,000 riel (about $17.50) per night.

“Most of the customers come from the countryside,” she said, pouring a fresh glass of juice. “My juice is cheap enough for the countryside people.”

One vendor says he sells as many as 350 eggs per day. Ven­dors of beer, toys, fried sparrows, bananas and pork buns all report successful sales this year, and say it is better than last year.

Gamblers also usually are busy at the festival, and the dealers, at least, are successful. Noun Pheak, a 21-year-old Khla-Klouk dealer, said he works in front of as many as 20 gamblers and spectators at a time.

Khla-Klouk is a dice/picture game using the same principle as craps. Bet on the rooster, and if the rooster comes up on one, two or all three of the dice which are subsequently thrown, you win. If not, you lose.

Noun Pheak, sitting with a tall pile of dirty riel notes in front of him, was too busy dealing to say how much money he had made. Or perhaps he chose to ignore the question.

“It’s a good time for me to make money,” he said, raising his voice over the din of a nearby Khmer concert. “I will stop my business after the festival.”

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