There were fancy cakes and silk bags, palm vinegar and crunchy turnips, plastic cisterns and oil paintings.
Add in cool breezes, icy drinks and lots of holidaymakers wandering along the riverbank on Chroy Changva, and Cambodia’s first domestic products trade fair Sunday looked like a success.
“It has been great to come here and show people that Cambodians make good-quality products,” said Heng Thaly of the Cambodian Handicraft Association for Landmine and Polio Disabled.
Her booth was stocked with dozens of bags, boxes, picture frames, purses and stuffed animals of all shapes and sizes, hand-made by disabled Cambodians using bright silks and cottons.
“On Saturday and Sunday, we made at least $100 a day, and on the other days we made around $70 to $80,” she said.
More important than the money was the exposure to thousands of Cambodian browsers who hadn’t known such products existed. “At our shop, most of our customers are foreigners,” she said. “Cambodians didn’t know about us.”
The trade fair, which opened April 4 in the nearly completed Chroy Changva park across the Tonle Sap from the Royal Palace, will run daily from 7:30 am to 11 pm through Wednesday.
The fair is drawing up to 10,000 people per day, said Seng Tong, vice governor of Phnom Penh. “Cambodia makes many things, but people don’t know exactly what we can do,” he said.
A perfect example was Horn Eav, who stood in a tent surrounded by huge blue, green and white plastic water cisterns suitable for roof or yard installation. He said they are made in Cambodia by the Tai Meng Co and offer an economical and hygienic alternative to metal roof tanks or clay pots for catching rainwater.
“We have been very successful,” he said, noting he has sold at least 30 tanks—some of which hold as much as 4,500 liters—since the fair began. “This has worked really well for us. We would definitely come back if the city organizes something like this again.”
More traditional were the souvenirs and large oil paintings of Angkor Wat offered by Prak Sideth, who usually sells artwork at his Museum Jewelry shop on Street 178.
“We aren’t making that much money, but the exposure is excellent,” he said. “It’s hard that we have to work on Khmer New Year, but we want the business.”
Some vendors were using the trade fair to test-market new products. Chea Samphy, 23, is one of a group of 30 students at the Cambodia Institute of Technology who are manufacturing palm vinegar.
“We did research for two years before we started this,” he said of his tasty product, which sold for 1,000 riel (about $0.25) for a small bottle and 1,300 riel (about $0.33) for a large one.
He said the students are happy to make money, but their real purpose is to come up with sustainable uses for palm products so that villagers will stop chopping down palm trees for wood.
Their next marketing plan, he said, is to sell pure palm sugar in handmade clay pots. The sample pots on display at the booth drew so many inquiries that he suspects it will be another success.
About one-third of the vendors had closed up shop by Sunday, some to celebrate the New Year, but others because they had sold all their goods, according to neighboring vendors.
The vendors said the crowds have been biggest at night, when actors, singers and dancers provide free entertainment at a stage adjacent to the festival grounds.
Mao Phirith of the city’s commercial office said officials were happy there had been no serious problems like crime or drowning, and that the city would consider hosting more such events in the future.
Vendors said they hope future events will offer space rent-free, as this one did. “We’ve done great business here,” said Ung Saroeun, whose wicker-and-rattan stall was drawing crowds. “We’d be happy to do this again. We’ll come any time the city organizes something like this.”
But he said he’s heard of festivals where the organizers charge as much as $500 rent for each stall.
“If the city decides to charge, maybe we wouldn’t want to come,” he said. “We couldn’t afford that.”