SIEM REAP CITY – Thousands lined the Siem Reap River on Wedneday evening as fireworks exploded overhead and the sun set on the final day of Water Festival boat races here.
The day began with friendly competition between the previous day’s losers, with anticipation building toward the 5 p.m. finals.
In the men’s division, the crew of local boat Hanuman Meanrith took home the $1,000 prize, overcoming stiff competition from Neakach Senchey Teuk Dey Angkor in the final race. Angkor Chum Senchey made it a Siem Reap full house as the team from the province’s Angkor Chum district took the women’s crown.
Crowds were at least as large as the previous day as sweltering temperatures gave way to gray skies and intermittent rain, with a particularly severe downpour sending spectators and vendors scrambling for cover as children splashed in the swollen river, dammed upstream on occasion of the races.
Despite the sizeable crowds, vendors parked along the riverside bemoaned poor sales compared to year past.
“Business is as not as good as last year because of the weather,” said Chhum Srey Oun, 34, who was selling water and soft drinks near the finish line.
“It’s been raining, and when it’s cold, people don’t want to buy water. Last year I made $150, but yesterday I made $25, and today I made only $10,” she said.
On Tuesday, Skun Sath, 33, who sells skewers of processed meat, also reported disappointing takings, but placed the blame on event’s organizers, who gave the prime spots to Thai sellers.
“Vendors from Thailand got the spots near the starting line this year,” she said. “Last year, there were no Thai vendors, and now they are bringing new brands that people have never seen before.”
This year’s Water Festival celebrations in Siem Reap are the biggest in the country, authorities having canceled the races in Phnom Penh for the fourth time in five years, citing low water levels and the need to allocate resources to drought mitigation.
Watching the races on Wedneday, Seun San, a 55-year-old farmer from Kandal province, who attended his first Water Festival there in 1965, said he usually decided to make the trip to Siem Reap after the races were called off in the capital.
“I came here to see the boats. This is our tradition and this is my favorite sport,” he said.