kompong speu province – Fireworks in Cambodia are a booming business, and not just during Chinese New Year.
Hundreds of stands selling homemade fireworks have blossomed along National Route 3, which runs from Phnom Penh to Kampot province and cuts through the geographic heart of Cambodia’s fireworks production industry: Kompong Speu’s Kong Pisei district.
“People have more money now so they buy more fireworks,” said 50-year-old firework maker Noy Kim in Veal commune.
Small fireworks cost $0.25 in Kong Pisei, while big ones—which can shoot up to 300 meters in the air and are as large as coconuts—cost hundreds of dollars. Most of the producers in Kong Pisei are small-scale artisans, said Kang Hieng, Kompong Speu provincial governor. “Making fireworks by hand is not a dangerous business if people are careful,” he added.
Noy Kim’s family has been in the fireworks business since the 1940s. His father, he said, used to work in the Royal Palace, but during the Pol Pot regime he was forced to make grenades for the Khmer Rouge.
Today, Noy Kim is more interested in making business than making war. “We can make thousands of dollars per month,” he said. “My clients are rich people and high-ranking officials.”
Several people in Kompong Speu province say hand-made Khmer fireworks are not quite as good as mass-produced Chinese ones, despite the fact that the raw materials—chiefly gun powder, potash and sulfur—are imported from China and sold to producers at local markets.
“Chinese made [fireworks] have better color,” said Nong Rom, 26, who says he sells his fireworks for use in Siem Reap, Battambang, Svay Rieng and Takeo provinces.
For Cambodians, fireworks are a way to honor their ancestors, show off their wealth and make a bid for a brighter future. “We believe that setting off fireworks will bring a future as bright as the light of a firework,” said Ath Pot, 41, a Kompong Speu villager who had bought 1,000 small firecrackers for a Buddhist ceremony that was held Friday night.
Decades of civil war disrupted fireworks production, and restrictions on their use were not eased until the late 1990s, villagers said.
Information Minister and government spokesman Khieu Kanharith said the government still keeps tabs on fireworks production and use in Cambodia.
“If you use fireworks, you have to ask permission,” he said, adding that the small size of most Cambodian fireworks limits the security risks.
“We are very careful in making fireworks,” said Noy Kim. “We must not smoke or work near a fire.”