The city’s new park on Chroy Changva peninsula is a hit with rowers, their families and the 200 vendors who flocked there to provide them with snacks and souvenirs.
“I am very happy to see this area is more developed than last year,” said San Saran, 51, of Kratie province, squatting on the new cement promenade in the shade of a ceremonial umbrella.
“This place is more convenient for the boatmen to sleep, and we can swim in the water. It’s cleaner and less polluted.” While some rowers miss being close to the Tuol Kok brothel district, he said, most were happy to have a safe place to relax.
Pich Saroeun, Chroy Changva commune chief, said the new park has attracted thousands of visitors and provides nearly all the amenities of the west side of the river, from electricity to latrines to a concert stage.
The peninsula is hosting 30,000 rowers, many of whom arrived in large support boats full of supplies and relatives that were tied up by the score along the new promenade Thursday.
Police and city officials say that spreading the celebration over a greater area has reduced crime and made the festival a more enjoyable experience for the biggest crowds ever.
“It’s the biggest turnout I’ve ever seen,” said Phnom Penh Governor Chea Sophara, who believes the crowds came because of “peace, stability, and the beautification of the city.”
They found more police, soldiers and toilets than ever before: 6,000 police and military; 30 new public toilets in Phnom Penh; and 100 latrines on Chroy Chungva.
It was a marked improvement over last year, when festivalgoers urinated against the wall surrounding the Royal Palace because there weren’t enough toilets.
Pich Reth, 55, traveled by boat from Prey Veng to watch her son race, hoping to sell enough sugar cane chunks to pay for the trip. The park is so new she hadn’t even known it existed, she said.
With landscaping only weeks old, shade is at a premium. Pich Reth set up operations in the tiny patch of shade cast by two newly planted meter-tall palm trees.
“It’s been fun, but I haven’t really made good money yet,” she said. On the other hand, she was in a wonderful location to appreciate the fireworks displays on Tuesday and Wednesday nights.
“They were very good, very brilliant!” she said. By Ty, a farmer from Kandal, said, “Last year, we smelled a lot of sweat, because people were so crowded. Now, I can breathe fresh air.”