Provinces Lure Thousands to Water Festival

While Phnom Penh remained quiet over the weekend due to the government’s cancellation of the annual Water Festival for the third year running, Svay Rieng and Siem Reap provinces attracted a total of more than 100,000 revelers eager to see the traditional boat races held there.

Ros Pharith, Svay Rieng provincial administration director, said more than 100,000 people had flocked to the province to take part in the Water Festival, which featured 47 different boats racing on the Waiko River. In attendance at the festival was Deputy Prime Minister Men Sam An, who is also a parliamentarian for the province, he said.

“We had 40 longboats that had 22 rowers in each boat, and there were seven smaller boats that had beween seven to eight rowers,” Mr. Pharith said.

“We also held concerts for people, and they were welcome to sing onstage,” Mr Pharith said. “We are really proud to be able to continue the Khmer tradition of celebrating the Water Festival.”

Siem Reap City’s Chung Khnies commune saw a smaller number of festival-goers, with about 10,000 people attending from around the province, said commune chief Em Man.

“We prepared a water festival for our area that had 10,000 national and international visitors taking part in it,” Mr. Man said, adding that the races were held Sunday and Saturday. “There were 30 small boats and more than 160 rowers participating in it.”

Phnom Penh’s annual Water Festival used to attract more than 1 million Cambodians from the provinces. However, City Hall has cancelled the event every year since the 2010 festival, when 353 people were killed during a stampede on a bridge leading to Koh Pich island.

In 2011, it was cancelled due to severe flooding in the provinces, and last year, the city decided to forgo the celebrations out of respect for the late King Father Norodom Sihanouk, who passed away on October 15.

This year, City Hall cancelled the festival, citing a need to focus on recovery efforts from the recent floods. However, some critics have suggested the government was unwilling to hold a mass event in the capital in the wake of disputed elections that have seen large-scale protests.

(Additional reporting by Mech Dara)

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