While throngs of vendors along the Tonle Sap river are doubling or tripling their normal sales during the Water Festival, the average boat racer doesn’t earn much for his efforts.
Many say they don’t mind at all.
“The first time I raced, I came for the money,” said Ron, a racer from Neak Leung town in Prey Veng province.
But at his first race two years ago, Ron realized quickly that there wasn’t much money involved.
Standing around him in fiery orange T-shirts and white caps, several of his teammates agreed enthusiastically that racing in the Water Festival isn’t about money.
During the festival, racers from around the country get a 4,000 riel (about $1) daily allowance for food and necessities from the National Committee for Organizing Festivals, said Min Khin, committee deputy chairman.
The Royal Palace donates kramas to the teams on racing days, and some boats receive complimentary promotions from their sponsors—usually little more than a T-shirt or a few packs of cigarettes.
Even the swiftest boats on the river this week will get far less money than the people conducting business on the riverfront.
The 450,000 riel ($112.50) awarded to first-place boats must be divided between anywhere from 20 to 60 rowers, leaving individual team members with from $1.90 to $5.60 to show for their efforts.
A team from Takhmau district in Kandal province said camaraderie has brought them to the races in Phnom Penh over the years.
“We are the same team as last year,” the racers said. “We are all friends. We are happy.”
“We don’t think about money,” said a racer from Kien Svay district in Kandal province.
When asked whether it bothered him that people all around him were making money, another racer from the same Kien Svay team answered gruffly: “No—I am happy.”
(Additional reporting by Phann Ana)