Too Many Peddlers, Not Enough Customers, Vendors Say

While the Water Festival historically has been a boom time for noodle seller Lok Bunny, this year he has had a rocky start.

He arrived too late to get a good location. He lost money Monday because he had too much food. Now he is hoping to recoup his losses and make a small profit, but he has no hopes of raking in money, as he has in previous years.

Lok Bunny is not alone. Drink sellers, sandwich makers, noodle vendors and purveyors of plastic toys and colorful balloons have found themselves with more competition and fewer custom­ers. But they say, the festival will still provide a welcome boost to what has otherwise been a sluggish year for sales.

Sok Boeun, a sugar-cane juice seller, knew the festival could be a boon for him after he had been scraping by for months. So early Saturday, ahead of the crowds, he staked out his spot near the river and guarded it vigilantly.

His farsightedness has paid off. On Monday he raked in almost 60,000 riel ($15)—six times as much as on a non-festival day. To handle the throngs of customers, he has employed three teens from the squatter camp where he lives. “This has been the best year for me,” he said.

Since the July 1997 fighting, he said, drink sales have been slow, and his hopes that they would im-prove after the elections have been in vain. So he had especially high hopes that the Water Fes-tival—usually busier than Khmer New Year—would be profitable.

But while officials predicted that more than 1 million people  would flock to the riverside for the three-day festival, vendors interviewed Tuesday said they believed attendance was down—some said by as much as half compared with recent years.

And to make matters worse, they said, there are more vendors this year. Drink seller Sok Boeun attributed this to the poor economic conditions both in Phnom Penh and in the countryside. Bad crops and rice shortages have driven many people to the capital to find work.

The Water Festival also has failed to meet the expectations of Seng Thy, who was selling plastic planes and colorful balloons from his bicycle near the Royal Palace.

“Previous years were better,” he said. “Since [the July fighting] business has been slow.”

But even so, he hopes to make as much as 100,000 riel ($25), his normal weekly wage.

Noodle vendor Lok Bunny hoped to earn about 40,000 riel ($10) on Tuesday and today. He wants to avoid a repeat of Mon­day when he lost 30,000 riel ($7.60) because he had too much uneaten food.

It’s a disappointment after last year, he said, when he was able to sell 15 kg of noodles a day and earn more than 200,000 riel ($51).

He cited the additional competition as one reason business has been so poor. But his main complaint was his location. Stirring his pan of noodles, he nodded at the path a few meters closer to the river, where Sok Boeun stood grinding sugar cane.

“Business is not so good,” he said. “It is better near the river.”


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