Preparations for the Water Festival were in full swing Thursday as thousands of vendors, boat competitors and onlookers descended on the banks of the Tonle Sap, setting up booths, wandering the crowds and watching boat crews stage mock races in the water.
Blaring music and the grunts of crews from passing boats filled the air.
On Chroy Changva peninsula, packs of men from the provinces were enjoying their time in the city, strolling with team members after emerging sweaty and smiling from their boats.
Team pride flamed among the hordes of brightly colored matching caps and T-shirts. Pre-race trash talk was rampant.
“We are going to win!” said Hai San, 44, whose Kompong Speu province boat of 68 men is participating in the festival for the first time.
Chhuon Samoun, 32, disagreed. “My boat wins every year,” he said of the Pich Ramssei Serisophea boat from Kompong Cham province, which is competing for the fifth time. “Maybe they will sink,” Chhuon Samoun said.
Chroy Changva residents were making the most of the population influx.
Suy Sophea, 21, will be running a food booth in front of her home for the first time with the help of her pregnant mother.
“This is a very lucrative business,” Suy Sophea said. “It’s better for me because vendors from other provinces have to pay for a plot of land, and I don’t have to.”
Visiting vendors spend $10 to $20 for a phone-booth-sized space for three days, making the weekend profitable for all river residents, regardless of whether they vend goods themselves.
After years of watching the action from his front porch, Tuy Sopaal, 26, decided to set up a booth this year.
“I want to sell,” Tuy Sopaal said. “Before I didn’t know how to sell or run a business. Now my aunt is helping me.”
He hoped to make at least 200,000 riel ($50) over the weekend. Tuy Sopaal said he was confident he would make up for the 30,000 riel ($7.50) he spent on the wide variety of Khmer dishes he cooked with his aunt.
River residents are further profiting by renting out sections of their homes to participants and vendors.
Residents said all available beds and hammocks were filled Tuesday, leaving late arrivals, like a team from Kompong Cham province, to set up camp at Chroy Changva primary school.
Across the river on Sisowath Quay, the congestion of boats and people brought traffic to a frustrating crawl on Thursday afternoon.
Large trucks unloading everything from food to chairs blocked off traffic entirely at intermittent times throughout the day.
Vendors selling their wares spilled onto the street, and police cordons around the Royal Palace further thwarted drivers.