The Water Festival has returned to the riverbanks and streets of Phnom Penh, and with it have come hordes of tourists who have made the trip to the capital from their provincial homes.
After travelling more than 120 kilometres from Kampong Cham province, Chan Sreun arrived in the capital on Tuesday night to cheer on racers from her home district of Srey Santhor. Her son and nephew are both on the team.
“I come to cheer for the racers who represent our district. Then, to watch the theatre at night,” the 55-year-old Sreun said while the boatmen warmed up for the first race of the day.
“The festival has been cancelled for the past three years, so my family and I are all quite excited to come and join in on the festivities again.”
Sreun, who hasn’t missed a single Water Festival since 1992, is just one of the two million domestic tourists expected to flood Phnom Penh over the three-day event.However, it is unlikely that the capital’s hotels are going to feel the impact of such a population increase.
Luu Meng, president of the Hotel Association in Cambodia, said he expects hotels located close to riverside to see a slight increase in bookings from foreigners only, while domestic visitors are more likely to find accommodation with friends or family.
“There will be more foreign tourists who come for the Water Festival, I think there will be increase of booking for hotels along the riverside,” he said. “But there will be less bookings for hotels that are located far from riverside as the number of foreigners who usually travel to Cambodia for business is likely to decline over the holidays.”
While city accommodation is expected to remain largely available, the same cannot be said for hotels on the coast and in Siem Reap, according to officials and tourism industry representatives.
Chhoeuy Chhorn, director of the Siem Reap Provincial Tourism Department, told the Post yesterday that he was expecting a notable influx of local tourists.
“It is getting crowded along Siem Reap stream as boat racing is being held there too,” he explained.
“We see a lot more local tourists to the province. We have the traditional boat racing, theatre including Lkhorn Sbek Thom, concerts and other cultural events.”
Siem Reap’s usually annual Water Festival had been cancelled for the past two years due to mass flooding.
Keo Sith, senior sales manager at Sokha Hotels, said booking requests at two of the company’s largest hotels have increased sharply over the past two weeks for the festival period, November 5 to 7.
“It is always fully booked during holidays break. Most of our clients are from Phnom Penh looking to relax,” he said, adding that all 275 rooms of the Sokha Hotel and Resort in Siem Reap, and 390 rooms in Sihanoukville have been booked out.
Chheang Sopheap, sales executive of OC Boutique Hotel in Sihanoukville province, similarly anticipated a dramatic rise in local tourism over the Water Festival holiday.
“Out of 100 rooms available in our hotel, more than 70 per cent have been booked. Around 80 per cent of the clients are Cambodian,” she went on to say.
But city-dwellers are not only headed for the coast or the ancient temple city. According to Sok Oudom, reservation officer of Thansour Bokor High Land Resort in Kampot province, the hotel and casino has already checked in some 400 visitors with more on the way.
“Compared to last year, that figure represents a slight decline,” Oudom said.
“The majority of visitors are Cambodian who escape the crowds in Phnom Penh and others are from provinces looking to take advantage of the national holiday and take a break with their family.”
ADDITIONAL REPORTING HOR KIMSAY