Although public enthusiasm for this year’s Water Festival, which begins in Phnom Penh today, has been dampened slightly after the cancellation of the holiday’s iconic boat races, one group that’s not letting the decision get in the way of making money are the itinerant vendors who flock to the city each year during the festival.
Camped alongside the outer wall of Wat Ounalom, a group of handicraft vendors from Srahpor village, in Kandal, began setting up shop last week.
They say that, regardless of whether the boat races are cancelled, the holiday will be good for business.
“To transport goods to Phnom Penh is a bit expensive, but during the Water Festival they sell very well, because many people come to Phnom Penh,” vendor Sok Phany said.
“I know the boats won’t race this year. But because we habitually come here for every festival, we have to come again.”
Phany told the Post she spent four months weaving various kinds of baskets at her home in Kandal before travelling to Phnom Penh to sell them.
“When I was young, my mother used to come here to sell baskets during the Water Festival,” she said.
“We began selling them again together in the 1990s after stopping for a while during the Khmer Rouge time.”
As well as woven baskets and ropes made from palm leaves, the vendors are selling home-made products such as classical instruments (in particular, the wooden roneat tro, or flute), bronze figurines and woven fans.
A fellow vendor, Prak Sop-heap, told the Post she arr-ived in Phnom Penh nine days ago, had already sold half her range, and might have to return to Kandal to collect more.
“Even though the boat race was cancelled, I don’t think it will affect my business because I still can sell out, as I do every year,” she said.
“Cambodian people like to buy our handicrafts because the quality is better than the imported plastic products that are usually sold here.”
Prak Sopheap, 45, estimates she will earn as much as two million riel during the festival, a similar amount to last year.
Another vendor, Chheng Samai, 38, has woven two baskets every day since July in order to sell them at the Water Festival.
She said she depended on her daughter to help move her inventory around the city to find the best location for sales.
“Actually, our main source of income is based on rice.
“In the agricultural season, we grow rice, and when we’re free from rice, we make all of these handicrafts to sell in Phnom Penh.
“Of course, we can sell them at home, but they don’t bring the same profit as selling them in Phnom Penh during the Water Festival.”
A recent decision by the municipal government to offer migrant vendors space for their stalls along the wall of Wat Ounalom and the free use of electric generators had been happily embraced, said Chheng, who estimated more than 20 stalls had already been established before the beginning of the festival tomorrow.
“My biggest and most beautiful baskets cost 30,000 riel, and my small baskets cost 10,000 riel. I’m hoping they will sell as well as last year,” she said.