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People travel to Phnom Penh from all over Cambodia to celebrate the Water Festival
People travel to Phnom Penh from all over Cambodia to celebrate the Water Festival, many with practical needs, such as health care, that can only be fulfilled in the capital. Eli Meixler

Errands to run in rare trip to city

Nop Phan has big plans for this year’s Water Festival.

While visiting Phnom Penh for the three-day revelry in boat races and fireworks, Phan also intends to avail himself of business and medical opportunities not typically available in his Prey Veng village.

“I came all this way and transportation is expensive. While I’m here I want to enjoy the festivities, but I will also buy equipment and get a medical checkup,” he said.

The 57-year-old welder plans on expanding his business, and to do so, needs to upgrade his generator.

After making the lengthy trip from his home province, Phan said he’s dividing his vacation between relaxing on the riverside with his family and getting quotes from suppliers.

“I plan to get medical care as well,” he said. “Prey Veng Provincial Hospital has good doctors, but they lack medical equipment. In Phnom Penh, there are many good doctors and also a lot of medical equipment, so that I know I can get more thorough care.”

Panh added that he would not have necessarily travelled to the capital for just one of the three things that brought him here, but the trifecta made the trip worth it.

Others celebrating the public holiday yesterday also said that the draw of various resources or amenities in the capital helped persuade them to come.

“We are farmers and need to buy some equipment for our rice fields, like a new tiller or tractor,” said Nuon Ly from Battambang.

But vendors along the riverside area complained that they had expected and budgeted for a more robust, big-spending festival turnout. Instead, they found military police in full green garb and armed with sheathed rifles outnumbered their patrons.

“I invested $80 in buying drinks to sell, but so far I haven’t even earned my investment back during two of the three festival days,” said Kong Vary, a 28-year-old garment factory worker looking to make extra cash during her holiday.

City Hall spokesman Long Dimanche said the millions-strong crowds of past years had dwindled to fewer than 300,000 this year. City Hall had predicted an influx of around two million. Attendees said on Wednesday that memories of the fatal stampede at the 2010 event had kept others away.

Several visitors yesterday reported that they were brought to Phnom Penh this week for medical reasons.

Bun Hong’s grandmother scheduled her dialysis appointment at Calmette Hospital to correspond with Water Festival so her family would have something to do while waiting.

“We watch the boats on TV while on standby for the doctors, and at night we can visit the riverside,” Hong said, adding that it was a good distraction from worry.

Also waiting outside Calmette yesterday, Vounn Long and his family weren’t able to go on the holiday they’d planned after tragedy rather than celebration brought them to the capital.

A day before the festival started, Long’s 28-year-old son was driving home from his job at a Bavet town bicycle factory when an oncoming motorcycle crashed into him.

“We had wanted to join the Water Festival revival,” Long said. “But we will have to miss another year.”

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