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Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - Festival preparations begin

Festival preparations begin

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In the lead-up to the annual Water Festival in November, locals are urging officials to clear construction fences stationed on the banks of the Tonle Sap

Photo by: VANDY RATTANA

Local authorities have begun replacing the green zinc fences along the river with chain link so visitors can watch the boat races.

COUNTING THE BOATS

According to Sok Kong, director of the administration office for the national ceremonies committee, Kampong Thom province has registered the most number of boats so far at 31. At the low end, one is coming from Stung Treng.

AS hundreds of thousands of Cambodians begin flooding the capital for the annual Water Festival in November, some locals are expressing disappointment that large swaths of the river will be blocked by bright green construction fencing, impeding their view of the colourful boat races. 

Chea Kean, deputy secretary general of the National Committee for Organising National and International Festivals, told the Post Tuesday that the issue of the fences, which were put up last year to cordon off a Japanese-funded flood prevention project, had already been brought to the committee.

"We have had several meetings over the fence issue," he said, adding that city hall and project implementers would try to remove some of the zinc barricades.

But Moeng Sophan, public works bureau chief at the municipality's Public Works and Transport Department who is in charge of the flood project with the Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA), said that the fencing would simply be replaced.

"In order to give people more access to view boat racing, City Hall have started to remove the zinc fences and replace them with small-holed netting," he told the Post Wednesday. "We will finish this process by November 5," one week before Water Festival, he said.

People coming from the provinces want to be able to see everything.

Government officials said Tuesday that so far 420 boats have registered to race in the festival, which runs from November 11 to13. Last year, a total of 434 boats competed.
According to Chea Kean, the guest list for the popular festival was also growing.

 "Around 600 to 700 distinguished guests, including senior government officials and other diplomats, will attend the festival," he said Tuesday.

Locals get short end of stick

With the government recently upping its tourism budget to incorporate a US$350,000 advertising deal with CNN, the world is now being enticed - 870 times a week - to visit Phnom Penh during Water Festival season.

The advertisement will show pictures of water spouts and racing boats, and be broadcast throughout November.

According to the Ministry of Tourism, there is a sizable increase in the number of international visitors during the festival each year.

But locals say they feel neglected and that no effort has been made on the ground to ensure that visitors, most of whom come from the provinces with hardly any money, can actually see the traditional boat races.

"The government says they support the Water Festival, but they do not offer transport for visitors coming from the provinces who have no money, and they do not clear the area for them to sit and see the boats," So Neak, a ticket vendor for boat rides along the river, told the Post Wednesday.

"People coming from the provinces want to be able to see everything," Pen Chinda, who works at a café opposite the river, said Wednesday. "They should take all the fencing down."

The US$20 million project, initiated in December last year, stretches from Sisowath Quay to street 118 near Phsar Chas. It is part of a bigger two-and-a-half-year project that includes drainage improvements at Wat Phnom, Central Market, the Royal Palace and National Museum. 

Some locals believed that the improvement to the riverbanks were worth the wait, even if it meant not being able to see the boats one year.

Kol Dany, an assistant at a gallery along the riverside, said she was happy knowing that the project will help improve the city in the future.

"We want to enjoy the Water Festival but the project is important for the whole city," she said Wednesday.

Chim Cheang Ouk, 55, from Kampong Cham province, said that he had not visited Phnom Penh for three years and had just arrived last week to attend the festival.

"There is no fresh air anymore and not a very good view of the river, but I know the project is to improve the city's infrastructure," he told the Post Monday.

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