Tith Hing, 75, busks with his cha pei, or Cambodian lute, on Phnom Penh's riverside on Tuesday, the first day of the Water Festival celebrations.
Festival's size expected to create challenges for city
WHAT started as a trickle of people over the weekend by Tuesday night had become a mass of tens of thousands of mostly homeless - at least temporarily - Cambodians.
This sudden convergence of people, while by no means unusual for any Water Festival, is challenging both those trying to enjoy three days of fun and the authorities expected to keep order in the largest Bon Om Tuk celebration ever.
"Those who don't have relatives to stay with, we encourage them to stay at pagodas," said Him Yan, chief of the Municipal Public Order Police.
"We don't want them staying near the riverside celebrations because its impacts on the beauty of our city," he added.
Still, thousands could be seen camped under makeshift tent covers or in the open air in parks and on street kerbs.
While some accepted that these instant tent villages springing up in Phnom Penh's riverside neighbourhoods did not add to the charm of the festival, others - many of whom came from quiet provincial hamlets - said they were concerned for their security is forced deeper into the city seeking shelter.
Scared but happy
"We are from the provinces and are afraid that some young criminals will come look for us in the night and want to steal from us," said Battambang native So Leang, describing how police ordered him out of a riverside park his first night in Phnom Penh.
"It's is good for me to stay here because there are a lot of others with me too," he added.
"Even though it is difficult and unsafe for us to stay here, I am really happy with the Water Festival. It's a big ceremony for the Cambodian people and I want to see the boat racing."
But the very popularity of the celebration is also what makes it the hardest to monitor, said Tin Prasoeur, chief of Phnom Penh's Traffic Police.
"We have thousands of police to take care of security, but there are four million people coming and no room on the riverside for them," he said.
11am to 5:30pm
Dragon boat races continue on the Tonle Sap
Fireworks over the Tonle Sap. Lighted barges, representing government ministries and departments, set sail at the same time along the riverfront (until midnight)
11am to 5pm: Boats begin competing in final day of races
4pm: Royal family members arrive at the main riverfront stage, along with parliamentarians and other government officials
4:15pm: Prime Minister Hun Sen arrives
4:30pm: King Norodom Sihamoni arrives at the main stage to present awards to the winning dragon boats
6:30pm: A grand finale of fireworks will commence, accompanied by the lighted barges