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Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - Off to the races in Siem Reap

Off to the races in Siem Reap

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Tens of thousands turned out to watch the gripping first day's heats in this year's Water Festival boat races along the crowded banks of the Siem Reap River

Siem Reap

Photo by: PETER OLSZEWSKI

A team of dragon boat racers paddle their heavily loaded vessel toward the finish line during a race on the Siem Reap River Tuesday.

THE Water Festival's annual boat race in Siem Reap started dramatically Tuesday afternoon when two boats sank. Normally, this could have disqualified them, but Deputy Governor Chan Sophan told the Post the boats were permitted back into the race Wednesday.

The banks of the Siem Reap river were lined with almost 30,000 people at the beginning of the race on Tuesday.

Vendors selling sugar cane, fried goodies and balloons mingled among the well-behaved crowd, and at night children squealed with delight as fireworks lit up the sky, with the river transformed into a nighttime wonderland of beautiful lights.

After three days of racing, this year's winners will be chosen from the 28 all-male boats and six boats with female crews.

Choung Ratana, general secretary of City Hall, said the winners for both the male and female divisions will receive four million riels (US$1,000), second-place winners will receive two million riels and third-place winners will receive one million riels.

Also, because the same boat won both divisions last year and the year before, a special trophy will be awarded if that boat notches up a hat trick and comes first again this year.

Ouk Sareth, head of the race's technical committee, said boat teams of 22 individuals row 500 metres down river. The teams are divided into four groups, which compete tournament- style until a winner is selected.    

Addy Otto, a Dutch tourist, said hype about the race had been building for days.

"We don't know who's racing against whom, but we like the hustling around," said Otto. "It's very exciting."

Ben Gyllan, a tourist from New Caledonia, likened the race to those he had seen in French Polynesia, with the teams' colours creating a brilliant spectacle.

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