All the elements of a successful Water Festival were present - the zealous crowd,
the beautifully tended long boats, vendors from all over the country hawking their
wares, and of course the raucous rowers vying for success.
King Norodom Sihanouk and Queen Norodom Monineath greet Festival-goers.
There was only one problem on the opening day: a little too much water. Unseasonable
rain belted down at 3 p.m., and carried on erratically into the evening.
The rains did little to dampen the spirit of the rowers, whose chants grew louder
the harder the rain poured, but it wasn't plain sailing for everyone. As the b
raced on, impeccably dressed dignitaries in their official uniforms had to run for
cover from the many leaks that sprung in the precariously constructed VIP tent.
But for some, the rains were more then a mere inconvenience. Many of the food vendors
present at this year's Water Festival had come to Phnom Penh with the hope of making
up for the devastating drought that has robbed farmers in the provinces of their
important rice harvest.
Em Pach came from Kampot, where drought prevented the planting of her family's rice
crop. She arrived in Phnom Penh to sell noodles to the revelers, but in a cruel twist
.of fate the rains hampered her sales.
"I prayed for rain so we could farm in the country, but now it rains in Phnom
Penh. Why?" she asked. "I have nothing at home; not even rice. I hope to
earn a little money to feed my five children."
Pach said that around 20 to 30 people from her small village in the Angkor Chey district
of Kampot came to the Water Festival this year with the hope of making up for their
According to Buddhist scriptures, the Water Festival is traditionally a time to give
thanks to the spirit of the water for delivering agricultural success throughout
the rainy season, but this year's drought is said to have had a devastating effect.
Over 600,000 people in the provinces are reported to have been affected by the droughts,
forcing many to look elsewhere for income.
But nothing could dampen the spirits of the victorious rowers. Bot Lah, cox for Chea
Sim's aptly named boat, The Senate, looked resplendent in his slightly damp traditional
guard's costume. He grinned broadly as he told of his team's success.
"I'm very excited ... my boat won all its races today," he boasted, although
he admitted the eccentric costume was not his idea. "I was just told to wear
The festivities and races are thought to date back to the 12th Century, when the
powerful navy of King Jayavarman VII battled against its enemies. This competitive
spirit is still strong today.
Chum Sitha, a rower with Chea Sophara's boat, Successful Blue Dragon, reveled in
the glory of his boat's opening day victory. "I'm very happy for the day's success
because we lost last year," he said.
Candle-lit food offerings are made during a traditional Festival ceremony.
The crew of the police entry prepare to race.
An excited Bot Lah, cox for Chea Sim's boat, The Senate.
The busy scene along Sisowath Quay on Festival opening day.