Some 434 boats are expected to compete in this year's races, with crews
arriving from all over the country ahead of today's opening ceremonies.
In between training, rowers took time to relax
A boat crew from Kandal province takes a break along the riverbank Monday.
Phnom Penh is working itself into fever pitch ahead of today's opening of what organisers say will be the biggest-ever Water Festival, or Bon Om Tuk, with tens of thousands of Cambodians already streaming in from the countryside for three days of eating and drinking, buying and selling, walking and gawking, and, of course ,the boats races.
Officials will have their hands full ensuring public safety and have created seven national committees to coordinate the event.
Chea Kean, deputy director of the National and International Festival Committee, confirmed that the municipality would again set up an emergency rescue committee after five visiting Singaporean rowers drowned in the first day of last year's boat races.
The city was taking no chances after last year's tragedy, said Phnom Penh Deputy Governor Mann Chhoeun.
"An emergency rescue committee has been established every year for many years ... in order to make sure the Water Festival goes smoothly and happily," he said, adding that other committees would cope with the large influx of visitors from the provinces.
"Other committees [will] help ensure the safety of people who participate in the Water Festival in Phnom Penh," he said.
"We also have a group from the Health Ministry to educate people from the provinces on how to prevent HIV/Aids infections."
Rick Valenzuala and Tracey Shelton
A boat crew paddles past the Japanese bridge Monday during practice for today's opening races
Rick Valenzuala and Tracey Shelton
Rowers from Prey Veng province get a much-needed rest from the water in their camp on the riverside next to the NagaWorld casino.
Sim Sovannary sorts flip-flops Monday at a sales spot she staked out on the banks of the Tonle Sap on the Chruoy Changva peninsula as rowers practise for this week's dragonboat races. The Stung Meanchey woman said this is her first time selling goods at the Water Festival.
PAST YEARS Memorable moments
- 1993 King Norodom Sihanouk uses the start of Cambodia's Water Festival to appeal to his government not to arrest journalists who criticise him.
- 1994 In an historic moment of joy and ambiance shared by thousands of people, Siem Reap hosts its own boat races in front of the majesty of Angkor Wat for the first time in decades.
- 1999 Most popular song during this year's festival is the Venga Boys' Boom, Boom, Boom! I Want You In My Room, played at ear-splitting volume for three days.
- 2005 Organisers ban HIV/Aids awareness spots on radio and television, citing concerns about tourists' perception of the problem in Cambodia.
- 2007 The celebration is marred by the deaths of six people, including five Singaporeans whose boat capsizes during the races. A Cambodian also drowns in a separate boating accident.
Visting from Banteay Meanchey
I came to Phnom Penh with my husband and my baby Tola and three-year-old son Makara. We will be staying here all together with the rest of the team by the riverside for four days. I come to watch our team race in the Water Festival. That’s our team practicing now. They are very good and worked hard to train. I hope they win. I am very excited to see the racing tomorrow.
Lee Srey Mao
Wat Phnom photographer
Every day I work at Wat Phnom taking photos for tourists. If I sell five photos I can make 10,000 riels. On a normal day I have just a few customers and some days none because there are a lot of photographers at Wat Phnom. But on days like the Om Tuk and Khmer New Year, many people come to Phnom Penh. It is very good for me. I have a great deal of customers. Maybe I can get about 15 customers each day.
Bar staff at White Horse Tavern
A lot of places close during the festival so it gets very busy in the bar. I don't really like the Water Festival. There are too many people and a lot of thieves. Most Khmer people from Phnom Penh go to the beach at this time but the people from the countryside like to come here. I don't care about the boat racing but I like to watch the people.