Some revellers say better public order made for a more memorable
celebration, but a major upset at the boat races has wrecked the year
for one rowing crew
A young boy sits on the Phnom Penh riverbank Wednesday night, watching a Water Festival fireworks display on the second night of celebrations.
THE last dragon boats had crossed the finish line and the blare of the race announcer's voice over the speaker system had disappeared under the din of a city partying out the final few hours of this year's Water Festival.
As the last concussion of the final burst of fireworks faded, Knol Samkol had only one complaint.
"I thought everything was great, but they only shot off fireworks for a few minutes," she said, standing amid the throng of party goers, talking loudly over the discord of wailing sirens and competing variety shows being played from multiple stages around the riverfront.
"Last year they launched fireworks for about an hour," the 27-year-old, who had traveled to Phnom Penh from Prey Veng province, added.
Other visitors from the countryside commented on the more orderly nature of this year's festival, saying city officials had done a good job of curbing the chaos that often overtook previous celebrations, when millions of people descended on the city and partied unfettered for three days.
Better than before
"I come to join this ceremony every year, but I think this year I was happier than others because everything was so well organised, even the public parks," said Battambang native Ros Veasna, referring to the open spaces that had before become impromptu tent villages for crowds of rural folk with nowhere to stay.
"There is a difference between this year and before."
I HAD HOPED WE WOULD KEEP OUR NUMBER ONE PLACE BUT WE LOST.
City officials before the festival sought to "beautify" the city's riverside neighbourhoods in anticipation of the coming crowds. But their sometimes heavy-handed approach earned them criticism from rights groups, which said homeless people and other undesirables were simply being detained, out of sight.
For Knol Samkol, city officials simply did not offer enough distractions beyond the obvious boats races and kerb-side shopping.
"The government should try to develop more for people to do during the Water Festival," she said.
This year saw a major upset among the dragon boat heavies, with a 10-year winning streak by the Kirivong Sok Senchey being broken in the championship race.
"We never dared to think we would win against that boat, but after we beat 84 others, we took the No 1 prize," said Ly Phal, a 33-year-old rower on the Preah Tineang Chang Han Hoy Sen Chestda, which took first place this year.
"I can bring honour back to my province and we will try to keep our No 1 place in the coming years," said the Kandal province native.
The Kirivong's manager, Oum Chhun Streng, was dumbstruck. "I never thought my boat would get second place because we are faster," he said.
"I had hoped we would keep our No 1 place, but we lost, and I really don't know why," he added. "Maybe we have some mistakes with our technique."