Athareach Chakrapop Ramsei and crew return upriver after a race.
Phnom Penh hosted its largest Water Festival at the end of October when more than
24,000 competitors took part in the annual three-day celebration. A record 402 boats
took part representing 23 provinces, cities and ministries.
Long Kry, deputy committee head of the boat Rasmei Boramei Trey Ros, from Kandal
province, told the Post at his shelter on the newly developed east bank of the Tonle
Sap that the racers were not there for the money, but the chance to participate in
the Kingdom's cultural festival.
"Winning is not a priority," he says. "Our aim is to take part - we
want to preserve this culture for the younger generation."
Kry says that a majority of his racers are fishermen. None has much money, but their
desire to take part has meant they have pooled their resources.
Sem Phas, 25, a racer from Kampong Thom province, says that despite difficulties
in finding food and a place to stay, they are doing their best for the festival.
Tens of thousands of people line the bank of the Tonle Sap River to watch the first day of racing.
"Actually, we are not too worried about a lack of food or a place to sleep.
We are farmers and we regularly face that kind of problem," he says before heading
off to join his team-mates for a final practice run.
Despite reports of a stabbing and mini-riot with the police on the last night, the
general feeling among all the crew-members was one of trying their best, with no
concerns about final positions.
Khim Sirak, 25, a member of the boat Sovan Proeksamoha Sambath from Prey Veng province,
was resting in his hammock waiting for lunch.
"Of course we come here wanting to win - that would be good for the reputation
of our pagoda," he says, smiling to his fellow crew resting beneath the blue
shelters. "We all will try our best, but if we lose, we are still happy because
we will have seen the ceremony here in Phnom Penh."
A boat is blessed before a race...
For those confused about the format of the race and the seeming abundance of winners,
the race is run on a knockout format: each boat competes in one race per day, and
only against one other boat. The winner of that race goes through, and faces the
following day the winner of another two-boat race from day one.
In any race where the two boats tie, both go through as winners. And so on. By the
end of day three 122 boats had won or drawn their three races over the preceding
three days. These were pronounced the first-class winners.
Second place were those boats which had won two out of three races. There were 99
of these. Third placed boats had won only a single race (92 boats), while the remaining
79 won nothing and came fourth.
Chea Kean, deputy secretary-general of the festival committee, said the prize for
Heading back upstream for a well-earned rest after the day's race.
in first place was 450,000 riels ($113). Second place received 350,000
riels ($88), third place 300,000 riels ($75), while the fourth placed crews took
home 200,000 riels ($50). Kean said the government also gave cash assistance of around
$3 a day to each racer.