As A trimmed-down Water Festival kicked off yesterday, the streets of Phnom Penh – normally congested to the point of immobility – were unusually quiet, void of the thousands of visitors from around the country who typic-ally flood the capital for the annual celebration.
Crowds for the three-day festival are expected to be a far cry from those of previous years after Prime Minister Hun Sen cancelled the traditional boat races on the Tonle Sap river in the face of the worst flooding in more than a decade.
Phnom Penh deputy governor Chhreang Sophan said yesterday he anticipated about half the usual number of people would make the trek from the provinces to the capital.
“Most of the festival-goers are from the countryside and were affected by the floods. The farmers are busy with farming again and cleaning their homes after the water recedes,” he said.
“People can also participate in the festival in their own province, even though they are not coming to the capital. That way, they can reduce their expenditure and save time.”
Deputy Phnom Penh pol-ice chief Y Pro said that even though there would be a significant decrease in activity this year, the city would still have a strong police presence, with about 5,000 patrolling the streets. “City-dwellers will still go out, even if there is not the presence of the people from the countryside,” he said.
Despite the flooding and the decision to cancel the boat races, 45-year-old Nai Pheang made the journey from Kratie province to Phnom Penh in order to sell her hand-carved wooden statues of dolphins and catfish.
“This is the fourth year I have done business during the Water Festival, and there are not many customers today. But this is just the beginning. I made the long trip here because I had already prepared my hand-made products [before the cancellation],” Nai Pheang said.
Other vendors who set up their tents around town yesterday seemed unperturbed at the idea that there would be substantially fewer people in the city.
Meatball vendor Mi Seth, 38, who has been selling food during the festival for three years, said that in previous years, she had made only a small amount of money because of the number of vendors in the city.
“This year, there aren’t many vendors, so I believe that my sales will be better,” she said.
Vendor Di Hom said she did not believe the amount of business she does would be much different from previous years.
“Most people from the countryside come to Phnom Penh just to visit the Water Festival and go sightseeing; they do not buy goods. Most of my customers are people living in Phnom Penh, because they have much more money than people from the countryside,” she said.