The Sun rises in the horizon as Sopheap busies herself preparing the products she will have for display during the River Festival, which starts today in Kandal province’s Takhmao city.
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It is the day before the festival officially kicks off, but already nearly two hundreds merchants have gathered in the road that runs parallel to the Bassac River, where the main celebrations will be taking place. They sell everything, from snacks to home appliances and house-cleaning supplies, some produced locally, some imported.
This will be only the fourth iteration of this already popular event, which has been previously held in the riverine provinces of Stung Treng (2017), Kampong Cham (2016), and Kratie (2015).
Running for three days over the weekend, this year’s River Festival has been promoted under the slogan “A river of peace, friendship and sustainable tourism”.
As she unwraps her products and places them of the shelves of her recently erected store, Sopheap, who owns Sopheap Phalla, a store in Phnom Penh specialising in Khmer snacks, says she is hopeful the upcoming few days will be great for sales.
“I hope to see the streets choked with people. The more people, the better my sales,” she says.
Tourism Minister Thong Khon recently said in a public announcement that this year no less than one million people are expected to attend the event.
“With the festival taking place a mere 10 kilometres south of the capital, the number of visitors should be even higher than in previous years,” Minister Khon said.
Those visitors will be treated to various live performances, an exhibition of agricultural products and endless opportunities to enjoy Cambodia’s traditional cuisine, Mr Khon explained.
Moreover, local entrepreneurs will be able to take advantage of a unique opportunity to showcase their products. Seeking to promote the made-in-Cambodia brand, a trade fair for Khmer products will be held alongside the festival.
“This is the second year we are organising the trade fair to promote Khmer products,” says Seang Thay, spokesman for the Ministry of Commerce.
“It has been a very successful initiative: every year, more and more people are starting to recognise and buy Khmer products.”
The festival will provide local companies an invaluable opportunity to show the world their products can be as good as imported ones, Mr Thay says.
Sok Sina, stock and packaging controller at Nature Wild, a company that sells honey, also has high expectations for the event.
“I expect to sell a lot during these three days,” say says. “I really hope that a lot of people come to support good local products like ours.”
According to Ms Sina, over the last few years, trust in locally-made goods has grown exponentially, partly due to an increase in the quality of production standards and packaging.
“Now Khmer products are comparable in quality and packaging to foreign brands.”
Keo Mom, CEO of Ly Ly Food Industry, shares the same sentiment.
“Trade fairs like this have helped us reached new customers, but producers still need to work hard to raise their quality standards even higher. Fortunately, many local products are now on par with imported brands.”
Walking with his daughter along the river, Takhmao resident Vann Seakleng says the festival will afford him the opportunity to support local producers.
“I don’t just come here to enjoy the river and the live performances. For me, showing support to local producers is also important,” Mr Seakleng says.
“I believe Khmer products are still a little behind foreign brands in terms of quality, but I support them and buy them nonetheless because this will generate jobs for my people.”