SIEM REAP (Khmer Times) – But for a few boats taking on too much water during their races, Siem Reap’s Water Festival has gone off without a hitch this year.
Siem Reap’s boat teams did their province proud, taking top spots in this year’s races, and local officials report that the influx of visitors to Cambodia’s largest 2015 Water Festival was great for local business – although some vendors who rented space along the busy riverside would beg to differ.
With concerts, carnival rides and street vendors lining the riverbanks since last week, it seems revelers just wish the celebrations had continued for another day.
“Even [though] we didn’t have more days … we saw our citizens really happy,” Bun Tharith, Deputy Governor of Siem Reap, said yesterday. The two-day program also saw evening fireworks and floating candle displays light up the riverside. Thirty boats registered for the races.
In a sport usually dominated by men, four pairs of women’s teams competed.
“The first day of the Water Festival, we saw around 80,000 people,” Mr. Bun said, “On the second day, we saw more people come – around 100,000.” He attributed the higher-than-expected turnout to the cancelation of races in the capital.
Prime Minister Hun Sen canceled official boat races in Phnom Penh for the fourth time in five years, saying water levels were too low.
With a dam just outside of Siem Reap city, the provincial government has more control over the water level
Phnom Penh regularly sees upwards of a million visitors pour into the city from the countryside for the three-day holiday.
Rain held off until the afternoon of the second day of races, as boats rowed practice heats before solidifying their rank for the sunset closing ceremony.
About 2 pm the sky opened up and the dozens of vendors selling belts, laundry detergent and meat skewers hurried to keep their wares from getting wet. An hour later, the sky was blue again.
Water Festival celebrations in Phnom Penh have a reputation for causing an upswing in hooliganism and police reports. With this year’s Water Festival in Siem Reap coinciding with Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev’s visit to the Kingdom, security measures were planned well in advance.
The notable police presence along the riverside and National Road 6 this week meant that the sidewalks were cleaned up, traffic ran more smoothly, and, “during the two days we didn’t have any big problem – especially at night,” Mr. Bun said.