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Some Phnom Penh Residents Plotting to Flee Water Festival

Julie Masis / Khmer Times Share:
Some Phnom Penh residents are booking flights, taxis and hotels in order to leave the city during the upcoming Water Festival. (KT Photo: Chor Sokunthea)

PHNOM PENH (Khmer Times) – Cynthia Luna, a retired American teacher who lives in Phnom Penh, said she is going to Vietnam for a week to avoid the crowds.
She explained why she is swimming against the stream.
“Staying here is not worth the risk of the possibility of death or injury,” she wrote in a Facebook message. “Robert, my son has lived here over five years. He does not like the crowds around the neighborhood where we live. He says it is impossible to leave the house.”
In 2010 more than 350 people lost their lives during a stampede at the Water Festival. That was the last time that the event took place in Phnom Penh.
The event was cancelled for the last three years due to heavy flooding and in honor of the passing of King Norodom Sihanouk.
City authorities are allowing the festival to place this year. They say they are taking measures to increase security along the riverfront, ideally reducing the risk of more tragic accidents.
The Water Festival is an annual tradition that marks the end of the rainy season with boat racing competitions.
People from all over Cambodia come to Phnom Penh to participate and watch the races, camping out in parks and on sidewalks. In the past, they have doubled the capital’s population. Streets become so crowded that it can take one hour to walk one block.
That is why, as visitors from the countryside flood into the city, some Phnom Penh residents head in the opposite direction.
Airline tickets out of Phnom Penh are getting pricier and some flights are selling out.
A round-trip from Phnom Penh to Singapore with Jetstar costs $360 during the Water Festival, from November 5 to 8. That is almost twice as expensive as the ticket during a weekend in October – only $190.
“Now the prices are already going up because of the Water Festival,”  said So Phalla, an employee at Phnom Penh’s East-West travel agency.
Tickets from Phnom Penh to Bangkok with Air Asia are selling out. Only four seats were available for the dates of the Water Festival at $195 fo round-trip, and only six seats could be purchased for $215,  So Phalla said. By comparison, if you were to fly to Bangkok from October 24 – 26 you could purchase your ticket for only $160.
In coastal Cambodia, hotels are filling up fast.
Sokha Hotel, the largest hotel in Sihanoukville, with 400 rooms, reports that less than 20 standard rooms are available from November 5 – 7. This is despite the fact that the price per night was almost doubled, to $193 per night.   
If you go to Sihanoukville this weekend and book your room only a few days in advance, you pay only $99 per night, said reservation officer Un Soklai. For this weekend, 40 standard rooms are still available, she said.
In Kep, the Veranda Resort reports that 70 percent of its rooms are already booked for the dates of the Water Festival.
 Many were reserved by customers one month in advance. Room prices at the Veranda, the second largest hotel in Kep, climb from $95 to $120 per night during the holidays, said receptionist Bo Hab.  
While some foreigners  scramble to get out of the city during the event in, long term American resident Jim Swander plans to barricade himself inside his Riverside apartment.
“I will have food and d      apartment,” said Swander, a water festival veteran. “If I do, it will probably be early in the morning.”
For anyone who plans to venture into the overcrowded city at the beginning of November, Swander warns of three things: pick-pockets, incompetent drivers, and bag snatchers.
“People don’t understand how crowded it can get,” he said.  

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