PHNOM PENH, November 3, (Khmer Times) – Two days before the start of the Water Festival, boat teams from around Cambodia are preparing themselves for the grueling races. The boat races are an integral part of the Water Festival and the rowers will be competing against each other in front of tens of thousands of onlookers during the three day celebration.
The green team from Kampong Speu. (KT Photo: Sotheavy Nou)
A hearty roar bellowed from the team clad in bright green as the men from Kampong Speu disembarked from their 22 meter long boat named “Kong Pisei Moha Sen Dech Cheah ” ( District Kong Pisei Power). The older men stayed close to their boat, moored at Chroy Changvar, sipping cans of stout beer, while their younger team mates went in search of coconuts to quench their thirst after rowing in the afternoon sun.
The Kampong Speu team had a mishap in Sunday’s practice, when their boat was clipped by another boat, sending the rowers into the river. “Not to worry,” said Sao Ni Penh, a 25 year old oarsman, “all 74 rowers know how to swim, apart from one.”
A man ties a blessed banner on their boat. (KT Photo: Sotheavy Nou)
Next to the optimistic green team, a smaller boat was undergoing a blessing ceremony. The older women who had accompanied the group brought incense and fruit, and a blessed gold banner to the rickety boat. A man in his fifties tied the banner on the front of the boat, hoping that the race will be kind to his teammates and that they won’t fall into the dangerous waters.
The yellow team from Kampong Thom. (KT Photo: Sotheavy Nou)
Ten meters away, the team of yellow Kampong Thom inhabitants watched as another team prepared their boat. The team, mostly made up of men in their twenties, was carefully observing their rivals.
The blue team from Kandal Province. (KT Photo: Sotheavy Nou)
On the river, the colorful boat called Sreymao Krang Yov (Dark Lady Krang Yov), carrying 78 men in blue from Srok S’ang District, swept past the watching crowds while cheerily shouting jokes. Sweaty from practice, the rowdy bunch of men in hats and sunglasses are confident that they are the team to beat.
The team stand while rowing. “If we sit down, we will be covered in water and we have to go fast to stay afloat.” said Panha, a front row oarsman, with a smile. All the teams are prepared to take risks to show off their skills in a race atop a river likely to be topped up by recent rainfall.