By Sam Rith
Phnom Penh Post, Issue 15 / 22, November 3 - 16, 2006
To longtime residents and experienced riverside observers, the indications are immediate and unmistakable.
Chanting boatmen knifing through pre-dawn waters, jostling throngs of onlookers crowding the river's edge and the mass mushrooming of vendor booths, wicker sellers and trinket stalls can only mean one thing - the madness of Bon Om Tuk is about to descend upon Phnom Penh.
For three days the city will be transformed from capital to carnival; from a business center to a bacchanal.
According to event officials and local authorities, roughly 2.5 million people from throughout Cambodia are expected to converge on Phnom Penh's riverside this year to celebrate the annual water festival, Bon Om Tuk, between November 4 and November 6. Last year's celebration peaked, on its second day, with two million revelers, Minister of Tourism Lay Prohas told the Post.
"There will be from two to three million coming to Phnom Penh to celebrate the water festival because this year our country is peaceful, has political stability, and many people have a better standard of living," said Min Khin, secretary-general of the National Festival Committee and secretary of state at the Ministry of Cults and Religious Affairs.
Khin said his committee has worked with Phnom Penh Municipality to place 200 mobile toilets along the riverfront and other places for people who come to watch the water festival.
Touch Naruth, Phnom Penh police chief, said he will have 3,000 officers on duty for 24 hours a day during the three day event - the force will be selected from the municipality police and military police and does not include additional forces to be supplied by the Ministry of Defense and Ministry of Interior.
Khin said this year festival expenses will total at least $225,000 - the same as 2005, but down $25,000 from 2004, according to Ministry of Finance figures.
Khin said this year there are 450 registered dragon boats crewed by about 25,000 to 30,000 male and female rowers. There will be nine floats, called pratip, representing, among others, the Royal Palace, Senate, National Assembly, Government, Ministry of Justice, Ministry of National Defense, Ministry of Interior, Ministry of Tourism, and this year a private-enterprise newcomer - the ANZ bank. Last year there were 400 boats, 20,000 rowers and eight pratip.
This year will follow the same format as previous years, Khin said. He said the committee has organized places for musical performances, shows and vendors at Hun Sen park, the park in front of Wat Botum, Psar Chas park and in Chruoy Changvar. Musicians will perform chapei and ayai at Preahmeru (Veal Menh), the park in front of the National Museum, and also in front of the Royal Palace.
"We have hundreds of people managing the festival," Khin said. "We have the racing committee, a security committee, a health committee, a decorating committee, and so on."
Nou Phan, 51, from Choeung Dek village, Trabek district in Prey Veng, said on October 31 that he had come with his wife and two of his children and had been waiting to watch the water festival in Phnom Penh for a week and he said his family will go back to Prey Veng when the water festival finishes.
"I have come to see how Phnom Penh has developed," Phan said. "I also brought my wife and two of my children to watch the boat racing and to see Phnom Penh during the water festival in order to relieve some stress - this year our rice plant was destroyed and we owe our neighbor two million riel for buying fertilizer."
Nou Phan said Phnom Penh now has nice gardens and mobile toilets along the riverfront and it is easy for him and his family, who do not have any relatives in Phnom Penh. At night, Phan, his wife and his children sleep on the riverfront.
Pol Mach, 48, a vendor across the river in Chruoy Changvar, said there will be more people going to Chruoy Changvar this year because it has more space than the Phnom Penh side. Mach expects to capitalize on his location.
Mach said last year he earned 700,000 to 800,000 riel each day during the water festival selling banhchav (dumplings), drinks, boiled snails and eggs. On a normal day he earns from 100,000 to 200,000 riel.