Water Festival Madness

Trip Start Mar 03, 2005
Trip End Apr 08, 2006

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Friday, November 18, 2005

The bus trip back to Phnom Penh from Battambang was uneventful, until we stopped just before we reached the airport (some 12km away from central market) and were told to get off. I was later told that this was because of the crowds in town for the Water Festival, although as I sped along the Russian Boulevard on the back of a moto I couldn't have imagined just how insane it was along the riverfront.

I reached Street #240 around 3:30pm, however was forced to get off the moto near my favourite cafe, The Shop, due to the crowd milling on the corner. As I walked past the Kantha Bopha II children's hospital, I was a little shocked at the amount of people around. Sothearos Boulevard was swarming with people, and Hun Sen Park behind the Cambodia-Vietnam friendship monument was choca-bloc full of people with their own makeshift stalls selling the same food and cold drinks. I was met with constant stares as I walked through them, realising that these were the people from the provinces who'd converged on Phnom Penh for the festivities.

After a quick break, I ventured out onto the riverfront to hopefully catch the last of the boat races. Mayhem does not describe the scene, although that word will do as it got even worse later on. It was about 4:30pm now, and Sisowath Quay, which runs right alongside the Tonle Sap, was packed with people. More than I'd ever seen in my life! I hit a brick wall of people waiting for King Sihamoni to emerge from the Palace to witness a procession on the river, so I was forced to walk right around the Palace (a 30 minute detour) in order to get to where I wanted to go. That was the FCC, known more commonly by its acronym than by its full name, the Foreign Correspondent's Club. From the third floor I was able to see the last of the boat races, as well as the swarming masses of people below. It really was something to see. The entire riverfront was packed with people, right to the water. I met a felow ACE teacher, Andy, up at the FCC, and he told me that the papers had reported that 2 million people had travelled to Phnom Penh from the countryside for the festival. 2 million people!!! That meant the population of Phnom Penh had tripled, and guaranteed at least half of them were by the river. There was no doubt about it, this was one of the biggest crowds I would ever witness in my life.

After grabbing a pizza for dinner, I made my way home past the Palace and National Assembly buildings. As I reached my alleyway off Sothearos Boulevard, I decided to venture a little further on and see what has happening around Independence monument. I didn't make it that far! The crowds on the corner of Sothearos and Sihanouk boulevards were so thick that I couldn't get through, and at one point I was literally unable to move for about fifteen minutes! When I finally got a bit of space, I made my way for home up a small street between Sothearos and Sisowath, stopping for about ten minutes to see some Khmer bands playing on a makeshift stage near Pencil supermarket.

It was a riot! And five hours of craziness was more than enough for me. I was certainly glad I'd escaped it for three days in the tranquility of Battambang's countryside!
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