Vehicles bustled along the quay past the Royal Palace. Young children scattered corn seeds and chased the gathering pigeons. Vendors sold everything a festival-goer could want: soft drinks, street food, Buddhist amulets.
Coronavirus fears prompted officials to cancel the Water Festival’s main events, the long boat races and fireworks displays, but it didn’t stop the holiday or slow the crowds.
Officials said attendance was up nearly 40% over last year. More than 70,000 arrived on the second day of the three-day festival. A small army of police officers kept watch, reminding the public of health measures in effect.
“Please wear a mask everyone. If you don’t have one, we have free ones here,” blared a police officer through a bullhorn. “And don’t forget to put your trash in the bin. Hygiene is important.”
The capital went all in on security and sanitation this year. Past years, photos showing mountains of festival trash made their way onto social media, prompting red-faced officials to install more bins and ramp up police presence.
“The streets are much cleaner than before,” said Mak Sokhem, 28, who arrived with his wife and 2-year-old son from Takeo province.
The crowds were mostly Cambodian, dotted with a few foreign tourists. The young ones snapped selfies. The older ones posed for photographers, who sold instant shots for 7,000 riels.
“It’s good that people can travel again,” said Kim Chanti, from Kandal province, who was attending with his son and parents. They had concerns about catching Covid-19. All of them wore masks and were trying to avoid crowded areas.
Liv Liming, a 21-year-old university student from Siem Reap, said he was not disappointed with the city cancelling festivities. He knew the pandemic was a serious health issue, and he understood the decision.
“It will encourage people to visit the provinces,” he said. “That makes it easier for everyone to social distance.”