PHNOM PENH - For the second year in a row, Phnom Penh is still and quiet during the period of the Water Festival, once the liveliest time of the year.
A bridge stampeded that killed more than 350 people in 2010 meant the annual holiday, which typically brings in millions of people from the countryside, was canceled in 2011.
This year, the death of former king Norodom Sihanouk, who lies in state at the Royal Palace near the riverfront, has caused another cancelation. Civil servants still get three days off this year, but residents say its not the same.
Monday, the official opening of the festival, was quiet in Phnom Penh. State officials said they did not want crowds of people reveling in front of the Royal Palace and the body of the former king, who is to be cremated Feb. 4.
“It’s strange for me, when the day of the festival becomes quiet,” said Y Chanmoly, a resident of Phnom Penh who had come to the riverfront to mourn Sihanouk. “But I feel more relieved, rather than having the festival exist, and I’m thinking mostly about his soul.”
“I used to come for the Water Festival, to see racing boats and fireworks,” said Mao Voeun, who traveled to the capital in a truck with others from Kampong Speu province. “But now I’ve come to mourn over His Majesty’s body.”
The cancellation of the festival had direct impact for some in the capital, like Ly Maradi, a motorcycle taxi driver.
“I used to earn about $10 a day during the Water Festival,” he said. “But actually now I’m earning less than $5 a day.”