At around 6 pm each night this week, the night sky above the Chroy Changvar peninsula in front of the Royal Palace becomes a host to a spectacle of lights and explosions.
The bright fireworks show attracts the gaze of hundreds of thousands of spectators as they make their way along the waterfront, crowding both banks of the Tonle Sap. But the display is not all fun. For the soldiers manning the tubes, it’s hard work, treated like a battle.
Before the show begins, a crew takes three hours to prepare. The team must dig holes in the ground, monitor the placement of the fireworks and prepare plastic bags in case of rain.
“If the fireworks are not placed properly, the explosives don’t lift straight out, but will burst inside the tube,” said Lt. Col. Chea Sreng, the technical expert in charge of the RCAF fireworks team.
The fireworks have different shapes and sizes, ranging from the numbers one to twelve. The smallest, one and two, look like bamboo tubes the length of a hand. These are put together in clusters of 50 or more, so that when they launch, a continuous explosion will ensue. When these burst, they appear as flowers of different colors.
From numbers three through twelve, the shape is spherical, ranging in size from a tennis ball to a soccer ball. Beneath the sphere is a lift charge, which launches the ball of powder into the air. Once the ball is airborne, a series of explosions creates the show.
The crew, comprised of RCAF soldiers under the Ministry of Defense, places these fireworks in tubes, making sure they will lift straight up, and install infuses.
Is it dangerous? “Yes, of course,” Chea Sreng said, explaining that part of their task is keeping people away from the launch zone.
“When we are here, it is just like a battlefield,” he said. “This is our mission.”
Lt. Gen. Ith Sarath said 2,400 fireworks are fired each night for five nights running during the Water Festival, in shows that last up to 30 minutes. He would not say how much money it takes.