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Coastal Cities See Tourism Bump During Canceled Festival in Capital

A Cambodian woman gives massage to a tourist on the beach of Sihanoukville, some 185 kilometers (115 miles) southwest of Phnom Penh, file photo.
PHNOM PENH - With Phnom Penh quiet for the Water Festival this year, officials from the coastal region say they are seeing a bump in local tourist numbers.

The annual festival has been canceled to honor the deceased former king, Norodom Sihanouk, whose body lies in state at the Royal Palace. The palace faces the confluence of the Mekong and Tonle Sap rivers, the site of many typical Water Festival activities, including boat races and floats that draw millions of people.

That has led some people to take a holiday and leave for popular local destinations, like the beaches of Preah Sihanouk and Koh Kong provinces—or simply stay home.

Seng Kha, head of the tourism office at Sihanoukville, said he hoped the town would see an increase of visitors, up to 40,000 people on the holiday.

Yim Sinith, head of the Koh Kong tourist office, said more guests were registered in the hotels and guest houses there in recent days.

However, those numbers are small compared to the millions of people who typically descend on Phnom Penh for the Water Festival, which commemorates a fluvial naval victory of the Angkorian period and marks the change of current of the Tonle Sap, which at this time of year runs out of the Tonle Sap lake, full from the monsoon rains, into the Mekong.

This is the second year in a row the festival has been canceled. In 2010, a stampede on a crowded bridge during the festival killed more than 350 people, causing a cancelation the following year.