Khmer Krom Joins Boat Race to Keep National Bond

The Kampuchea Krom Association has taken part in the Water Festival in Phnom Penh since 2002, aiming to keep the connection between Cambodians in all regions. Photo: Chhum Chantha

PHNOM PENH – The Kampuchea Krom Association has taken part in the Water Festival in Phnom Penh since 2002, aiming to keep the connection between Cambodians in all regions.

“We want to stay in touch with all Cambodians living in Cambodia and lower land (Khmer Krom), so to protect the Khmer boat racing tradition,” Kim Visal, the boat committee’s deputy director, said.

The association has used three boats since 2002. The first was from 2002 to 2006 with a long boat carrying 75 people. The second was an international standard boat from 2007 to 2016.                                                                                

Later, the number of racers declined, so in 2017 the committee changed to the current boat which carries 22 people.

This has been kept at the Samaky Reangsey Pagoda (Wat Khmer Kampuchea Krom) in Khan Mean Chey, Phnom Penh. It is cleaned regularly and protected from water and insects that can harm the wood.

“We have done a great job at it, and hope that the boat can be used for the next ten years or so,” Visal said.

This year the boat got support — finance and labor — from people who come from Kampuchea Krom but live in Cambodia and other countries. The crew is estimated to spend around $15,700 for the race, up from $9,000 in 2019.

With preparation and determination, the association aims for victory this year after previously coming second and third.

The technical team has improved the boat’s speed and painted it in the blue, red and yellow colors of the Kampuchea Krom flag.

Visal said, “After fixing it, we hope that the boat will be able to go faster, and we really hope that we win the victory for the Kampuchea Krom association.”

Trusted trainer and experienced oldest racer for victory

The crew’s trainer Yeat Viris, whose father is from Kampuchea Krom, said the training was better than last year because they practiced on water while they only trained on land last year.

“The crew was strong and determined. We have only one goal: earning the victory this year. So, everyone is motivated. The previous trainers and elder racers have provided him with many suggestions on training and leading the crew,” he added.

Pon Sideth, 66, shares with the crew his techniques and experience racing on the Chaktomuk River to improve navigation. 

Living in Phnom Penh since 1989, Sideth has crewed the association boat for 16 years. He is familiar with the geography of the river and has made important decisions for the crew’s navigation due to his experience.

“I have been racing in this river for a long time, so I know which part of the river we should avoid while rowing the boat and which part we should speed up to not get pulled by the water,” he said.

Sideth is a homebody, but never hesitates to take part in every Water Festival because boat racing is more than a sport to him.

“When it’s time, I want to race. I have been in this sport for a long time, so I will surely join as long as I have the strength,” he said, adding that he had learned to row the boat when he was still living in Kampuchea Krom.

Putting off work to race

Visal said most racers are construction workers, so the committee provides $10 daily, similar to their earnings, during training. They also get $100 for the race.

The crew had prepared for 22 days for 2 hours per day. Visal said they got stronger this year because the support was greater than last year and the training was more intense as they had trained in a pond at full capacity. 

The crew includes 28 racers, including six substitutes. Most live in Phnom Penh and other provinces. Only a few come directly from Kampuchea Krom because others could not leave their work.

Viris put off his many small daily jobs to devote his time and strength to the race.

“I have been waiting for it for a long time, and I am happy to be able to show the crew’s potential this year,” he said. 

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