It’s Wednesday night. On any other day, businesses in the capital would be getting ready to close for the day just about now. But not today.
Veng Hout, who owns a little store selling a wide range of products, keeps his shop open late to welcome the many buyers that will be stopping by tonight in search of the plethora of items they need to celebrate Chinese New Year, which starts Friday.
All throughout the city, red lanterns hang from ceilings in residential buildings, restaurants and small shops in Phnom Penh. They are ready to usher in the New Year.
Chinese New Year is one of the biggest holidays in the kingdom. While celebrated by most locals, it is the Chinese Cambodians that revel with the most fervour.
It is also a big season for business.
While attending one of his many customers this evening, Mr Hout tells us demand for decorations, party supplies and items used in rituals during the holiday grows every year, with Chinese Cambodians, particularly, eager to spend more.
“Based on the way my business is expanding, I would say that more and more people are celebrating Chinese New Year,” Mr Hout said. “The amount spent to celebrate New Year’s Eve is definitely on the rise.”
While some customers only spend around $50, others may buy supplies worth hundreds of dollars, Mr Hout explains. Preap Rachna, a small business owner in Kandal’s Takhmao city, says her family spends more during this holiday than during any other major festivity, like Khmer New Year or Pchum Ben.
“We spend about $300 to celebrate Chinese New Year, but for other holidays we spend much less,” she says, adding that she has been able to increase her budget for the holiday since she started her own business.
“Before I wasn’t able to afford much, but now, since I started my new business, I can splurge.”
Whether one celebrates big or small depends on how much money your family is making, Ms Rachna explains.
Chinese New Year also means big business for small business owners who trade in fruits, vegetables, flowers and even roasted pig. For them, it is the biggest day of the year.
In a narrow alley in Takhmao city’s market, Mom Samphos is busy attending customers looking to buy vegetables and meat to bring back home for the holiday.
She explains that the price of vegetables is higher today than in regular days.
“During this holiday, I can sell a lot more than during regular days,” Ms Samphos says.
Standing next to his stand near the Sampov Meas Pagoda, Keo Mony, a plum blossom seller, says this year sales are as good as last year.
“The price is similar to previous years, perhaps a bit higher,” he explains.
A bouquet of plum blossoms costs anywhere from $50 to $500, depending on how beautiful they look, said Mr Mony, who explains that he imports some of his flowers from Vietnam.