Several hundred Thai citizens recently crossed the border into Anlong Veng district in Oddar Meanchey province to bet on a fireworks display on the ridge of Dangrek Mountain.
Hang Sat, a 52-year-old resident of Cheung Phnom village in Trapaing Brei commune, told The Post that the Samon Khemarak Development Company had been organising the events since 2015, although they had been suspended during the Covid-19 pandemic and only restarted in July.
Sat said that on October 30, a group of more than 200 Thai fireworks addicts attended the event, where 13 rockets were launched.
“The fireworks they fired landed in the plantations and on the roofs of the villagers at the foot of the mountain. Luckily, they are made from plastic pipe, so they did not explode or cause damage,” he added.
Popular in Thailand, where betting on the rockets is restricted to national holidays, the contests see punters split into groups which wager on the height, speed and direction of the missile’s flight, with the winner determined by a technical committee, said Phal Samom, manager director of the development company.
Sak Sophan, 46, the chief of O’Kronhong village said that in the past the company only launched rockets on Saturdays and Sundays, with four or six being fired. They recently began operating on Mondays as well, and had increased the number of fireworks that were launched, with at least ten being sent up per session.
“It frightens the villagers, especially young children. There has not been any damage so far, but we are concerned that with the increased number of launches comes the increased risk of a misfire or technical malfunction. This could have serious consequences,” he added.
O’Thmar villager Meas Hayly, 61, told The Post that during the 1990s, when he was a Khmer Rouge soldier, he had twice attended similar events in Thailand.
He described the fireworks that were used for gambling in Anlong Veng. The rockets’ bodies are made of 100mm or 200mm plastic pipes, and are up to 2.5m in length. They use gunpowder to ignite the rocket and launch it, but they do not explode like a military weapon. The plastic pipes do not even break when they are launched.
“This type of fireworks betting is popular among Thai youths at major national festivals, especially on the anniversary of the founding of the Thai state, but is banned by the Thai government,” he added.
Anlong Veng deputy district police chief Sou Nov told The Post that only Thai citizens were allowed to attend the event and gamble, at a cost of 300 baht (about 32,000 riel) per ticket. Admission is free, he said.
“The company has a legal business license. Cambodians are not allowed to visit the event,” he said.
“If these events are well attended, then the income of the people in the area will increase, through the sale of food and beverages, and the provision of transport services,” he added.
Director of the event Samon told The Post that the motivation for hosting these events was to attract tourists – especially Thais – to Anlong Veng. A former battlefield between the Cambodian government forces and the Khmer Rouge guerrillas, it is now making progress in all areas of development and is comparable to other tourist destinations in the Kingdom, he added.
“Our events are not dangerous, but increase the fun and attract spectators. They are not like the fireworks we use at festivals like the New Year, which explode. These are more like missiles,” he said.
“Each firework costs from 5,000 to 10,000 baht, so if there are few players, it barely covers the costs. They are not just gambling – they need to be aware of the conditions and the way a rocket must be positioned before launch,” he added.
He said that schedule of the launches depends on the number of guests who have registered to play. If demand is high, more launches on more days may be offered in the future.
The company has held a permanent exclusive license from the government to operate the fireworks gambling game since 2015, he added.
Since restarting post-Covid-19 operations in July, he said more tourists had been visiting the district, providing a boost to the local economy.