The Cambodian Water Festival
Have you heard of this annual Cambodian Water Festival? It is considered as one of the most important and glorious festivals for Cambodians.
Cambodian Water Festival – “Bon Om Tuk” in Khmer – is a Cambodian festival celebrated in the month of November every year. It is considered as the most magnificent traditional festival in Cambodia as this joyful occasion also marks a unique natural phenomenon – the reversal of the current in Tonle Sap Lake which is probably the only waterway in the world which flows in opposite directions at different times of the year.
For three days, foreign tourists and people from various provinces gather in Phnom Penh and Siem Reap to celebrate the festival with boat races, parades, concerts, and general merriment. Cambodia’s Water Festival allures up to a million people each year which competes with the Khmer New Year for being the most important holiday for Cambodians.
A Short History of the Water Festival
The Cambodian Water Festival traces its origins to the Cambodian army. Historically, Khmer Kings always did the battle with enemies by sailing. It is said that the Kings held the water festival ceremony each year to choose the best men to accompany them to sea battles. That is why you can see a lot of statues about various sea battles in Cambodia, glorifying the Khmer Kings.
At present, the Water Festival is celebrated to glorify the Gods for providing Cambodia with enough rainwater in the Tonle Sap Lake for a bountiful season of rice cultivation.
What to Expect During The Cambodian Water Festival
The main highlight during the Cambodian Water Festival is the boat racing. Each town, province and pagoda builds its own boat for the races. The boats are beautifully painted and are carefully designed. The boats usually span up to 100 feet in length and will require about 80 rowers. The winners are usually rewarded with special prizes such as drinks, cash, clothes and some goods.
Illuminated Float (Loy Pratip)
During the nighttime the river is lit by dozens of flashy illuminated boats which float slowly on the water’s surface. Each of the boats is equipped with thousands of splashy neon lights with detailed patterns representing the companies, institutes or services that sponsor them.
Moon Salutation and Celebrations (Sampeas Preah Khe)
Cambodians assemble at the pagodas just before midnight to eat Ak Ambok, a traditional Cambodian rice dish consisting of rice fried in its husk, then pounded with a pestle and then salute to the moon during this ceremony. In Cambodia, a full moon is said to be a good omen for the upcoming harvest, so they gather during the Water Festival to thank and make wishes to the moon for a fruitful rice harvest in the months to come.
Cambodian Water Festival is one the most important and glorious celebrations in the Khmer calendar. It is one of a few times each year that locals can take time off work to visit and celebrate with their families and friends, a much awaited celebration for the Cambodian people.