Cambodia Water Festival 2023 Phnom Penh

The Cambodia Water Festival, also known as Bon Om Touk, is an annual celebration held in Phnom Penh, the capital city of Cambodia. It is one of the most significant events in the country, drawing in hundreds of thousands of locals and tourists from all over the world to witness and participate in the festivities.

The festival typically takes place in November and lasts for three days. It is celebrated to mark the end of the rainy season and the reversal of the flow of the Tonle Sap River, which connects to the Mekong River. The festival is deeply rooted in Cambodian culture and tradition, dating back to the 12th century when it was first held during the reign of the Khmer Empire.

The festival is a time for Cambodians to pay tribute to the river, which is a vital source of life for the country, providing water for irrigation, fishing, and transportation. It is also a time for people to show gratitude to their ancestors and to seek blessings for the coming year.

The first day of the festival is dedicated to boat racing. Teams from across the country compete in traditional longboats, each decorated with colourful designs and dragon heads. The races take place on the Tonle Sap River, with the finishing line near the Royal Palace. The teams are made up of up to 80 rowers, with a drummer to keep the pace and a helmsman to steer the boat. The atmosphere during the boat races is electric, with crowds cheering on their favourite teams and music blaring from speakers along the riverbank.

In addition to the boat races, there are also concerts, dance performances, and fireworks displays throughout the festival. Food vendors line the streets, selling a variety of Cambodian delicacies, including grilled meat skewers, fried noodles, and sweet desserts.

On the second day of the festival, a special ceremony is held at the Royal Palace. The king of Cambodia presides over the ceremony, which is attended by high-ranking officials and members of the royal family. The ceremony involves the floating of a barge decorated with flowers and offerings down the Tonle Sap River to the Mekong River. This is followed by a boat race between teams made up of members of the royal family.

The third and final day of the festival is known as “Moha Sampeah Tekrau,” which translates to “the day of paying respect to the moon.” It is a time for people to give thanks to the moon for its role in controlling the tides and regulating the flow of the river. In the evening, people light candles and release small boats onto the river, each carrying a candle and incense sticks. This creates a beautiful spectacle as the river is transformed into a sea of flickering lights.

The festival is not just limited to Phnom Penh; it is celebrated across the country, with different provinces having their own unique traditions and customs. However, the festival in Phnom Penh is the largest and most well-known, attracting the most visitors.

In conclusion, the Cambodia Water Festival is a vibrant and colourful celebration of Cambodian culture and tradition. It is a time for people to come together to honour the river, pay respect to their ancestors, and seek blessings for the coming year. The boat races, concerts, and fireworks displays create an electrifying atmosphere, while the ceremony at the Royal Palace and the “Moha Sampeah Tekrau” provide a deeper spiritual and cultural significance. If you are ever in Phnom Penh during the festival, it is an experience not to be missed.

"Every festival is a kaleidoscope of culture, each turn revealing new colors and shapes."

The team at | Festival Diaries

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