The Cambodia Water Festival or ‘Bon Om Tuk’ in Khmer is the largest festival in the Cambodian calendar and an amazing sight to behold! The 3-day Water Festival is of great significance as it celebrates the end of the rainy season, the start of the fishing season, and also the unique natural phenomenon – the flow of the Tonle Sap river changing direction! And not only this, the Cambodia Water Festival also coincides with the full moon of the Buddhist calendar month of Kadeuk, this full moon is traditionally a good omen promising a bountiful harvest.
The largest water festival is in Phnom Penh but the image above was shot during the same event on the river in Siem Reap.
The Water Festival is truly a national event, many villagers throughout the country have spent almost a full year preparing their villages boat – elaborately and brightly decorated dug out canoes with large eyes on the prows to ward off evil spirits. Thousand of Khmers come over the three days to watch the races and cheer on their villages boat, which can be up to 20 meters long and contain up to 60 oarsmen, frantically paddling and chanting as the do battle in highly competitive races. The origins of the Water Festival dates back to the powerful navy of King Jayavarman II, the 9th century founder of the great Angkorian Empire, and the main purpose is to make the god of the river happy so he will provide many fish and the rice crop will be plentiful.
During this time there is a carnival atmosphere, and as well as the river banks being lined with exuberant spectators there are also live concerts, hundreds of food stands, games of chance, fair rides, and at night fireworks light up the sky and people dance in the street. This truly is Cambodia’s Mardi Gras!