The Cambodian water festival is called Bon Om Tuk. It is a festival that honors the Tonle Sap river. The Tonle Sap is very important to farmers and fisherman, who are the providers of the life staples for Cambodian people, rice and fish. The Tonle Sap provides enormous fish stock and fertilizer to nourish the people. This three day festival is on the 12th day of the lunar calendar during the Buddhist month of Kadeuk. It is celebrated under the full moon on the second day of the festivities, in which Cambodians will pray to the moon and set up offerings in front of their houses to bring them good luck.
Bon Om Tuk was first celebrated during the 12th century, when King Javavarman VII prepared his Navy for battle. Because the river is full from the rainy season, they could race and prepare their boats along the Tonle Sap with ease. In today’s times, we honor the ancient days with colorful boat races. Boats can be up to 100 feet long with over eighty oarsman! Some of the brightly colored boats would have eyes painted on them to protect them from evil and a colorfully dressed woman playing drums on the front! It is a magnificent festival to be a part of! Schools will be closed and some businesses will also, close for the carnivals and festivities on the riverside. Over one million people gather at the river banks in order to celebrate the glorious Tonle Sap.
Usually the Tonle Sap flows into the Mekong River but as rainy season goes on the flow reverses and increases ten times the amount! When November comes and the rainy season is ending, it flips back to the Tonle Sap emptying into the Mekong. So, during this time the Cambodians celebrate this life-giving river. On the first day, Loy Pratip, there is an evening parade and illuminated boats in all of the waterways. The second day, Sampras Preah Khe, is celebrated under the full moon and the Cambodians will pray and give offerings to the moon for a bountiful harvest. Day three, Auk Ambok, it is custom for celebrants to gather at the temple at midnight to eat a holiday dish called “ambok”, fried rice wrapped in the husk with banana and coconut in the middle. This celebration will bring good luck, successful fishing, fruitful rice harvests and will be a tribute to the King’s Navy.
It is a wonderful time to visit Cambodia! People in every province will be celebrating with picnics, watching boat races, live music, fireworks and vendors all along the river to watch the amazing boats and see the beautiful parades! If you’re lucky enough to be in Cambodia during this time in November, you are in for a real treat! It’s a great time to submerge yourself in the wild Eastern culture and join in on the festivities! It is the largest and most celebrated festival of the whole year and definitely something amazing to write home about!