Water Festival in Phnom Penh

water festival

Life is an adventure, and MY life is that kind. Wherever I go, unexpected things always happen, whether good or bad, pleasant or annoying. The good thing is I always have something to write about. Maybe that’s God’s way of helping me stay on my path: rambling about something unimportant in my blog, or my diary if I still had it.

When we go to the hotel in Phnom Penh, I stretched for a few minutes, jumped on my bed to see how soft it was, and, of course, filled my tummy. The owner of the hotel proudly told us that we were lucky to come at that time since the Water Festival was being held near our hotel. What came to mind when I heard that was a street battle with water pistols, or buckets of water like in Thailand. That instant, I decided not to take part in the festival, not because I am boring (actually, I am) but mostly because I had flu. A bucket of cold water wouldn’t cure my sickness. However, it was holy water, and the cause of my sickness was possession or something similar.
It was a real surprise. The Water Festival, or Bon Om Touk (The Pirogue Racing Festival), was totally different from what I had imagined. Instead of a group of people shooting each other with water pistols, I saw boats, beautifully decorated with lamps, sailing along the Tonle Sap river.

This festival is considered the most magnificent festival in Phnom Penh. It lasts for 3 days, giving people an opportunity to take part. The first day was opened by an important ceremony: The Illuminated Float (Loy Pratip) where dozens of boats glow with beautiful decorations against the dark sky. The second day involved the Moon Salutation (Sampeas Preah Khe), which I watched on TV as it was impossible to reach the river bank with thousands, or even millions, of people having picnics by the river. The third day was devoted to battle, as teams from various provinces around in Cambodia competed with each other to become the champion.
We tried to reach the higher level by visiting rooftop bars. Unfortunately, there was no room, or if there was room, some tourists wouldn’t let us sit down since they needed two chairs for one person.

And why is the festival related to the boats?

According to history, Khmer King used to battle enemies by sailing. He created this yearly festival to choose the best sailor, who would then be recruited into the army.
When is it held? It is held around November: the last time we went, it was on the 3rd of November.
Tips for enjoying the festival:

  1. Come early, and go to the highest level of the bar. Bars are scattered around the river. Don’t let someone take your place even if they beg you.
  2. Be careful with your bags. In the middle of the crowd, somebody might try to take your belongings.
  3. Bring enough money since they sell a variety of traditional food along the riverbank. If you think it’s clean, or you have a strong stomach, you can try it. If not, please don’t risk it.
  4. Wear comfortable clothes. You will be in the middle of thousands of enthusiastic people, so wear something light which is comfortable enough to walk around in, but is still considered appropriate in Cambodia (ie, do not wear bikinis on the street).
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