Bon Om Touk

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Cambodia Water Festival. Image © ktgauld/Creative Commons

The Cambodian Water Festival or Bon Om Touk is an annual celebration that marks the reversal of the current in the Tonle Sap, the seasonally inundated freshwater lake that provides an abundant source of fish and farming soil. The festival also ushers in the fishing season and the promise of a bountiful harvest.

Bon Om Touk takes place over three days in November, coinciding with the full moon of the Buddhist calendar month of Kadeuk. The biggest celebration takes place in the capital of Phnom Penh, where more than 400 colourful longboats compete in a highly-anticipated boat race along the Sisowath Quay. The race commemorates the victory of King Jayavarman VII over the Chams that sailed across the Tonle Sap to invade Angkor in the 12th century.

Since the festival attracts millions of visitors, you should book your accommodations early, as some tourists end up camping on the streets. It’s also a good chance to see the capital in such a festive atmosphere with open-air live concerts, food stalls in parks selling local cuisine, and flotillas gliding down the river.

The Water Festival also includes three ceremonies worth experiencing: the beautiful evening fluvial parade Loy Pratip; Sampeas Preah Khe or the salutation to the moon; and eating the holiday rice dish, ambok, (“flattened rice”) at midnight.

Cambodia Water Festival. Image © ktgauld/Creative Commons

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For similar festivals that honor nearby bodies of water, visit Indonesia's Lake Toba Festival; Myanmar's Hpaung Daw Oo Festival; and Thailand's Loi Krathong Festival. For an alternative November festival stop, visit Thailand's Loi Krathong Festival and Myanmar's Tazaungdaing Light Festival.


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