Water Festival in Cambodia: General & Tips for Travelers to Join Perfectly

Water festival in Cambodia is a time when Cambodian people show their gratitude to mother nature - the great rivers that have nourished their kingdom for many years. Here, you can immerse yourself in the unique features that only this festival has. Let's find out and register for an e-Visa to join the Cambodia Water Festival now!

What is Water Festival? - Bon Om Touk

The Water Festival in Cambodia (known locally as Bon Om Touk) is an annual celebration of the Tonle Sap River, which is vital to the country's economy. The conclusion of the rainy season brings an abundance of fish and mineral-rich soil to the area surrounding the river, which has been the lifeblood of Cambodians for hundreds of years. What’s a better way to commemorate the occasion than with a large festival?

Bon Om Touk is a three-day festival and national holiday in Cambodia, with celebrations taking place all across the country. The festival's dates fluctuate according to the lunar cycle, but it is always celebrated towards the end of October or the beginning of November.

Water Festival in Cambodia

Water Festival in Cambodia

When is the Cambodian Water Festival?

Bon Om Touk, also known as the Cambodian Water Festival, is a three-day festival celebrated on the full moon in October or November.

How is the Cambodian Water Festival celebrated?

The festival is one of the largest and most popular in Cambodia. Almost every town and village across Cambodia takes part in the festival, but by far the most popular place is Sisowath Quay in Phnom Penh, the capital of Cambodia where up to four million tourists, locals, and foreigners will converge to watch the boat races.

The celebrations carry on night and day for the three days of the festival, with the river illuminated by fireworks and numerous brightly-lit boats under the full moon.

History of the Cambodian Water Festival

The festival marks a reversal of the flow between the Mekong and Tonle Sap rivers. Due to the amount of water deposited during the rainy season, the Tonle Sap river becomes so swollen with water that it reverses the direction of its flow and flows upstream to Tonle Sap lake. Essentially, the festival is a time to give thanks to the rivers as they provide the region with fertile farming land and plenty of fish.

The festival is focused on boat races and concerts. The roots of the boat races can be traced back to the times of the Angkorian kings who would train and evaluate the fighting skills of their water-based warriors by holding competitions on the river. These trials in turn honored the naval victories of the Khmer empire under the leadership of Jayavarman VII in the twelfth century.

What is in a Water Festival in Cambodia?

The Three Rituals

Aside from the boat races, the Water Festival has three additional traditional pillars to honor and praise both the land and the water.

  • 1. Loy Pratip is a lighted river parade. Originally a candle-lit naval parade, this is now a show in and of itself, with gorgeously bedecked boats drifting up and down the canals.
  • 2. The full moon ceremony is known as Sampeas Preah Khe. November's full moon is honored throughout the country with salutations and offerings, with villagers hoping for a fruitful crop.
  • 3. Auk Ambok: a traditional treat composed of flattened rice, bananas, and coconut that is customarily consumed after midnight when revelers assemble at temples to celebrate the harvest moon.

The Race of the Boats

The colorful boat races, which are now the Water Festival's main attraction, are strikingly comparable to the 800-year-old inscriptions on the Angkor temples. The brightly colored boats are made in the same way and sit low on the water, staffed by anything from thirty to eighty people, with a commander who dances to the rhythm of the drums on the bow to inspire the rowers as they travel fast across the water.

Boat racing at Water Festival in Cambodia

Boat racing at Water Festival in Cambodia

The Capital Has a Carnival

This year's celebration in Phnom Penh is expected to draw millions of people from throughout the country, region, and world, with brightly painted boats, megaphones, and neon T-shirts bringing a very modern flavor to the traditional festivities. Pop-up food booths, funfairs, and open-air live music fill the streets, and the city is festooned with colorful bunting and banners.

What should travelers bring along with their luggage?

  • Cambodia is hot all year, so wear light, breathable clothing, a hat, and lots of sunscreens if visiting the event, since you may be out in the heat for hours.
  • Remember to bring lots of bottled water because the crowds may be enormous, and you don't want to run out.
  • Bon Om Touk is not a religious celebration. People sometimes combine a visit to the event with a visit to one of Cambodia's numerous beautiful temples. It is recommended that you bring clothing that covers your shoulders and legs, and that women carry a light shawl or scarf of some type.
  • Petty stealing and pickpocketing are widespread in Phnom Penh, especially in huge crowds. It is advisable to bring a close-fitting bag or fanny pack to store any cash or valuables such as mobile phones and iPads.

Fast facts for Water Festival in Cambodia

When is the Cambodia Water Festival 2023?

In 2023, Bon Om Touk falls from 26 to 28 November.

Where is the Cambodia Water Festival?

Although Phnom Penh’s riverside is easily the most spectacular place to see the festival with its numerous boat races, if you are in Siem Reap at the time, you can also enjoy the festival there.

The Tonle Sap river appears to be caring for its inhabitants, and the Water Festival in Cambodia is a big thank you to the river that has given these people so much. It's easy to see why many people regard Bon Om Touk as being as important as the Angkor Temples.

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