What is the Water Festival?

Thu 25 November 2010

The Water Festival is an annual three-day celebration
that marks the Tonle Sap River reversing direction. During the rainy season the river overflows into the Tonle Sap lake, the great lake you see in the upper left of a map of Cambodia. When rainy season ends the water level drops, and the lake resumes emptying into the river.

The boat races are the biggest Water Festival activity. Legend has it that the kings of the Angkor Empire used the races to demonstrate their navy's skill. The boats square off two at a time. The local finals are held on the second day. Regional winners go to the capital for a national race on the third day.

It's also said that it's a holiday of thanksgiving for the year's crops, although I haven't heard anyone use those words outside of the web. With three days off, it's a big celebration.


There were all the food and balloon vendors you'd expect at a fair.


There were also vendors for clothes, shoes, and household goods. Why pass up a chance to reach so much of your market?


The boats rowed up to the reviewing stand for the opening ceremonies.


There were several long speeches. I started opposite the reviewing stand, moved to a great spot on the bridge, and finally had to leave to get water.


Sadly, I didn't have a good view of the races themselves. The best view was on the local cable channel, which rebroadcast them later. Both nights ended with fireworks, music, and families walking along the river.

Category: Holidays and Festivals