What is the Cambodian Water Festival?

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

The Cambodian Water Festival marks the unique flow reversal between the Mekong and the Tonle Sap Rivers. During the rainy season, Tonle Sap River is overfilled with water and ends up emptying upstream into the Tonle Sap Lake.

As the flow reverses and the lake water flows freely, it provides the region with plenty of fish and fertile farming land. In short, the Cambodian Water Festival marks the end of rainy season and the beginning of the cool season.

What Happens During the Cambodian Water Festival?

The Cambodian Water Festival is one the largest and most popular festivals in the kingdom. Most towns and villages in the Kingdom take part in the festival and build boats to race on rivers.

Since the ancient times of the Angkorian Empire, the Khmer people have been participating by holding competitions on the water. The kings would use this time as a way to evaluate the training and fighting skills of their naval warriors.

In this video you can see just how hard they are working to get their boats moving that fast. Also, notice how each boat has its own unique style. Oftentimes there will be one boat not participating in the races, instead the people aboard play traditional music to motivate and encourage the racers to row faster to victory!

What should you do during the Cambodian Water Festival?

Siem Reap and Phnom Penh are the places to be during the Cambodian Water Festival. At Phnom Penh’s Sisowath Quay, over four million people show up to watch the amazing boat races.

Siem Reap is completely packed as well with people on the bridges and along the river cheering and having a good time. During the festival have fun exploring the many street food stands and other stalls near the rivers. Make friends with locals, cheer for your favorite boat, and maybe meet the racers. After filling yourself with tasty Khmer street food in the evening, enjoy drinks under the fireworks.