Where: Phnom Penh, Cambodia
The Cambodian Water Festival, or Bon Om Touk happens annually during the full moon of the Buddhist month of Kadeuk, which is usually around November. It celebrates the major natural occurrence of the reversing flow between the Tonle Sap Lake and the Mekong River.
During the June rainy season, the Mekong rises, reversing the flow to dump water into the lake, which increases its volume ten-fold. The Mekong drops once again at the end of rainy season in November, which allows the current to reverse again, thus emptying the excess waters of Tonle Sap back into the Mekong. This natural occurrence is celebrated in Cambodia as an “ancient thanks to the river” with three days of festivals, fluvial parades, boat races, fireworks, and general merriment.
Bon Om Touk dates back to the 12th century, to the time of the Angkorian King Jayavarman VII. The Water Festival was celebrated by the King’s Navy to kick off the Cambodian fishing season. The festivities are meant to keep the river divinities happy, ensuring a bountiful harvest of rice and fish for the year to come.
Three ceremonies underpin the entire Bon Om Touk celebration:
- Loy Pratip: an evening fluvial parade, featuring beautifully-illuminated boats lighting up the waterways. Government institutions sponsor each of the boats on parade.
- Sampeas Preah Khe: the salutation to the moon. The full moon is supposed to be a good sign for the coming harvest, which is why Cambodians make sure to give thanks to it on Bon Om Touk, and pray for a bountiful harvest ahead.
- Auk Ambok: at midnight, celebrants gather at temples to eat ambok (“flattened rice”), a holiday rice dish. Ambok is simply rice fried in the husk, pounded to remove the husk, and mixed with banana and coconut.
The major festivities occur in the capital, Phnom Penh, and are focused mainly at Sisowath Quay.
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