Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - Beginner's guide to Bon Om TukThe beloved, 800-year-old Water

Beginner's guide to Bon Om TukThe beloved, 800-year-old Water

Beginner's guide to Bon Om TukThe beloved, 800-year-old Water

Festival is held at the end of the monsoon season on November's full moon. It marks

one of the most dramatic - and certainly most popular - riparian events on earth.

The Tonle Sap water system reverses its course with the onset of the rainy season

about April, flooding the Great Lake to the north with vast quantities of fresh water

pouring down the Mekong from Tibet. When the dry season arrives, the Tonle Sap returns

to its southward course, draining the lake - along with rich alluvial soil - back

into the Mekong. Home to more than 850 species of fish, the river system is Cambodia's


In 1178, King Jayavarman VII defeated invading Cham forces in an epic naval battle

on the Tonle Sap lake. Almost 830 years later, Bon Om Tuk's dragon boat races honor

the heroic triumph over the Champa Kingdom. This year is the 16th anniversary of

the boat races' revival after a 20-year hiatus. The event was cancelled after the

coup d'etat by Lon Nol toppled Head of State Prince Norodom Sihanouk in 1970.

Starting at 11 am on November 4, nearly 450 boats and 20,000 to 30,000 rowers will

compete in the 1.7 km race from the port to the Royal Palace. The competition is

based on a knockout format: each boat competes in one race a day, and against only

one other boat. The winner of that race advances, and the next day competes against

the winner of another two-boat race from day one. In the event of a tie, both boats

pass through as victors. By the end of the third day, boats that win or draw in all

three races are pronounced the first-class winners.

The Moon, Preah Chan, is the patron god on the final night of the Water Festival,

which coincides with the full moon of the calendar month of Kadeuk. Cambodians believe

the full moon is a good omen that portends a bountiful harvest. On this finale, called

Auk Ambok or "Salute the Moon," people gather to give thanks to the moon

and pray for the coming growing season.

For Phnom Penh residents who remain in town for the celebration, the Water Festival

can mean playing host to dozens of family members from the provinces. Special food

is prepared for this occasion that includes fruit, vegetables and ambok, a traditional

rice dish.


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