Oct 14 2011
In view of recent events, the government has just taken the probably very sensible decision to cancel this year’s Water Festival which was due to kick off on November 9. The Water Festival is one of the highlights of the Cambodian calendar, a spectacle that is enormously looked forward to by Cambodians and is a true experience for the visitor.
Cambodia’s Prime Minister Hun Sen said the festival was cancelled because the water levels remain high in the country and many of the people who would have been crewing the boats are from flood-hit provinces where they are needed to help amid the disaster.
Celebrated on a full moon, the festival marks the reversal of the flow of the Tonle Sap, a unique occurrence the knowledge of which vested ancient Cambodian kings with great power. During the three-day festival, Phnom Penh is besieged with millions of visitors there to enjoy the boat races, parties, food, fireworks and heady revelry. It is an experience for the stout of heart as the crowds can get very oppressive.
The celebration in Siem Reap, on the other hand, is a much more low-key affair and all the better for it. Crowds line the banks of the beautiful Siem Reap river to watch dozens of boats racing past in pairs, and while the event may be more subdued than Phnom Penh, the competition seems no less intense.
On the streets behind the spectators are dozens of stalls for food and drinks, and dodgy looking fairground attractions rigged up for the kids. Like all of Cambodia’s celebrations, this is a family experience and the carnival atmosphere is warm and joyful. In the evenings, after the day’s racing is over, the celebrations continue with music, dancing and of course more food.
The cancellation makes a lot of sense, though it is sad that Cambodians who have lost so much in recent weeks have lost yet another reason to celebrate. Since there won’t be one this year, here are a few pictures from the Water Festival in 2009 to give you a taste of the atmosphere.
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