Oct 14 2011

Cambodia’s Water Festival cancelled

Published by at 1:39 pm under Festivals

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.

Brightly coloured racers

Brightly coloured racers.

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.

Like all Khmer festivities, it's kid central

Like all Khmer festivities, it's happy kid central.

The smiling never stops

The smiling never stops.

...well mostly...

...well mostly...

....though anyone would look nervous on this

... though anyone would look nervous on this.

Thousands of spectators line the river banks

Thousands of spectators line the river banks.

Sometimes climbing trees for a better vantage point

Sometimes climbing trees for a better vantage point.

Or standing on benches

Or standing on benches.

Though that's not necessarily to the advantage of everyone

Though that's not necessarily to the advantage of everyone.

The atmosphere is very friendly

The atmosphere is very friendly.

Full of joy, and love?

Full of joy, and love?

Of course, there's always plenty to eat

Of course, there's always plenty to eat.

The racing is intense

The racing is intense.

And a work of great pride

And a work of great pride.

Though, sadly, for every winner, there must also be a loser

Though, sadly, for every winner, there must also be a loser.


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4 responses so far

4 Responses to “Cambodia’s Water Festival cancelled”

  1. [...] occur in the weeks leading up to and during holidays such as the Water Festival. (Although the races have been cancelled, other events will still be on and there will be a lot of non-city folk hanging out in Phnom [...]

  2. Changing Seasons | katie in cambodiaon 07 Nov 2011 at 9:13 am

    [...] this cultural festival myself, but for now, check out some photos and info about it here:  http://www.travelfish.org/blogs/siemreap/2011/10/14/cambodias-water-festival-cancelled/ Share this:TwitterFacebookLike this:LikeBe the first to like this post. This entry was posted in [...]

  3. [...] Today is supposedly the first day of the three-day Bon Oum Teuk, or Water Festival. Due to the recent events (flooding in the countryside), the celebration was canceled this year. According to news reports, the festival was canceled because the water level remains high. More info about this here. [...]

  4. [...] Update: Xinhua reports that the Cambodian Water Festival for 2012 has been cancelled to mourn late former King Norodom Sihanouk who passed away last week. The three-day holiday for workers will remain however (so public transport could still be heaving), but there will not be any official celebrations. This is the second time in as many years that the festival has been cancelled. [...]

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