Oct 17 2012
Further update: Now the latest reports we are hearing are that the festival is cancelled in Phnom Penh only. We’ll let you know definitively as soon as we know!
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. Thanks Eugene Sidwell for tipping us on this.
For anyone thinking of passing through Siem Reap in November or December 2012, you might want to revisit your schedule to make sure you’re here for the last week of November and/or the first week of December. This period of two weeks is possibly the best time to be in Siem Reap of the whole year. First, we have cooler days and balmier evenings, and the mud and floodwaters are gone from the roads. Light breezes replace thundering rain, and there is no better way to celebrate that than with a fabulous three-day Water Festival.
The Water Festival is one of Cambodia’s most prominent celebrations – unlike most others, which tend to slip under the visitor’s radar. Yet, while the event in Phnom Penh is synonymous with crushing crowds and varying degrees of unpleasantness, in Siem Reap it’s a genuinely wonderful family occasion that draws people from far and wide to join in or cheer on the colourful teams of powerful rowers as they battle for domination. Crucially, there is plenty of space for everyone along the riverfront and on the streets behind for strolling about, enjoying the races, stopping for something to eat every three yards, buying all kinds of fabulously useless tack, exchanging beaming smiles with every person passing, and generally soaking up the fun-filled atmosphere.
The event, which has a tradition going back to Angkorian times when it was used for selection of the strongest soldiers, commemorates the end of the rainy season, and also the reversal of the flow of the Tonle Sap. This year it will take place over three days on November 27, 28 and 29.
The following weekend brings us the Angkor Wat International Half-Marathon, on Sunday December 2. The hale and hearty (count me out) among you can take part in any one of a series of events, including the 21-kilometre half-marathon, a 10-kilometre run (or walk in the case of most of my friends) for the able and disabled, and a three-kilometre family walk. The deadline for registering expires on November 17.
If that’s not enough to get sports nuts excited, consider that a day earlier, on Saturday December 1, there is also the Village Focus Angkor Wat Bike Race and Rally, with a 100-kilometre race, a 30-kilometre race and a 30-kilometre fun-ride. Both of these events are hosted on the roads surrounding Angkor Wat, a truly unique backdrop.
For those who prefer things to be a little more sedate and less sweaty (moi, for example), then the next week is the best of all. The Angkor Photo Festival is in its seventh year and going from strength to strength. This year, they will be showcasing the work of 130 photographers from all over the world, some just beginning to make their name, others whose work we will have seen dozens of times in big name publications. There will be 10 standing exhibitions at venues including the Raffles Hotel Le Grand Gardens, the FCC Angkor, 1961, The McDermott Gallery, and the central hub at the Angkor Photo Gallery. Every evening features a slide show at the FCC Angkor, including the final event which will show the work of a group of emerging young Asian Photographers who will have spent the week attending workshops guided by established professionals. All of the Angkor Photo Festival events are free.
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