This one is a little late, but we had the week off at the beginning of the month for Bon Om Touk… the Cambodian Water Festival.
It is a Cambodian festival celebrated in November and marks a reversal of the flow of the Tonle Sap River. Every town and province joins in with the festival but the biggest celebrations take place in Phnom Penh with boat racing along the Sisowath Quay. For three days, workers from every province join with the city’s residents to celebrate by night and day. The festival lasts for three days, and commemorates the end of the country’s rainy season, as well as the reversal of flow of the Tonle Sap River. It includes boat races and concerts, and attracts several million people each year.
Ak Ambok is named after the rice dish which forms part of the Bon Om Tuk ceremony. Rice is fried in the husk and then pounded with a giant pestle. The husks are removed and the special rice mixed with coconut and banana. This traditional Khmer dish is sold throughout the festival: Ak Ambok, Sampheah Preah Khae, and Bandaet Pratip.
Sampeah Preah Khae is a ceremony in which salutations are made to the moon. After the Sampeah Preah Khae ceremony people gather at a pagoda at midnight for Ak Ambok.
Bandaet Pratip begins around 7 pm with illuminated boats taking to the water. Each boat represents a government ministry or state institution.
This is the first time in 3-4 years that the Water Festival has been held due to the incident in 2010. The festival was the site of a major stampede at the 2010 event, as well as having five rowers drown in 2008 and a single rower drown in 2009 during the boat races.
The Phnom Penh stampede occurred on 22 November 2010 when 347 people were killed and another 755 were injured in a human stampede during the Khmer Water Festival celebrations in the Cambodian capital, Phnom Penh.
The stampede occurred at the end of the three-day Water Festival to celebrate the end of the monsoon season and the semiannual reversal of flow of the Tonlé Sap river. Initial reports suggest that festival-goers had gathered on Koh Pich (“Diamond Island”), a spit of land stretching into the Tonlé Sap, to watch boat races and then a concert. Around four million people had attended the festival.
It was the third incident in the festival’s history resulting in fatalities, though it was by far the worst; five rowers on a boat drowned in 2008, and another drowned in 2009.
But while the Festival was going on… we spent the time with food poisoning in our beds avoiding the millions who came and took over the city.