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Welcome to the Bon Om Touk (Water Festival)!

by Pisey Roeurm
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The 800-Year-Old Tradition of Bom Om Touk

The Water Festival is Cambodia’s most festive festival, with crowds gathering to watch the boat race, illuminated boats, and fireworks.

The water festival dates back to the 12th century and was originally held to honor King Jayavarman VII and his marine army who defeated the Cham people. The Cham are a Muslim ethnic group from Southeast Asia who took over Angkor in 1177.

The festival is one of Cambodia’s largest and most popular. Almost every town and village in Cambodia celebrates this festival, but by far the most popular place to be is Sisowath Quay in Phnom Penh, where millions of people gather each year to watch the boat races. Throughout the three days of the festival, the river is illuminated by fireworks and a plethora of brightly lit boats under the full moon.

Cambodians also celebrate the 12th lunar month full moon during the Water Festival by lighting lanterns containing offerings of flowers, incense sticks, and candles and letting them float down the river. Before releasing the lantern, they will make their wishes, and it is believed that sincere prayer may come true.

During the 3 days of the Water and Moon Festival, the wooden boat race will be held in the afternoon with hundreds of long boats that came from different provinces to catch up with the event. The moon festival is going to take place at night. Starting from the evening with floating the lantern and Ork Ambok (eat rice made) Sampeah Preah Khe (full moon festival) at midnight is the meaningful culture of Cambodia. 

On that day, people will make lanterns from banana trees, decorate them with beautiful flowers, and put some groceries on them to float in the river. This is called Loy Bratib. At midnight, people will mix “Amok” with green coconut and bananas to eat in front of the full moon. This means we are thanking the earth and worshiping the god who allows people to live in peace and get enough rice to eat. 

The Water and the Moon Festival became the national holiday of Cambodia, which let people enjoy celebrating this meaningful culture and tradition every year and make a wish to remember the generosity of the gods to bless Cambodian people with enough food, water, and life in peace for the full year. 

Note: The Cambodian government canceled this year’s Water Festival celebration in PhnomPenh to prepare for the Asean Summit, which is scheduled to begin one day after the holiday weekend.

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