The water festival this year is held on 18-19-20 November 2002. Boat races as well as fireworks displays are held at the river.
Recently, more than 300 boats, propelled by precision-trained oarsmen, took part in the annual boat race, the highlight of the Water Festival or Bon Om Touk. This is one of the major events in the Kingdom, which attracts multitudes of people from the various provinces to the capital city, Phnom Penh. They arrive by buses, cars, bikes, cyclos, bicycles and even trucks. Many stay over in the city during the three-day festive season, lending support to their boat team.
It is not surprising that the city takes on a carnival air during this period open-air live concerts are held, make-shift food stalls selling a variety of local fare are set up in parks and children as well as adults take rides on ferris wheels. Colorful buntings and banners adorn government buildings and as night fails the Royal Palace is brightly lit with colorful lights. Brilliant fireworks illuminate the night sky and flotillas, outlined by lights, glide gracefully down the river. This is, in fact, Cambodia's version of the Mardis Gras.
The Water Festival also marks a unique natural phenomenon - the Tonle Sap river reverses the flow of its current. It is probably the only waterway in the world, which flows in opposite directions at different times of the year. The Tonle Sap lake or Great Lake is a vast expanse of water, once an arm of the sea, which forms the most significant topographical feature in country.
The lake is fed by the Mekong river and the Tonle Sap river. From November to May, the Tonle Sap river runs into the Mekong just like any other tributary. But with the arrival of the monsoon rains, there is such build-up of water in the main stream that excess pours into the Tonle Sap river, forcing it to change direction an flow back into the Tonle Sap lake.
The Festival also coincides with the full moon of the Buddhist calendar month of Kadeuk. The Cambodians believe that the full moon is a good omen, which promises a bountiful harvest.
On this night, especially in the countryside, people gather to give thanks to the moon. Special food is prepared for this occasion - fruits, vegetables and ambok, a uniquely Cambodian specialty. Candles are lit, incense burnt and offerings made. The chief priest lights the candles and as it drips on the banana leaves spread beneath the candles, predictions are made. It is said that the shape of the melted wax on the banana leaves dictates the state of all future harvest for the year.
Whatever the predictions, it does not dampen the spirit of the people. Most of all, it does not stop them from having a merry time.