Boat Races, Floating Lanterns, Boxing: What to Expect from the Water Festival 

The Water Festival is back this Sunday after three years of no-show. Photo: Chea Youkeang

PHNOM PENH – The Water Festival is back this Sunday after three years of no-show. As the only festival where millions of people flock to the capital to see boat racing, the event will feature many traditions dating back hundreds of years.

This year’s Water Festival will be celebrated from Nov 26 to 28. The date varies from year to year as it’s always observed during the lunar month of Kakdeuk. 

The main event is boat racing on the river in front of the Royal Palace. About 300 boats will compete this year. 

Colorfully decorated and some more than 30m long, boats come from all over the country seeking glory. Each boat will compete in two legs per day over 1700m. 

To add excitement, there is a special category of long boat with nearly 80 rowers. These are the fastest. 

The Water Festival is also associated with other ceremonies, such as the floating of lanterns and the worship of the moon, which reflect religious beliefs. 

At night, the event will feature the floating of lanterns. Decorated with spectacular light and cultural heritage, the lanterns usually bear the emblems of state institutions.

The lanterns aim to be reminders of the importance of Water and the Earth, which provide happiness, good harvest for agriculture and livelihood for farmers. Fireworks add to the festive mood.

On the second day of the festival, which falls on the 15th day of Kakdeuk there will be another ceremony called the Ok Ambok (eating roasted flattened ripe rice) and Sampeah Preah Khe (worshipping the moon). 

Cambodians hold the event to commemorate the Bodhisattva who was born as a rabbit on the moon after offering his life to the deity Indra.

People gather at night and eat bananas and other fruit and drink coconut juice.   

On the third day, the King will present awards to winning boats. After that, an official representing the King will cut a ribbon tied between two boats in the middle of Tonle Sap River, marking the end of the festival. 

Each night, visitor can also enjoy many more activities in the capital, including concerts and exhibitions.

Siem Reap will also celebrate the event. There will be boat racing along the Siem Reap River and exhibitions.

Fighters from 16 countries across Asia, Europe and America will participate in the 4th Kun Khmer International Competition, also known as World Kun Khmer, in Siem Reap from Nov. 26 to 28.

A total of 25 Cambodian fighters including Phal Sophorn and Chhut Serey Vanthong will face off against 39 foreign warriors in the ring, said Meam Ra, president of the Kun Khmer Federation.  

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