Siem Reap stream: Its Origin and Popularity during Celebrations

Oarsmen race their boat during the Water Festival on November 25, 2023 at Siem Reap stream. Photo: Luy Sirey Reaksa

SIEM REAP - The province of Siem Reap has a long and extraordinary history of arts and temples. However, there is another magnificent element besides the centuries-old monuments, which is often ignored: the waterways that quietly flow in and out of the city.

The stream also receive a lot of attention during major national events such as Khmer New Year and Water Festival as various recreational and entertaining activities are often held here.

Among the many sources of water for Siem Reap City, the stream flowing from Kulen Mountain is one of the main suppliers. Its water flows from the top of the mountain, eventually reaching the Tonle Sap Lake at the end of its course. The waterfalls at the Preah Ang Thom pagoda on Phnom Kulen and the Kbal Spean Waterfall are sites developed during the 9th through the 11th centuries to facilitate the watercourse as well.

Additionally, each irrigation system or temple that was constructed during the period from 802 until 1431 AD is a representation of Hinduism. Since kings at the time were mostly believers of this religion, they built their mesmerizing stone temples and waterways to symbolize human relations with the gods and goddesses of Hinduism.

This is the reason why most of the temples are built on high evaluation and surrounded by bodies of water. The temple usually represents Mount Kailash also known as the residence of the gods or where the gods would rest. Massive bodies of water including barays, rivers, natural or artificial water sources are considered holy waters like the ocean or the Ganges River.

Because of their religious beliefs, the Khmer people sculpted images of the Brahma, Vishnu, Shiva and the holy Shiva Lingam at the bottom of the Kulen stream. Angkorian people believed that, once the water had passed through the sculpted features, it turned divine. This holy water would then abundantly bless the city as it flew along the irrigation system before reaching the Tonle Sap Lake at the lower point of the terrain elevation.

According to the book entitled “Angkor: a Manual for the Past, Present, and Future,” the well-known Siem Reap stream of today is not a natural stream. However, it is an artificial stream that was diverted from the natural one. The 2003 excavation near the Angkor Thom northern gate demonstrated that the original stream began in front of Phnom Dei Temple and passed near the Tonle Snguot temple before stopping at that gate.

The Siem Reap stream can contain up to approximately 200 million cubic meters of water during rainy seasons. However, in the dry season, it is a bit disappointing because water is scarce. This is an old problem and that is why we see many kinds of irrigation systems built all over Siem Reap City only to store water for the dry season.

Presently, the Siem Reap stream is one of the three protected tourist regions in the province under the Royal Decree N°001/NS. Therefore, in order to take care of it, the authorities have been relocating those who used to live on the edge of the water.

Finally, many are looking forward to cherishing the beauty of this famous Siem Reap stream in the future. With anticipation, excitement, and future improvement, soon the river will transform itself into a heavenly sight just as worthy as its name.

Related article: The Origin of the Water Festival

Written in Khmer for ThmeyThmey News, the article was translated by Ky Chamna for Cambodianess News.

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