If you’re busy getting geared up for the Holidays in New York, if you loved in Cambodia, the stress of planning and the joy of celebrating one of the country’s biggest holidays would already be over! The annual Water Festival is a three-day celebration in Phnom Penh honoring the reversal of the Tonle Sap River waters, which is caused by the massive amounts of rain that fall in the proceeding months.
After a devastating stampede in 2010, which left close to 350 people dead and over 700 injured, the Water Festival was cancelled for the next three years. The Festival was re-instated in 2014, though notably fewer Cambodians celebrated. Sadly, this year the Festival also didn’t take place, though only because the water level was so low. The Cambodian government has not yet decided if it will have a celebration in 2016.
One of the highlights of the festival is the annual boat race, where Cambodians In the past, the King would use the boat races to evaluate the strength of his army. Today, the races are just for fun — though they’re still very competitive!
Traditional dishes eaten during the ceremony include Ak Ambok, which is a fabulous combination of ground rice, banana, and coconut. There is also the Sampeas Preah Khe tradition of prayer, which greets the moon, as well as the Loy Pratip, where many Cambodians release their own, smaller special boats into the water.
Interestingly, the Water Festival is also a time when prisoners serving sentences for lesser crimes can receive Royal Pardons, meaning they are either released or their sentences are reduced. This year, over 100 prisoners were released.
If you’re in Cambodia next November, be sure to check out the Water Festival to see a unique and beautiful Cambodian tradition.