Sunday, November 2, 2014

Bonn Om Tuk - Water Festival

Cambodia's annual Water Festival (Bonn Om Tuk) is coming up next week - November 5, 6, and 7. The Water Festival celebrates the reversing current of the Tonle Sap River, which, in a unique hydrological phenomenon, changes direction twice a year. This year the current actually reversed about a month ago, now flowing southeast toward the ocean. In Phnom Penh long-boat races are held on the Tonle Sap, colorful dug-out row boats competing for prizes and honors. Fireworks and a water-borne parade of lighted barges cap events in the early evenings.

This will be the first Water Festival held in Phnom Penh since 2010 which ended in the Koh Pich bridge disaster. After the 2010 disaster the festivals in 2011, 12 and 13 were cancelled for various reasons, some less genuine than others. This year the Water Festival returns. Workers are busy sprucing up the river front, boats and teams are arriving from the countryside, the light boat barges are being assembled. The festival has traditionally drawn huge crowds from the countryside, but people are still a bit jittery about the 2010 disaster and it's been 3 years without a festival, making attendance is a bit more difficult to predict this year. Adding to safety fears, during the evening fireworks display on Coronation Day last week, a bystander was killed by a malfunctioning firework shell. Ordinarily more than one million could be expected to attend the Water Festival.

The following are a few snapshots from Water Festivals in Phnom Penh in 2004, 2005 and 2007.

Riverfront crowd 2004

2005 - note the small buildings and earthen banks on the far side of the river before the development of the last few years. 

Riverfront crowd 2005 

King Sihamoni - 2005

Decorated barge in the Light Boat Parade on the river 
(for scale, note the people standing along the front.)

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