Cambodian Water Festival (Bon Om Touk; បុណ្យអំុទូក)

The Cambodian Water Festival (Bon Om Touk, បុណ្យអំុទូក) is one of the major events that happen once a year in Cambodia. This festival takes place on the full moon of the 12th day of the Khmer Lunar Calendar. This usually happens in November, in the Buddhist month of Kadeuk.

The Water Festival in Cambodia is a celebration of the major occurrence wherein there is the reversing flow between the Tonle Sap and the Mekong River.

Snippets of Phnom Penh Riverside during Water Festival

The Tonle Sap River Reversal

Throughout most of the year, the regular flow of Tonle Sap is that it empties itself into the Mekong River. That is until the rainy season starts in June, which causes Mekong River to rise. As a result, the flow of the river reverses, ultimately flowing back into the lake. This increases the size of the lake by as much as a ten-fold. Once the rainy season ends, the water levels of Mekong drops once more, which then causes Tonle Sap to reverse its flow once again.

When this occurrence happens, it is celebrated as the Cambodian Water Festival, and it takes up to three days of celebration. During this time, there are parades, fireworks, boat races, and overall celebration

Celebration of Cambodian Water Festival Schedule

If the authorities in Cambodia have not cancelled the celebrations, it happens usually in November. Through the years, the Water Festival in Cambodia schedule has started on the following:

  • 2018 – November 22
  • 2019 – November 11
  • 2020 – November 31
  • 2021 – November 18

Ceremonies during Bon Om Touk

It is not all just partying that happens during Bon Om Touk (Water Festival) but there are also ceremonies that are linked to the celebration. These include:

  • Loy Pratip – This is the evening parade along the river. It features beautiful boats that are illuminated and in the dark night, it lights up the waterways. Each of the government institutions sponsor the boats that are featured during the parade.
  • Sampras Preah Khe – Known as the salutation to the moon. During the Water Festival, there is a celebration of the full moon. This is supposed to be a good sign for the coming harvest. That is why the Khmer make sure to pay tributes during Bon Om Touk, in order to obtain a bountiful harvest in the future.
  • Auk Ambok – this is celebrated at midnight. During which, the celebrants come to gather at the temples. They will then eat ambok, or flattened rice, which is the holiday rice dish. Ambok is basically rice that is fried in the husk and then pounded to remove the husk. It is then mixed with coconut and banana.

Where to go on Water Festival in Cambodia

Snippet of the Cambodian Dragon Boat Race during Water Festival 2018

Visitors can enjoy the Water Festival in various places across the country. However, the most fun and most festivities would be at the capital.

In Phnom Penh, many flock to see the festivities along the riverside (Sisowath Quay) where fireworks and other events are held. It is also easy to see the boat races from there.

Tip: watch out for petty thievery during this time as it becomes rampant due to the onset of crowds.

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