Bon Om Touk – Water Festival

The Water Festival here in Cambodia is a three day festival held in November that marks the end of the rainy season, the beginning of harvest and the reversal of the flow of the Tonle Sap River. It includes special ceremonies and the major attraction – boat racing.

Phnom Penh Water Festival

The remarkable Tonle Sap River normally flows south to Phnom Penh where is flows into the mighty Mekong River, but each year in the wet season, because of the amount of water coming down the Mekong River, the Tonle Sap River backs up to form a huge lake in Siem Reap Province. At the end of the wet season, when the flow of the Mekong subsides, the Tonle Sap River once again flows down towards Phnom Penh and the massive lake shrinks. The yearly flooding of the lake area provides water, and sediment for much needed rice growing and perfect breeding grounds for many kinds of fish – a staple part of the average Khmer diet. Fishing in the Tonle Sap is actually illegal during the wet season, but when the river reverses, it’s open season on the fish.

“This celebration also goes by the name: Water and Moon Festival, and was established to mark the reversal of the Tonlé Sap and open the fishing season. The festival lasts three days and begins on the last day of the full moon. However, because of the variation of the monsoon seasons, the reversal of the river does not always coincide exactly with the festival. In the simplest form, the celebration is a series of canoe races, including some 375 teams, and victory brings good fortune for the coming fishing season for the entire village. In addition, these water celebrations are a tribute to one of the Buddhist teeth that Naga, whose daughter married an Indian prince to establish the kingdom of Cambodia, lost in the depths. According to legend, when he was cremated, his tooth fell into the river down to the seven-headed snakes kingdom.

In pagodas along the river, men prepare for the festival by either restoring sacred canoes that have existed for hundreds of years or building new canoes when the old ones are beyond repair. Canoes are made from one piece of a trunk of a coki tree, which is essential because the material is resistant from rotting. Additionally, each canoe is personalized with painted patterns and eyes that symbolize the guardian goddess, often the spirit of a young village girl. This is a modification from the superstitious tradition of sacrifice of nailing actually eyes to the boat, dating back before Buddhism. The morning after completion and after three sacred shouts by the crew, the canoes are pushed into the river and head for the capital at full moon. Some crews must row for hours, and others will row for several days. Being chosen as a member of the crew is one of a man’s highest honors, and members must practice to perfect team coordination. Only the best crews will get to the finals in the capital.

After two days of racing, all of the canoes come together to encourage Naga to spit out the swelling waters of the Tonlé Sap towards the sea. Firecrackers light the water, the royal palace, and the sky. This moment lets the legendary snake master of water know to return to the depths of the Tonlé Sap and leave the power to the sun gods. This also marks the end of the rainy season.” ~ ~


This year is actually the third year in a row that the water festival festivities have been cancelled in the capital city of Phnom Penh. This year the reason is to be able to direct funds to relief and aid efforts for those affected by the flooding this year. But all over the country “festivals are allowed to be held that are in line with the traditions and the ability of the people.” ~ ~

There has been boat races held here in Siem Reap – actually at a part of the Tonle Sap ‘Lake’. This year, Sarah and Emily went to those races along with Andrew and Khen. I personally, have never attended any races. Instead I usually spend the day catching up on marking and grading – which is what I have done today.

Most of my girls went home to spend time with their families. A lot of the younger ones have been rather homesick lately. It’s a good thing that the two-week Christmas holiday is coming up in just over a month. Time flies when I’m so busy. I don’t know where the past two and a half months have gone! Once again, in my grade seven classes I’m having trouble keeping on schedule because of the language barrier. but hopefully I will be able to catch up as they begin to improve.

Please keep the Philippines in your prayers. Many places still do not have the things they need. I even read that doctors where having to amputate in certain cases because they had no blood to give the patients, and that some had to pump air by hand for their sick and weak babies because there is no electricity yet. We praise God that our girls, Chhorvy, Savorny, and Teav, at LIGHT school – and the whole school – are safe and well. I also pray for all those that are assisting in the relief efforts and that the love of God will be shown through them to a grieving people.

Today while I graded, I was listening to sermons by Chester Clarke about the Sanctuary, and one thing he said really struck me. Talking about the sanctuary services, forgiveness and salvation he said, “The only thing the sinner could take credit for was for killing the lamb.”


It was a reminder to me that nothing I can do can save me – I killed the Lamb, the Son of God. Yes he was a willing sacrifice but my actions caused His death to be necessary. Even my best actions are selfish and sinful. I’m so thankful that God in His wisdom and mercy had a plan from the beginning, and that He didn’t hide it from us but gave us the sanctuary and its services to show us the Way back to the Father.

* All photo credits go to google search engine 🙂

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