In Cambodia, the Water Festival marks the beginning of the fishing season and the end of the rainy season. Along with the Khmer New Year, it is regarded by Cambodians as the most important holiday celebration. Every year an estimated 2 million people travel from the Provinces of Cambodia and various other countries to Phnom Penh to take part in the Festival. The streets surrounding the Tonle Sap River (also known as the Riverside) are shut down to commercial traffic and people spend three days watching boat races along the river, setting off fireworks, attending free concerts, eating tons of food and drinking many Angkor beers. I was lucky enough to have time to travel by bus to Phnom Penh and take part in the first day of the three day celebration.
Although the second day of the festival is supposedly the most eventful one, there was still plenty for me to see on the first day. During the day, the boat races are probably the most entertaining thing to watch. There were over 400 boats that participated in the races and some of the boats hold as many as 90 people. People take these races seriously and I was very impressed with how fast some of the boats were. Stephanie, Sean, Mike and Luca raced in a boat with a bunch of other foreigners and they got smoked by the Khmer teams. While they were getting ready to race Dara took me to an outdoor bar overlooking the river. We were on the second floor of the bar and were sitting near the finish line so I had a good view of the boats and was able to watch all of the activity happening on the streets.
Here are some pictures from the afternoon.
The afternoon was a lot of fun but I have to admit I was a little disappointed. From what I had heard, the Water Festival was supposed to be like the Mardi Gras of Cambodia. Sure there were more people than normal and the buildings and streets were all decorated, but the atmosphere just didn’t feel crazy enough. All of that changed when we went back out to the Riverside at night. As soon as the sun set it finally felt like something huge was happening. All of the markets near the Riverside were flooded with people, music was blasted from big stages set up all over the city, fireworks started going off, street vendors took over the Riverside and all of the people seemed re-energized. We spent the night walking up and down the streets stopping at the street stalls, trying out new foods and shot gunning beers with the Cambodian police. At night it really felt like I was in New Orleans.
All in all it was a great weekend. I was so happy to be back in Cambodia for the Water Festival and to see my friends there. Cambodia definitely holds a very special place in my heart, but I am glad to be back in Vietnam. Foodwise, Cambodia just doesn’t compare to here. Speaking of food, it’s past 7pm and I haven’t had dinner yet so I’m going to grab a quick meal with Annie before we head out to Yoko, a local live music club. Hope you guys had a great weekend!! xoxo