Turning Of The Tide At Tonle Sap

by Exotissimo Travel, Nov 12, 2009 | Destinations: Cambodia / Tonle Sap
One of Tonle Sap's quieter days.

One of Tonle Sap's quieter days.

One of Tonle Sap's quieter days.

Tonle Sap is an interesting body of fresh water. Certain times of the year, it is a lake and other times of the year it is a river. During the dry season (November-May) the water drains into the Mekong in Phnom Penh creating a river and when the monsoon season hits (June-October), the flow of water reverses back and forms a lake. The lake/river hybrid is also an important element of Cambodia because of the area’s rich diversity of ecological life and the water’s importance to the villagers in the area.

Bon Om Thong or the Khmer Water Festival is celebrated during late October or early November’s full moon when the water reverses its flow. For three days, the towns and villages along the river, including Phnom Penh bursts into life with fleets of luminously decorated boats filling Tonle Sap. Celebrations also happen in Angkor Wat, although smaller in scale it is still impressive, with the temple serving as a scenic backdrop. The highlights of the festival are the boat races that draw huge crowds from all over and are contested by hundreds of boats comprising thousands of paddlers.

The festival itself has ancient roots. Angkorian kings would hold competitions and see who the greatest warriors were. You can compare this competition to a joust in Europe as a means of training and a contest under the king’s watchful eye.

Bon Om Thong also has spiritual significance. People would pray and thank the river for providing water, fertile land, and fish.

Being around Tonle Sap around this time is an excellent time to discover Cambodia and join the locals in the biggest celebration of the year.

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