Cambodia’s water festival grounded

PHNOM PENH, 17 August 2020:  Cambodia has cancelled its famous three-day water festival scheduled for 30 October to 1 November on the Tonle Sap River.

First reported in the Phnom Penh Post at the weekend, the decision to cancel was made by the Office of the Council of Ministers and forwarded to the country’s national committee for organising international festivals.

Known locally as the Bon Om Touk festival it marks the end of the rainy season on the full moon of the Buddhist lunar calendar, either in October or early in November.

Cancellation of the popular festival that draws thousands to the banks of the river was due to the ongoing threat of Covid-19 infection.

Covid-19 cases have increased to reach 273 as of last week, which is still low compared with its neighbours Vietnam and Thailand. On 11 August it reported 17 cases and just one case on 13 August. There are no reported fatalities.  However, the public health ministry warned the people to remain extremely vigilant, saying local transmission remains a real threat.

The highlight of the Water Festival is the traditional boat races held at Chatomuk, the area in front of the Royal Palace where the Tonle Sap merges with the Mekong.

For three straight days, the celebrations continue, with people from all over Cambodia thronging into Phnom Penh to take part in the festivities. Activities include music concerts, traditional dancing and the regatta of around 400 racing boats, each decked out in bright colours and rowed by around 40 oarsmen.  The festival dates back to a 1077 AD legend that describes a small flotilla of Cambodian boats repulsing a foreign invasion.