Minus pressing crowds, Water Festival is delightful


With winning competitors making their way upstream to the start after winning their first heat, the weather could not have been better.  I took this photo from a privileged area set aside for “foreigners.”

Laying eyes on the king may have been the top highlight among the many joys of Bon Om Touk, Cambodia’s annual three-day Water Festival.

Apparently the deaths of 353 souls during a stampede in 2010 was the chief reason for the absence of shoulder-to-shoulder throngs. It also reduced the number of boats competing in races along the river, called Tonle Sap, in front of the Royal Palace. (The year 2014 was the last time the event was held because of the tragedy, excessive flooding, the death of the last king and political confrontations.)

Another possible explanation would be the many blocks of streets closed to vehicular traffic and the mandatory unloading of buses and other large passenger vehicles at great distances from the Riverside neighborhood.  That area, which happens to be especially popular with expats, is where the festivities were concentrated.

In any case, predictions turned out to be wildly wrong about how many folks would journey to the capital from the provinces, 2 million of them, according to officials, as opposed to reportedly 100,000 the first day and subsequently growing.

Whatever the cause, I never expected Continue reading

This is big week in Phnom Penh, too big by magnitudes

Boat races and fireworks are highlights of the three-day Water Festival.  (Photo: The Cambodia Daily)

Boat races and fireworks are highlights of the three-day Water Festival. (Photo: The Cambodia Daily)

The peak of the rainy season is supposedly long past, but it seems that nobody told the monsoon master.

When there is a downpour here, the rain roars so loud that it wakes many of us, including me, from a deep sleep.  Time to close the windows to just a crack.

Although the season normally ends around now, my first such experience of it seems significantly out of sync with the usual situation.  Hours-long deluges and days of off-and-on rain over the last couple of weeks have proved to be the exception to what I understand to be the rule.

It pours down even as a three-day holiday approaches this week.  The aptly named water festival takes places during the first week of November, when the river called Tonle Sap reverses direction, a phenomenon new to me.

Sometimes the rain is so heavy that Continue reading