The Water Festival is the most festive festival in Cambodia, people from all over the country gather in Phnom Penh to see the boat race, the illuminated boats and the fireworks. The city is filled with people, food stands and live concerts.
The celebrations of the water festival dates back to the 12th century and was from the beginning a celebration to honor King Jayavarman VII and his marine army who defeated the Cham people. The Cham people are a Muslim ethnic group in Southeast Asia and they had occupied Angkor in 1177.
Today the Water Festival also marks the remarkable natural phenomenon of the reversal of the current of the Tonle Sap River and the start of the dry season. During the rainy season the Tonle Sap River floats north to the Tonle Sap Lake and during the dry season Tonle Sap River floats south and joins with the Mekong River in Phnom Penh.
The Water Festival is a 3-day long festival that occurs in November. All three days there will be boat races on the Tonle Sap River in Phnom Penh with colorfully decorated boats that hold 40 rowers. The final of the boat race will be held in the afternoon of the last day.
During the Water Festival the Cambodians also celebrate the 12th lunar month full moon by lighting lanterns containing offerings with flowers incense sticks and candles and let them float on the river. They will make their wishes before releasing the lantern and it is believed that sincere praying could become true. The biggest lantern is the Royal Lantern which will be released at the riverside in front of the Royal Palace exactly at 12 midnight of the full moon night.
At night time there will be a lot of fireworks that the Cambodian Government has sponsored and you can see beautifully decorated and illuminated boats called Loy Pratip on the river. And people will be eating special rice with banana or coconut juice called Ork Ambok.