Cambodia's Dragon Boat Races

 
 

For just the second time in six years, Cambodia’s water festival proceeded in its capital of Phnom Penh from November 13 to 15.

The festival, which marks the reversal of the flow between the Mekong and Tonle Sap rivers, was last held in 2014.

Following a human stampede in 2010 that resulted in more than 300 deaths, the festival was canceled from 2011 to 2013, and again in 2015.

The ruling CPP government blamed drought for the majority of cancellations and the death of King Norodom Sihanouk for 2012’s cancellation. But the opposition CNRP accused the government of canceling the capital’s festival, the largest in the country, due to fear of protests.

With CNRP leader Sam Rainsy currently in exile, and his deputy Kem Sokha under self-imposed house arrest, the government authorized this year’s festival and flooded the street with state security personnel.

About 10,000 government officials, mostly police officers or military personnel, were deployed for the festival, which saw more than 250 boats and 16,000 competitors take to the Tonle Sap for the dragon boat races.

The three-day event drew millions to the capital and was awash with an atmosphere of jubilation. No serious security incidents took place, but a couple dragon boats did capsize, with one accident leading to the death of two rowers prior to the official launch of the festival on Sunday.

Alex Consiglio is a journalist based in Cambodia.

Cambodia's Dragon Boat Races
A dragon boat team races down the Tonle Sap river on Saturday, November 12, the last day of practice before the launch of the Water Festival on Sunday in Phnom Penh.
Image Credit: Alex Consiglio
Cambodia's Dragon Boat Races
A Water Festival worker uses a firehouse to wash the Tonle Sap riverbank on Sunday morning before thousands of spectators arrive to watch the dragon boat races.
Image Credit: Alex Consiglio
Cambodia's Dragon Boat Races
Thousands of spectators watch the dragon boat races in Phnom Penh on Sunday, November 13.
Image Credit: Alex Consiglio
Cambodia's Dragon Boat Races
A dragon boat racer relaxes on his vessel before being called to the starting line to race on Sunday.
Image Credit: Alex Consiglio
Cambodia's Dragon Boat Races
Dozens of dragon boats wait for their turn to race during the Water Festival in Phnom Penh on Sunday.
Image Credit: Alex Consiglio
Cambodia's Dragon Boat Races
A crew leader raises the Cambodian flag and yells into a microphone to encourage his team during dragon boats race in Phnom Penh on Sunday.
Image Credit: Alex Consiglio
Cambodia's Dragon Boat Races
A dragon boat team celebrates along the Tonle Sap during the Water Festival on Sunday.
Image Credit: Alex Consiglio
Cambodia's Dragon Boat Races
Dragon boat crews, with one member wearing a Guy Fawkes mask, align their boats for a roll call prior to racing during the Water Festival on Monday in Phnom Penh.
Image Credit: Alex Consiglio
Cambodia's Dragon Boat Races
Water Festival goers celebrate in the shade of the Sokha Hotel in Phnom Penh on Monday.
Image Credit: Alex Consiglio
Cambodia's Dragon Boat Races
A dragon boat racer cools off before being called to race during the Water Festival in Phnom Penh on Monday.
Image Credit: Alex Consiglio
Cambodia's Dragon Boat Races
A member of Prime Minister Hun Sen’s personal Bodyguard Headquarters (BHQ) patrols the Water Festival in Phnom Penh on Tuesday.
Image Credit: Alex Consiglio
Cambodia's Dragon Boat Races
A man collects water bottles discarded into the Tonle Sap river during the Water Festival on Tuesday.
Image Credit: Alex Consiglio
Cambodia's Dragon Boat Races
Dragon boat racers salute thousands of spectators at the close of the Water Festival in Phnom Penh on Tuesday, November 15.
Image Credit: Alex Consiglio
Cambodia's Dragon Boat Races
King Norodom Sihamoni salutes dragon boat racers at the close of the Water Festival in Phnom Penh on Tuesday as Prime Minister Hun Sen and his wife Bun Rany look on.
Image Credit: Alex Consiglio
Cambodia's Dragon Boat Races
Spectators watch a firework show that closed the Water Festival in Phnom Penh on Tuesday.
Image Credit: Alex Consiglio
Newsletter
Sign up for our weekly newsletter
The Diplomat Brief