Bon Om Touk Festival, Phnom Penh

The Bon Om Touk Festival is Cambodia’s most important and unique annual festival timed to coincide with the lunar cycle and the predicted end of the rainy season. The exact date of the festival therefore changes each year.

Bon Om Touk Festival Dates

2022 will be the first year the Bon Om Touk Festival has been held since 2019, before the pandemic. Here are the festival dates for this year and the next 2 years.

  • 2024: 14th to 16th November
  • 2025: 4th to 6th November
  • 2026: 23rd to 26th November

About the Bon Om Touk Festival

The Bon Om Touk Festival is a water festival, and it is celebrated with boat races, lanterns floated on river, and special food.

Origins and Meaning of the Festival

There are a number of different theories about how and when the tradition started, and what the festival actually celebrates. As well as the end of the rainy season, the festival coincides with another very important event which is the reversal of the flow of the Tonle Sap River. The Tonle Sap River is the only major river in the world that reverses its flow. The point at which the flow reverses is when the Tonle Sap Lake has expanded to its fullest extent, and is it’s most productive.

The tradition of holding boat races is believed to date back to 1,181 when a boat race was held to celebrate the naval victory of the forces of King Jayavarman VII ending the rule of the Cham Empire over Cambodia. Further accounts of the festival being celebrated are recorded in the written history of the 16th Century King Ang Chan I who floated lanterns on the river to celebrate his own naval victory over invaders from Vietnam. From then, until fairly recently, the festival has been celebrated infrequently; it was only in 1993 the festival began to be held every year, with a two year suspension due to the pandemic and earlier suspension in 2011 due to public health concerns.

Bon Om Touk Festival in Phnom Penh
Bon Om Touk Festival in Phnom Penh
Bon Om Touk Festival in Phnom Penh

The Bon Om Touk Festival is celebrated all over Cambodia. Celebrating the festival in Siem Reap is becoming an increasingly popular option, however, by far the largest and most impressive celebration happens every in Phnom Penh. In Cambodia there is a 3 day public holiday every year to coincide with the Bon Om Touk Festival and in 2019 an estimated 2 million Cambodian people are believed to have made their way to Phnom Penh for the festival.

In Phnom Penh the central point of the fesitval is long walkway on the west bank of the Tonle Sap River in the centre of the city, Sisowath Quay. For three days boat races are held on this stretch of the river. The boats are dragon boats with up to 100 rowers sat side by side facing forward. The boats are colourful and elaborate, and some are very long. On the first two days of the festival two boat race at at a time. On the final day all the boats race at the same time. The race on the final day in particular can become chaotic and dangerous for the rowers and in previous years fatatilities amongst the rowers have been common. In 2010, there were also fatatilities amongst the spectators, over 300 of whom were killed during a stampede on a bridge over the Tonle Sap River.

Travel to Phnom Penh during Bon Om Touk

In the past Phnom Penh becomes very busy during the Bon Om Touk Festival and you should definitely book a hotel, and your travel tickets, well in advance. During the festival you are very likely to see people sleeping over night in the streets. The atmosphere of the festival in previous years has been very friendly. This a festival for all the family, but it isn’t without possible dangers and foreign visitors are advised to take precautions against pickpockets and to avoid very crowded locations. It is possible to watch parts of the festival from a balcony overlooking the river at one of the riverside restaurants such as the one at the FCC Phnom Penh, and we recommed this and booking a table well in advance at the same time as booking your hotel.

Location of the Bon Om Touk Festival

The main location for celebrating the Bon Om Touk Festival is normally Sisowath Quay in the centre of Phnom Penh.

Google Map of Sisowath Quay

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