One of the most important holidays in Cambodia is Bon Om Touk or Water Festival. The Water Festival marks the reversal of the flow of the Tonle Sap River, which signifies the end of the monsoon (rainy) season. The Water Festival commemorates three important things. First, it commemorates the naval war with the neighboring Cham people from 1177-1181 AD. Preah Bath Jayavarman VII was King of Cambodia at this time and led the Khmer people to victory. Second, Water Festival commemorates the annual tradition of the navy to demonstrate their skills during boat races on the Tonle Sap River. Third, it commemorates the abundant harvest after the rainy season. During rainy season, the rivers and lakes flood and provide fertile farmland for the Khmer people to grow crops, particularly rice. The Water Festival is held on the full moon in November which coincides with the end of rainy season.
Three traditions during Water Festival:
- Boat racing on the Tonle Sap River. The boats are manned by anywhere from thirty to eighty men and women. Boat teams come from provinces all over Cambodia.
- The Ceremony of Bondet Protib (Illuminated floats) – At night, illuminated boats float down the Tonle Sap River under a long firework display. Each boat represents a different government ministry or state instituion.
- The Ceremony of Sampeah Preah Khe and Auk Ambok – Sampeah Preah Khe means the salutation of the moon. Auk Ambok is a holiday dish of banana, coconut, and ambok (fried and flattened rice), which is eaten at midnight during the moon salutation.