The rainy season is so severe that the direction of the Tonle Sap river is reversed. This festival marks the switch of the river back to its natural course.
You know the old phrase 'don't pull faces in case the wind changes'? Well, we hope that's not the case in Cambodia, when the Mekong River performs a remarkable turn around. The origins of the national event can be traced back to Angkorian times when kings would determine who their best naval warriors were based on their performance in water competitions.
The Tonle Sap River connects the Tonle Sap Lake to the Mekong River. During the wet season the Mekong overflows, dumping its excess into the Tonle Sap, which in turn is forced to flow upstream towards the Tonle Sap Lake. This change of current is unique.
The Sisowath Quay River is the most popular location to watch the boat races; the Royal Palace, lit up at night, is visible behind the racing boats. Food stalls sell ak ambok, a dish made from rice cooked in the husk, ground and then mixed with banana and coconut. Audiences eagerly await the rising of the full moon in the evening. Then incense and candles are lit, fireworks erupt and the future is derived from the shape of melted wax on banana leaves. In recent years the boat races have been cancelled due to the water level being too low but Bonn Om Toeuk is still a major public holiday, celebrated throughout the country not just the capital.
Remember, try not to pull any silly faces. Just in case.
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