Moon & Water Festival – Siem Reap

There were thousands of people lining the banks of the Siem Reap River to watch the different boat teams race along a stretch of the river. This was the last day of Cambodia’s Moon and Water Festival, known as Bonn Om Toeuk (or Bon Om Took). I had arrived in Siem Reap that morning, just in time for the last day of the festival activities.

On the river bank watching the boat races

I had travelled overnight from Taipei on Air Asia. This meant an 11.35pm departure from Taipei and a 4.5 hour flight to Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. Then a 2.5 hour wait at KL airport followed by a 2 hour flight to Siem Reap, arriving about 8.00am.

Map showing Taipei (Taiwan), Kuala Lumpur (Malaysia) an Siem Reap (Cambodia)

Once out of the Siem Reap airport, I got a tuk tuk ride to my hotel. Fortunately, my hotel was able to check me in early, after a 20 minute wait for the room to be cleaned. But then I needed to get some sleep before I could do anything else.

Tuk tuk ride from the airport
Riding in the tuk tuk

After a couple of hours sleep, I was ready to go see some sights. The guy at the hotel check-in had told me about the festival and said that the boat races would start at 1.30pm. So, I headed down to the river about 12.30pm to get a good vantage point. There were street food vendors set up along the river, so I grabbed a nice grilled and flattened half-chicken for lunch and took it to a section of the river bank near to the finish line.

Flattened, grilled chicken
The same vendor also sold grilled whole fish

I got a prime viewing spot, at the waters edge, close to the finish line and opposite the VIP grandstand. There were people already gathering on the river bank but there was still plenty of room at that point. It turned out that the races didn’t start until 2.30pm, so I was two hours early!

Still space available on the bank at 12.30pm
It got more crowded once the races started, with some standing in the river
VIP seating on the opposite bank

There were a lot of boats participating in the races. There were all-male and all-female teams competing, and the male teams may also have had different age classes, based on what I could see. The PA announcements were all in Khmer, so they didn’t help my understanding of the event. The traditional narrow wooden boats all looked to have 19 crew members. The rear-most crew member steers the boat with an oar (not a rudder). Towards the centre of the boat the crew sit two-abreast, but at the front and rear sections, they sit alone. Some crew members row whilst seated, but some towards the rear stand up. The boats sit very low in the water so they take on water during the racing. Several crew members have plastic scoops to bail out the water.

The kids started the day’s racing action
The boats sit low in the water
One of the boat crews
One of the female crews
Crew member bails out water from the boat (the bottled water was off-loaded before the races started)


Clean-up crew picks up floating trash before the races
Racing to the finish line
Another close race


Smoking break after a race!
Neck and neck as they pass the VIP grandstand


Above video clip: A female team blows away their competition

Above video clip: A scan of the river and the crowd where I was standing

Above video clip: One of the female races

Above video clip: A hard fought mens race


After watching the boat races, I went to Siem Reap’s Pub Street for happy hour and some dinner. Many of the bars advertise draft beer for 50 cents (US currency is readily used in Cambodia). And the food is inexpensive.

Pub Street


A 50-cent draft beer
Bok L’Hong – the Khmer version of papaya salad

Above video: Fireworks over Pub Street whilst I eat my dinner

A good first day in Siem Reap. The coming days should include some dirt-bike riding and some temple tours.

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