PHNOM PENH – Just under 300 boats from provinces across Cambodia participated in a series of races in Phnom Penh on Wednesday to mark the beginning of the annual Water Festival.
Bathed in morning sunlight, about two dozen rowers aboard each boat powered their way along the Tonle Sap river to kick off the three-day festivities, as large crowds looked on from the riverbank.
While the onus is on celebrating a fun-filled race, competition among the 295 teams who hail from provinces along the Mekong River is fierce, leading some vessels to capsize and forcing the rowers to swim ashore.
Known locally as Bon Om Touk, the festival marks the reversal of the flow of the Tonle Sap River, and sees thousands of people from across the country descend on the capital to watch the races and attend concerts in the evening.
Cambodian King Norodom Sihamoni and Prime Minister Hun Sen were among the dignitaries in attendance.
In several messages on Facebook, Hun Sen urged revelers to safely enjoy the festival and praised police for their efforts in staging one of the country’s largest events.
In 2010, more than 300 people died in a stampede caused by panic and a lack of planning in managing the crowds, estimated to number more than two million.