Participants race their boats in the Tonle Sap river during the Water Festival in Phnom Penh, Cambodia, Nov. 10, 2019. Tens of thousands of spectators flocked to the riverside here on Sunday for an 838-year-old boat racing tradition, which is held to celebrate the annual Water Festival. (Photo by Sovannara/Xinhua)
by Nguon Sovan, Mao Pengfei
PHNOM PENH, Nov. 10 (Xinhua) -- Tens of thousands of spectators flocked to the riverside here on Sunday for an 838-year-old boat racing tradition, which is held to celebrate the annual Water Festival.
Viewers, mostly from the countryside, gathered on both sides of the Tonle Sap river to cheer on boatmen dressed in T-shirts, as they raced their dragon boats along a 1.7-km stretch of the river that runs in front of the royal palace.
Lonh Davan, 18, a native to southeastern Tboung Khmum province, said she has never lost her excitement in watching boat racing although she has seen it many times.
"I feel very happy to see people from everywhere to join the Water Festival," she told Xinhua. "Moreover, this event has brought me to the ancient time when our marine forces had used boats to wage war against the invading enemies."
Bou Chumserey, vice-chairman of the boat-racing technical control committee, said a total of 291 dragon boats with 19,218 oarsmen from various provinces are participating in the three-day Water Festival.
He said boats are competing in different categories depending on the number of boatmen.
"The festival is to remember the strength of the powerful Khmer marine forces during the ancient Khmer Empire in the late 11th century," he told Xinhua.
He said during the reign of Angkorian King Jayavarman VII, the king had used naval forces, with boats as transport means, to fight against the invading Chams and defeated them in 1181.
The event is also to mark the end of annual rainy season and the unique reversal flow of the Tonle Sap river that connects the Tonle Sap lake with the Mekong river.
"Water Festival is also to express our gratitude to the Mekong river for providing us with water, fertile land and abundant fish," he said.
According to Chumserey, Cambodian King Norodom Sihamoni, along with Prime Minister Samdech Techo Hun Sen, presided over the opening ceremony of the festival on Sunday afternoon and he will again attend the closing ceremony on Tuesday evening.
A team leader of a racing boat from Central Kampong Thom province Lun Chhon, 55, said his boat has 73 rowers and their participation was to help preserve the age-old tradition for next generations.
"The Water Festival is to remember the powerful naval forces in the ancient time, who used boats to chase away the enemies," he told Xinhua. "Our participation is to preserve our age-old tradition."
Chea Chhuon, a team minder of a 44-men boat from Southern Kandal province, said "This boat race is to remember our ancestors in previous generations, who fought and won war against the enemies."
"And we celebrate this festival is to show our thanks to the Mekong river for providing water for animals, plants, and humans," the 44-year-old man said.
Water Festival is one of the largest annual festivals celebrated in the Southeast Asian nation. Apart from viewing the regatta at daytime, festival-goers can enjoy the procession of illuminated floats and fireworks as well as concerts at nighttime.