Boat races kick off Cambodian Water Festival

PHNOM PENH, Nov 20, 2010 (AFP) - Crowds thronged a Phnom Penh lake on Saturday as Cambodia began its annual Water Festival celebrations with colourful dragon boat races.

More than two million visitors from across the country are expected to flock to the capital for three days of festivities, with boat races on the Tonle Sap lake, fireworks and parades.

(AFP) Cambodian participants power their dragon boat on the Tonle Sap river during the first day of the three-day Water Festival in Phnom Penh on November 20, 2010.

This year 420 brightly coloured boats, with nearly 28,000 rowers, are lined up to take part, according to an official from the Committee for National and International Festivals.

"When I see many people like this, I am so happy," said Bun Chhiv Meang, 59, who said visiting the festival made a welcome change from his job as a farmer.

But the Water Festival could be a muted affair for monks, who have been warned by Phnom Penh's chief monk not to mingle with the crowds and told they face a reprimand if caught looking at girls in short skirts.

Buddhist monks are highly revered in Cambodia and are not supposed to touch, or even look at, women.

The annual festival, one of Cambodia's largest and most exuberant, marks the reversal of the flow between the Tonle Sap and the Mekong river.

It is also seen as a way of giving thanks to the river for providing the country with fertile land and abundant fish.

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