The most important festival in the Cambodian calendar, Bonn Om Toeuk (known as the Water Festival), attracts more than two million visitors to the capital from the provinces each year to celebrate the reversing of the flow of the Tonle Sap River (variable, late Oct to mid-Nov). Many come to support their teams during the three days of boat racing, but most are happy to soak up the atmosphere with their families, eat copiously from the myriad street vendors and scoop up bargains from the sellers who lay their wares out along the riverfront. After dark the town remains just as animated, with free concerts and fireworks.
The sheer volume of people weaving a fragile dance along the riverfront is a spectacle in itself. Given the volatile mixture of millions of exuberant people and zero crowd control, it was almost inevitable that at some point something would go wrong. During the extravagant closing ceremony of the 2010 celebrations panic broke out as the several-thousand-strong crowd poured onto a narrow footbridge, causing a stampede in which 351 died. The following year’s festival was cancelled as a mark of respect.