Khmer people in Mekong Delta has three big festivals: Ok Om Bok, Chol Chnam Thmay and Cow Racing Festival.
1. Ok Om Bok Festival in Mekong Delta
Ok Om Bok Festival is a traditional festival of Khmer people in Mekong Delta. Ok Om Bok has sacred meaning in spiritual life of these people, making a cultural characteristic of this ethnic community.
Ok Om Bok Festival takes place on the Full Moon day of the tenth month in Vietnamese Lunar Calendar, aiming at worshipping the Moon. In Khmer’s conception, it is the ending day in the circle of the moon spinning around the earth and the ending time of a harvest. Hence, Ok Om Bok Festival aims at expressing gratitude to the Moon for protecting and promoting an abundant crop as well as wishing for the next successful harvest.
At the night of the Full Moon day, Khmer people set up a table of offerings: new sticky rice, yam, coconuts, bananas, sweeties, so on. At the centre of the table, there is always a pot of tea. After each time of pouring tea into the glass, Khmer people bow their head one time to show their thanks to the Moon. After that, there is a colorful and sparkling lanterns ceremony on Ba Om Lake. Khmer people not only drop these lanterns on the lake but also fly them to the sky. Dozens of great lantern lighten the night sky in bustling music and the joy of Khmer people. Khmer people believe that these lanterns will bring bad luck and risk far away. Every year, this colorful ceremony attracts thousands of viewers including both locals and tourists.
At Mekong Delta, Ok Om Bok festival usually takes place in the province of Tra Vinh and Soc Trang, Kien Giang,… where ethnic Khmer live crowded.
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The most attractive and exciting activity of Ok Om Bok Festival is “Ngo” race (a special kind of boat of Khmer people in shape of Nagar snake). Ngo race is a traditional sport of Khmer in Ok Om Bok Festival. Ngo is a long boat with 25-30 meters in length and 1 – 1.4 meter in width. There are about 40 to 60 boatmen in every “Ngo” with a leader at the top to guide the whole team. Before the race, people gather along the riverbanks making an exciting atmosphere. During the race, the boisterous sound of drum, trumpet, cheers and applause urge boatmen row as fast as possible to the end. “Ghe Ngo” race is a unique cultural activity of Khmer people which has sacred meaning in spiritual life of community.
Overall, Ok Om Bok is an important festival in Khmer people’s life. It becomes the symbol of aspiration, beautiful soul and rich emotional life of people to supernatural forces. Ok Om Bok festival not only contributes to conserve and promote traditional cultural identity of Khmer community but also a unique tourism product to attract visitors.
2. Chol Chnam Thmay in Mekong Delta
Chol Chnam Thmay is an annual traditional festival of Khmer people. In Khmer tradition, Chol Chnam Thmay plays as important role as Lunar New Year of Kinh people. Like Kinh people, Khmer people celebrate Chom Chnam Thmay with the hope for a safe and happy and lucky year.
Chol Chnam Thmay Festival lasts for three days in the April (from the 13th to 15th). To prepare for their new year, Khmer people often clean and decorate their house nicely as well as make some special traditional food. During these three days, people enjoy being free from work and relaxing with family members.
The first day of New Year in Khmer tradition is called as Chol Sang Kran. On this day, Khmer people often wear traditional costumes and go to the local pagoda. They offer incense, lamps, flowers and fruits for the great-calendar receiving ceremony. In the evening, there is a ceremony to see off the old Tevoda and process the new one. After listening the monk’ teachings, people together play traditional games or join in singing and dancing at the yard.
The second day is named as Thngay Vonabot. In the morning, Khmer people offer monks with food and drinks and worship soul of departed family members. In the late afternoon and evening, Khmer people traditionally head up a sandy mountain symbolizing their hope for happiness (called as the gold mountain and the silver mountain).
On the third day with the name Thngay Long-sac, after listening to Buddhist teaching, people start cleaning Buddha statues with perfume water. This action is to show respect and gratitude to Buddha as well as get rid of misfortune of the old year and wish for the best in the coming year. In the afternoon, Khmer people offer incense and other food and drinks to free the soul of departed family members from suffering. On this day, Khmer people often wish relatives and friends best wishes, operate community activities at communal houses and perform traditional art performances.
Chol Chnam Thmay festival is a special cultural activity of Khmer community in Mekong Delta attracting thousands of tourists every year.
Read more about Chol Chnam Thmay Festival in Cambodia at: Cambodia’s five traditional festivals you should know
3. Cow Racing Festival in Mekong Delta
Cow Racing Festival has existed for a long time in the Seven Mountains Region of An Giang Province. Taking place on Sene Dolta day of Khmer people in Mekong Delta (from the 9th to the 10th day in Lunar Calendar), Cow Racing Festival is for expressing gratitude toward ancestors.
To prepare for Cow Racing Festival, Khmer people choose a flat and wet rice-field with 200 meter long and 100 meter wide. To become a perfect area for cow racing, his rice-field must be muddy, surrounded by fence and safe stop. Racing course is about 120 meters long along the fence with the starting point also the ending point marked by a blue flag and a red flag.
Before the race, people choose pairs of cows to compete with each other by drawing. According to the rule, pair of cows running out of the racing course must get out of the competition. During the race, pair of cows trampling on the rake of the front pair will be the winner. Interestingly, the driver must stand steadily on the rake because falling out of the rake will be considered loser.
The unique and interesting point of cow racing is two cows are tied by a special rake. After the signal whistle of referee, the driver will hit into the cows’ asses with a tow. However, this driver must be very skillful in hitting two cows with the same energy to make them run with the same speed.
On the festive day, locals gather around the arena since the early. From the start to the end of the race, pairs of cows are always encouraged and urged by the inspiring and exciting atmosphere of simmering cheers and applause.
Coming to Cow Racing Festival, tourists will experience unique cultural festival of a characterized village in Mekong Delta. You will live in frenetic atmosphere, witness a oner race that you have never known before and get unforgettable memories about a new culture.