Building a Dragon Boat for the Cambodian Water Festival


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While riding a motorbike through the tiny village of Thmae Kreae, I came across several men working on a dugout canoe. I pulled over to investigate and a young man explained that they were building a dragon boat for the upcoming Bonn Om Toeuk Festival.

The festival is in November, but they were starting now because the boats took so long to build. The 2 pieces they were working on at the moment would take a month to complete, he said. The festival is one of the largest celebrations in Cambodia, with over two million Cambodians crowding into Phnom Penh for feasting, concerts, fireworks, and canoe races on the Tonle Sap River. The festival celebrates the return of the monsoon rains and the beginning of the fishing season.


Building a canoe for the Water Festival in Phnom Penh

The insides of the canoe are chopped out with hatchets, then a fire is built underneath. As the wood heats up, it becomes pliable and the sides are stretched out to make the canoe wide enough. The sides are smoothed out with a belt sander, powered by a small gasoline generator.


Building a canoe for the Water Festival in Phnom Penh

While the smaller pieces would take a month to complete, I was told this monster section would take about three months of work. After the pieces are joined together, the boat will be decorated with carvings and painted. When finished, the dragon boat will be powered by 40 rowers in qualifying races here in the Kratie Province. The winning team will travel to Phnom Penh for the final race on the Tonle Sap. This team won the final race last year and are hoping to defend their title in November.

{ 14 comments… read them below or add one }

Liz May 27, 2010 at 2:02 pm

They are real works of art! Thanks for sharing!


Michael May 27, 2010 at 10:37 pm

we watched some preliminary races in Battambang, quite a spectacle


Casa De Dripping Springs May 28, 2010 at 1:29 am

very cool


Andy Hayes | Sharing Travel Experiences May 28, 2010 at 5:38 am

Cool – always wondered how they put these together. Must have been quite fun to watch.
.-= Andy Hayes | Sharing Travel Experiences´s last blog ..Behind the Bar with Jetside Johnny =-.


wes May 28, 2010 at 10:05 am

yeah, it was very cool. thanks for the Stumble, btw :)


Olgs May 29, 2010 at 6:27 am

I love this post. Especially because when we were in Koh Phi Phi we watched one of the locals build a long boat. Not quite a dragon boat, but similar. It was fascinating to see the intricacies of building a boat from scratch as we lay there on the beach.

Thanks for sharing!

.-= Olgs´s last blog ..‘The Art of Solo Travel: A Girl’s Guide’ Review + Discount =-.


wes May 29, 2010 at 10:01 am

Thanks, Olga :) I’d love to see them in action, but I’ll be long gone by the time the race happens…


Eli May 29, 2010 at 1:18 pm

Dragon Boats… Hey Wes, do you know of any more online resources about this festival? We’ll be in SE Asia in November, and I’d love to go to Cambodia and see all the festivities. It sounds like a good time!
.-= Eli´s last blog ..Deviation: A Part of the Plan & A Sign =-.


wes May 29, 2010 at 2:16 pm

Here’s another link I found with a bit more history — it’s the Water and Moon Festival in Phnom Penh. Be sure to book a hotel early — they’re serious about 2 million Cambodians showing up for the festivities.


Nomadic Chick June 2, 2010 at 8:39 am

I love how motorcycling can be so spontaneous, good on ya for taking the road less traveled. Say, do you need to show your motorcycle license in order to rent a bike. How about buy?
.-= Nomadic Chick´s last blog ..Video Moment – Vegemite & The Aussie Nomad =-.


wes June 2, 2010 at 12:35 pm

License hasn’t been necessary so far. They just hold your passport so you’ll bring the bike back. Buy in Thailand looks complicated — you have to have a place of residence, utility bill and a few months to kill. Not sure about Cambodia…


boating August 16, 2010 at 6:00 pm

You guys are really amazing Cambodia has the best suited wood for creating a boat I always wanted to learn how to make boats your pictures have further inspired me


Marilyn Mayall September 13, 2010 at 12:38 am

I’ll be volunteering in Siem reap from November and am preparing lessons for the kids. Wanted to put together a unit on water and include the topic of dragon boats, so reallly enjoyed seeing pictures of a dragon boat being constructed.


wes September 14, 2010 at 9:52 am

Oh, cool! Glad to be of some help. If you need hi-res photos, just let me know.


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