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Cambodia's Bon Om Thook... (Or Not)

by Tyler

We're feeling quiet, ready for an evening inside, when we see fireworks light up the night sky from our hotel window. It's the opening night of Phnom Penh's Bon Om Thook, Cambodia's annual Water Festival, celebrating the end of the rainy season.

We grab Tara's green backpack and fill it with our regular kit: the sound recorder, all the lenses, and the wallet. She dons the sachel while I sling the camera strap around my head and shoulder so it hangs at my back. I'm the designated riding photographer.

Downstairs, we hop on the bikes and head towards the fireworks and the river. In the end, we don't make it anywhere near the river to see the boat races or the fireworks. The streets are practically shut down with the most insane traffic I've ever seen. There is no such thing as right of way here, it is every man/woman for him/herself, in the most tangled mess of weaving vehicles imaginable.

Phnom Penh Traffic

There is hardly space for a bicycle in the throng. Giving up on making it to the river, we carve our way through a wall of vehicles and people towards the source of several spotlights filling the night sky. Untold near-collisions later, we make it to a giant stage where the Cambodian pop sensation Khemarak Sereymon is singing.

With the D700 and our newest piece of a kit, a giant 14-24mm lens in hand, I walk right through security, pretending to be a member of the press, and head up to the stage. Short of actually getting on the stage, there is no way to get a decent picture. Still, I manage a nice audio recording before I return to Tara and we decide to bail out of the mayhem.

Setting our sights once more on that appealing quiet evening indoors, we wheel our bikes, pushing our way through the mess, fighting for every inch. Then, once back on the main road, we cycle slowly home, happy to have extricated ourselves from the crowds.